Tips from Prize-Winners

We are delighted to announce that three of our academics have recently been recognised in the QMSU’s Teaching Awards. Dr Natalie Pollard won the Postgraduate Teaching Award (for her teaching on the MA module ‘Forms of Modernism’); Professor Julia Boffey won the Postgraduate Research Supervisor of the Year Award; and Dr Sam McBean won the Assessment and Feedback Champion Award.

Here, the three prize winners give their top tips for success:

Dr Natalie Pollard (on what makes for an effective MA class)

  • Interpretation, critique and dialogue as live interaction – not lonely brow-scratching! Complex ideas are read together as part of everyday life, and the social stakes of what we say and do. ​
  • A space of intellectual and creative risk-taking – of ‘serious play!’ – where learning is mutual and surprising.
  • Most important of all is the good – the really good – conversation.

Dr Sam McBean (on what makes good feedback)

  • Point to the strengths

I always try to start my feedback by summarizing for the student what I got from their piece – what the argument was, what points were made. I think it is important to let students know what stands out about their work and what they’ve managed to most clearly convey to their reader. Sometimes we might think of feedback as constructive criticism but it is just as important to outline what a piece of writing has achieved. From my experience, students respond to reading what it is that was successful about their writing and this helps them to model their future assignments on what has worked in the past.

  • There’s always room for improvement

No assignment is perfect! And it shouldn’t be. Students who score a 2:2 should get clear feedback on what they need to do to reach that 2:1; students who score a 2:1 should be able to understand what they need to do to get that 1st; and students who get a 1st should get feedback on how to edge their work into MA level or even towards publication. In my feedback I always try to give clear pointers on how a piece’s strengths might be brought out. For example, while I try to explain what might not have worked as well, I also often tell students where certain parts of their writing edged into a higher grade point. This gives them clear direction on not only what was less successful but also examples from their own work of what could be developed into stronger future work.

  • The feedback is in the detail

Students are always told to “evidence” their claims in their work – close reading, close reading, close reading! I think the same applies to lecturers when it comes to feedback. I always try to evidence my feedback by pointing to particular examples in students’ work, being clear about what I think works or where improvements could be made. Just like I tell my students to avoid vague language in their work, I try to aim for clarity in my feedback. It is through attention to detail that I think students can really achieve an understanding of their grade and the ability to work towards improving their critical writing skills.

Professor Julia Boffey (on what makes an effective PGR Supervisor)

  • Work *with* students to find and shape a worthwhile topic that will interest both them and you, and will enable them to play to their strengths
  • Keep in touch with them, even (perhaps especially?) during periods when they may not be producing written work for discussion
  • Keep them thinking about life beyond the PhD, as well as about completing it (what will they want to do next? how best can they be preparing for this during the PhD? what kinds of contacts/activities/training will help them prepare for what comes next?)

You can read more about the QMSU Teaching awards on their website.

A High Price to Pay: QMTC’s Love and Money

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how apathetic students are, but Ema Boswood’s direction of Love and Money by Dennis Kelly just one play in Queen Mary Theatre Company’s excellent End of Season Festival – is an entertaining and provocative rebuttal to any suggestion that young people aren’t interested in energetically engaging with political ideas. And Love and Money is all about Big Ideas. Not just the mingling of romance and finance promised by the title, the play is a scathing indictment of contemporary capitalist society, furnished with existential predicaments – a morally ambiguous parable about how we live now.

From Love and Money performed on 21 March 2015
From Love and Money performed on 21 March 2015

Kelly plays on what seems an endless number of embedded clichés to do with what can and can’t be purchased with money – happiness, love, etc. In his vision, though, the characters seem to have forgotten what so many songs and greetings cards remind us. The central figure Jess ‘believes happiness can be bought – but it doesn’t come cheap in a world of easy credit.’ The extension of these kinds of financial metaphors – the idea that we all have to pay for our decisions or that a person can be morally bankrupt – is at the heart of this twenty-first century morality tale. A play about a marriage ruined by debt, it’s also about the debts we have to other people.

Martha Pailing’s handling of the erratic big spender Jess is striking – a funnier and more sinister shopaholic than Sophie Kinsella’s Rebecca Bloomwood. The play, unlike the world, revolves around Jess and her suicide, setting off backwards from her widow David’s disturbing explanation of her death during an email conversation with French colleague Sandrine. Melenik Milmano and Moa Johansson kick the play off on its reverse journey with David and Sandrine’s snappy online exchange, an early indication that seemingly everyday occurrences will pretty sharply be revealed as moments of the weird and shocking. From David’s awkward attempt to start the email – something we all can relate to – the flirtatious chat begins, before Sandrine’s refrain, ‘Tell me of your wife’, leads to the revelation that the rest of the play recounts.

