The Student Experience (Doesn’t Involve Much Work)

The Student Experience (Doesn’t Involve Much Work)

I wouldn’t exactly say I’m coping with deadlines and balancing my life and so on at the moment. After Monday’s protest, I found myself on Tuesday morning writing a 2,000-word essay in the course of an hour, handing it in, and then going back to bed for a while so that I could have more energy to work on my dissertation before the deadline on Wednesday, when I needed to hand in a full first draft.

What I handed in wasn’t exactly a full draft, either: the conclusion was in bullet points, and at numerous points during the course of the essay it had bracketed statements in another colour (so that I can find them more easily) saying “expand this?” or “maybe????” to remind me that my ideas weren’t yet complete. But it was more than 8,500 words long, which for a dissertation that has to be 7k-10k seems about right for a first draft. It had a beginning and a (bullet-pointed) end. It was a lot more complete than what I handed in this time last year and, comfortingly, than what many of  my friends handed in this year.

As for that essay I spent an hour on, well, I turned up to my supervision on Wednesday afternoon to find my supervisor had written this on it, so I think it worked out okay on this occasion:

(This is probably the most positive thing I’ve ever had written on a supervision essay, barring maybe my super long and passionate Marie de France essay last term that I got way too invested in.)

But since then, things have gone downhill. On Wednesday evening, I slept. On Thursday, I went to lectures, but other than that, I just read some fiction and didn’t do any work. On Friday, I went home for an osteopath appointment that I’m hoping will help resolve the headache I’ve had for two and a half weeks, and although I took some books with me to read so that I wouldn’t be totally away from my work, I didn’t even get them out of my bag. I came back in the early afternoon on Saturday, at which point I went to a talk about the history of asexuality, and then in the evening went out to a storytelling/music performance of a story from the Mabinogion, because I’m a nerd who procrastinates in style.

Today, I woke up at 4pm, because apparently actually doing something other than work and which required (a) leaving my flat, (b) socialising and (c) walking home a substantial distance is enough to wear me out completely. This is why I never usually do anything fun except read — it’s not just about taking a couple of hours out of my schedule. It means taking most of the next day to recover, too.

Seriously, chronic pain and fatigue are such bitches. I never signed up for this.

That said, this week has felt like a decent week in terms of getting a student experience like I was promised. I may have done less than ten hours of work so far, which is under half of what I manage on a good week, but I went to a protest, handed in a dissertation draft, speed-wrote an essay that turned out pretty decent, went to a couple of events, and got through a bunch of ARCs that have been awaiting my attention for a while now. (Okay, maybe that part isn’t particularly studenty, but I value it anyway.)

And the events themselves were good too. The talk about asexual history was much smaller than I thought it would be, since there were literally seven of us in the audience — which made me glad I decided to go, because I would’ve felt even worse for the speaker if it had been any smaller. I knew a lot of it, but not all, and often my knowledge was kind of vague or incomplete. For example, I knew about the AVEN forums and the part they played in building the asexual community, but I didn’t know about the other players like the Official Asexual Society, because they weren’t successful and were therefore no longer a part of the community by the time I came on the scene.

The banner from the Facebook event.

I also learned that some people theorise Florence Nightingale was either gay or asexual, which is hilarious, because as a kid I was absolutely obsessed with her — I dressed up as her, I reread the kids’ book I had about her so many times I had it practically memorised, and so on. I wish I could show you a photo, but the only one I can think of is in a photo album at home and I haven’t digitised it. I was about seven or eight at that point and that obsession lasted months. But I’d never come across this idea. Of course, it’s one of those things we can’t and will never know for sure, but it’s a fun idea.

The other event was called Hunting The Giant’s Daughter and wasn’t a student-led event: it was at The Junction, where I went to a different storytelling event in first year. This one was more directly ASNaC-related, because it was about Culhwch ac Olwen (I’ve probably spelt that wrong), a story from the Mabinogion. I don’t do Welsh, and so didn’t understand a word of what was said in the Welsh-language sections of the event, but I don’t think I was alone in that. I really loved how at times two of the performers would speak simultaneously, one in Welsh and one in English, swapping every few lines: it made the two languages blur together until I was no longer really separating them in my head, but just experiencing them.

The promotional banner from the Cambridge Junction website.

In third year I have the option to take a Part I paper (a module from first year, for people not up on Cambridge lingo) that I didn’t previously take, and I’m considering taking up Welsh, because there’s a lot of literature I would like to have the chance to read. This event helped reinforce that idea, since previously I’d been dithering due to the linguistic element which I find really hard.

I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks, you see, that I’m infinitely better at literature-based essays. History ones are a drag, they’re hard, and even after hours and hours of work, I don’t produce anything that’s very good. Whereas with lit, I can churn one out in about an hour that my supervisor actually compliments — a rare thing in Cambridge. So I’m going to think hard when choosing my papers for third year to make sure I maximise the literature and minimise the history, although I’ll have to be careful not to saddle myself with a load of language work, because I’m not great at that.

Anyway, that’s been my week. Anyone been to any interesting events lately that they want to tell me about, or had any quintessential student experiences like coming home from a protest and eating mac & cheese sitting on the floor? Got any thoughts on Florence Nightingale and the idea of claiming historical figures as a part of LGBTQ+ communities? Let me know.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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