The breakdown of one relationship is symptomatic of an entire global culture’s collapse. If charity starts at home, then, so does economic failure. Though the play’s themes have grand implications, political speeches and debates are swapped for scenes comprised of emails, job interviews, chats; everyday manifestations of the economic system we live in. And written in 2006, Love and Money has proved popular owing to renewed debates around capitalism triggered by economic crises and the so-called banker-bashing anger of the public. But unlike a play set at the heart of power by David Hare or James Graham, for instance, Kelly is much more interested in dramatising neoliberal ideologies at work on the small scale.

This is a play about death and Big Ideas and what Ed Miliband might call predatory capitalism, but it’s really funny, too. And I don’t think that’s an accident. The Godfather of modern political theatre Bertolt Brecht believed laughter and fun were essential to the political power of theatre, and this production certainly makes the most of the dark humour which accompanies the vitriolic critique.

We get the measure of this kind of comedy early on from Jess’ parents, played by Billy Gurney and Maria Pullicino, as they reveal their distaste – and envy – for the ‘flash’ and ‘vulgar’ grave of a Greek woman next to their daughter’s. We can only laugh as the Father has his outburst about the price of the headstone (the Mother scorns him for mentioning VAT), but, as they keep saying, they’re not rich. Amongst the taboo humour, and probably the reason why we’re laughing, are the uncomfortable truths of just how hard death is to deal with. And even though we feel we shouldn’t worry about the (financial) cost, death, too, is a business. The spending goes on after Jess.

Love and Money is full of awkward encounters. David’s job interview with his ex Val (Annabelle Sami), and her catty, Audi-driving assistant Paul (Peter Walker), relishes the discomfort and sourness of the situation. It’s time for Val to get her own back on the desperate English graduate David, who now hopes to pursue a career in sales. She wants to do him a ‘favour’, but it won’t come easy. Beneath her mocking and bitterness, she reveals a nihilistic heart: she loves and worships cash. She used to believe in religion, just as Paul believed in socialism – he still votes Labour, mind – but now wealth and power fill their dreams.

In a ‘shitty pub’, Debbie (Tilly Bungard) seems to be pestered by the tipsy Duncan (Jack Ridley), in another strange meeting that goes far beyond where we expect it to. As so many weirdoes in pubs promise, Duncan wants to make Debbie famous – well, everyone’s thought about being on TV nowadays. Typical of the whole show, this scene is saturated with swearing, and becomes an air raid of C-Bombing.

From foul language, though, the actors do well to perform Kelly’s often jagged, staccato lines, which look more like poetry on the page. Kelly’s script is written carefully to depict how real people speak, drawing attention to hesitations, breaths, mistakes, and the performances follow suit with an obvious consideration of the text. It’s an achievement in any theatrical performance to follow a clever script, while at the same time encouraging the audience to forget that the broken and muttered and spat-out lines are actually printed on a page. This could be improvisation, except the language is so well-worked  and intentioned; it’s constructed, as great writing often is, to seem fluent, mundane, and inconsequential, as if every word were spoken at random – as we tend to think we speak – when actually it’s all strictly penned and rehearsed.

Martha Pailing and Menelik Milmano as Jess and David
Martha Pailing and Menelik Milmano as Jess and David

‘I’m just so / looking forward’ are some of the last words of the performance and Jess’ final speech, but in the world of the play they are the first, since we’ve ended up at the beginning of Jess and David’s relationship, before everything goes wrong. It is a strength of Pailing’s performance that we meet Jess halfway through the play with her frenzied love of shopping in full bloom, announcing that as a child she discovered she was an alien, and we watch her manic personality gradually shrink until we are left with only the seeds of what we know will become her addiction. As she speaks, more quietly now, (and places her make-up in a bag) we can see she will become a woman standing outside a shop transfixed on a handbag, but, crucially, we also see her when she looks like all of us, that is, just liking ‘things’ and wanting a ‘neater’ life. Her acting matches the tragic effect of Kelly analeptic tale, where we finish with what actually turns out to be a really crushing sense of sadness as Jess tells of her excitement for the future.

As a piercing keen starts to drown Jess out, her final words signal her enthusiasm to begin her new life, but it’s already been written, and the audience knows how it will turn out. There’s no room for manoeuvre in this world, and closing the show, she says, ‘That’s it.’

Five Ways to Achieve Stress-Free Travel around London

Let’s be honest – travelling around London can be stressful and exhausting at the best of times. The last thing you need when you’re trying to grapple with the labyrinthine London transport system is to be on a tight time limit. I’m usually late for everything and am no stranger to the abject horror of tearing through King’s Cross with approximately 8 minutes to get from the Northern Line to the National Rail platform, usually via the ticket collection machines and ideally with a quick stop for a cigarette en route. Even during my final year of studying in London I still forget how long it takes to get to certain destinations and misjudge just how big London is (I’m from a small town). So, if you’re perennially late for everything, terrified by the sheer size of London or just struggle to get around the city without experiencing homicidal feelings, follow the tips below.

  1. Avoid travelling during rush hour

Unless you enjoy inhaling the pungent aroma of 50 armpits during your journey and have a penchant for being pushed, sworn at and prodded and shoved, avoiding the excruciating hell of rush hour is a good idea. This is not just because you’ll save some money travelling off-peak, but also because your chances of grabbing a seat and some personal space are greatly increased. Unfortunately university schedules, work shifts and other commitments often leave us with no choice but to travel during the busiest times of day. So, if you do have the choice, take full advantage of it, especially if you have to travel long distances and are prone to claustrophobia.

  1. Pay attention to TFL updates

TFL (Transport for London) provides travel updates on Twitter (@TfLTravelAlerts) and on their website, and it’s also worth signing up to receive email updates. Don’t rely on the live updates in stations – it’s important to know in advance which routes you may or may not be able to use. The engineering works in London can be an absolute nightmare. They have the potential to render certain parts of the city almost totally inaccessible, which is why signing up to receive email updates letting you know which works are taking place over the weekend is a very sensible idea. Otherwise, you risk finding yourself marooned at an unfamiliar station, embroiled in a 200 strong crowd brawl trying to fight your way onto the next rail replacement bus.

  1. Plan ahead and know where you’re going

At some point when you’re heading somewhere new and ask for directions in advance you will hear the immortal words: ‘It’s just a couple of minutes away from the tube station’. Always check first. Firstly, because London is huge, and secondly because Google Maps has a tendency to behave like a petulant child if your mobile internet connection isn’t up to scratch. I naively assumed that regardless of where you are in London, you’re only ever ‘a couple of minutes away’ from the nearest tube stop. Not true. When someone who knows their area well tells you that you ‘just’ need to take the third left and then the second right and go through the underpass and then past the park and then it’s simply the third turning opposite the pub on the right just near the station, you need to worry. Write down directions, take note of which tube stations/bus stops you need and leave half an hour spare for getting lost. You’ll be fine.

  1. Pay attention to your surroundings

Disobeying travel etiquette in London is a bad idea and usually makes your journey (and everyone else’s) a lot more stressful. Standing on the right hand side of the escalator will put you in good stead. However, running up the left hand side trying to keep up when you know you can only make it halfway and then having to stop to catch your breath (especially when there’s no space for you to move over to the right) will drive people (okay, me) absolutely insane. Holding people up by dawdling in busy areas will get your toes run over by a large suitcase careering past (probably mine) and stopping abruptly at the bottom of a staircase in a crowded station to check your Twitter feed is just plain silly. Planning a chilled out journey is the best way forward, but London can be a tough place so being aware that other people are stressed and in a rush is advisable. This way, you’ll get to your destination free of hassle and won’t spend your evening out crying in the toilets over that guy who sighed loudly and called you a ‘bloody tourist’ when all you were trying to do was take a picture of your feet in front of the ‘Mind the Gap’ sign at the height of rush hour.

  1. Scrap the whole thing and just walk everywhere

A little controversial I know, but walking around London is easily the least stressful way to see the city. For a start, it’s free and as a student you should seize every opportunity you can to get out of spending money on silly things like Oyster cards. The blasted things run out of credit whenever they feel like it, get lost all the time and generally make your life a living hell (I’m kidding, sort of – pretty much everyone in London has one). Walking across the city means you control where you go (you’ll need a map) and how long it takes to get there (a great way to monitor how much slower you’re walking since all that fried chicken and cider became your main diet). A long purposeful walk to your destination will burn some calories, cut out travel costs and help you to learn your way around. Additionally, travelling on foot will give you some fresh (ish) air and the best part is that you’ll discover places you’d never have found otherwise.

Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die

Today I finally made it to the Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London, which is embarrassingly late considering it has been running since October. Clutching my ticket, I descended the stairs to find a father and two kids patting a bookshelf in front of me and, catching my puzzled expression, the security guard informed me that we had to find the entrance. The father finally had some luck and pushed the right book, which, to the excited squeals of his two children, revealed a doorway. A charmingly magical entrance to an exhibition about a rather magical genius.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, the emphasis is on the timelessness of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, the endless possibilities for adaptation and the way in which the Sherlock Holmes stories capture the imagination, ensuring their remarkable staying power in our hearts, on our bookshelves and on our televisions. This message is clear from the very beginning, as, on entering, you are confronted with several television screens, each displaying a different adaptation of Sherlock Holmes through the years. From Alan Wheatley’s portrayal of the detective in the 1951 BBC television series, to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film version and Benedict Cumberbatch’s adoption of the role in 2010, it is clear that the adventures of Sherlock Holmes will live to deliver and delight time and time again.

The meticulous detail that has clearly been put into this exhibition is impressive. Much like the detective himself, it leaves us with no stone unturned, every aspect of the author and his creation are presented and examined – there is even a section dedicated to London fog, as this features frequently in the stories. I personally liked the maps of Victorian London, which were fascinating. One map was colour coded to show the areas of London that were ‘wealthy’, ‘well to do’, ‘poor’, ‘very poor’ and so on. There were also maps dedicated to certain stories such as ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and ‘A Study in Scarlet’ to show the areas of London that Sherlock and Dr Watson had visited in these tales and which mode of transport they had used. This visual representation of the stories is great as it makes us connect with them even more, seeing if Holmes ever passed by the way you walk to work, or if he and Dr Watson ever visited your neck of the woods. You get to immerse yourself even further in the world of Holmes and watch the scenes of pursuit unfold in front of your eyes.

Another great feature was a display of postcards sent to and from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We are asked to adopt the role of the detective as we are told that one of the postcards holds some significance to the Sherlock Holmes stories and are given the clue to look at the picture on the postcard and its address. This interactive element encapsulates the spirit of Holmes and further engages us with the detective and his creator. Indeed, in the final section of the exhibition we are presented with various artefacts, such as a pair of ladies’ shoes which are shown to have slits in the soles where a blade would have been kept. It is the presentation of such minute details that allows us to get inside the mind of the detective and imagine Holmes examining such items himself in order to solve mysteries. The exhibition completely engulfs us, transporting us to the world of Sherlock Holmes in a way that is magical and that indeed proves that the much-loved detective will never die.

If you haven’t already been, there’s still time to catch the exhibition as it is running until the 12th April and costs £9 for students. Worth checking out if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, and there’s a charming little café next door that sells an excellent Lemon Drizzle. Mary Berry would be proud.

3 Reasons Why Studying Drama in London is Awesome

Cosmopolitan Capital. International city of stuff. Centre of important things and whatnot. Whatever London is, choosing to study here was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Boost my Ego Elsewhere:
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Photographers united through Instagram

Not sure which famous sites to visit in London? Interested in photography? Want to know more? Read on to find out about the ‘Instagramers London’ meet-up page.

Barbican Centre, image by Jennifa Chowdhury Barbican Centre, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

One account on Instagram you should be following is @London. You don’t necessarily need to have Instagram to join the meet-ups, so don’t worry! Just bring whatever device you have and enjoy the day. They always organise meet-ups in places where we can take cool photos and get to know people. Speaking of which, the next worldwide instameet has been organised for the weekend 21-22 March. Details are finalised closer to the date but get involved and join in the fun. This is something you cannot miss out on!

The first worldwide instameet in London I attended was in May 2014 and it was such a success! People came from all over the world and it was lovely meeting them! You felt comfortable carrying your phone, iPad or camera around; it did not matter if you looked like a tourist, as there were hundreds of us doing exactly the same. It gives you a sense of belonging – I am a lover of photography you see. I may not be a professional but I enjoy taking in the sights and sharing them with people. I like skylines, bridges, buildings and nature!

Barbican Centre Fountains, image by Jennifa Chowdhury Barbican Centre Fountains, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

We met bright and early at the Barbican Centre for the worldwide instameet in May and had the chance to visit the garden. The sun was out and I had lovely company. Oh, what a beautiful place! I felt mesmerised by the tropical atmosphere created by the warm temperature, trees and fountains. It is as if we stepped out of London and into a tropical island. It is quite useful to note that the conservatory and garden can be hired out for private events such as weddings and receptions. So you could use it for a big event, maybe even your birthday?!

The organisers were friendly and made sure that the day was packed full of great sights to appreciate. The fountains outside the Barbican Centre are a must see! The Barbican Centre is situated right at the heart of London. It is known to be one of the largest venues in Europe for celebrating the arts; such as music, theatre, dance, etc.

Freerunners in London, image by Jennifa Chowdhury Freerunners in London, image by Jennifa Chowdhury

After the morning session at the Barbican Centre we went for a photo walk accompanied by freerunners. They were climbing up buildings and trees for us to capture. Ending the day at Jamie’s Italian with free welcome drinks and acoustic singers for entertainment. If you are feeling competitive and want to showcase your photos from the day, there are prizes over £1000 to be won by the end which is exciting! If you want to have a taster of what the day was like, watch this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQENeKxL_Hk&feature=youtu.be. (You’ll see me and my friends at 1.34).

Clearly a lot of thought gets put in organising these events for us to participate in, experience and take memorable photographs of. I would definitely recommend joining one of their meet-ups as it is enjoyable and a great atmosphere to meet like-minded people. You can network and visit their hometown and go on your own photo-walks. One more thing to add, these events are completely free to join! So what are you waiting for? Make the most of these opportunities to fully experience London.

Not only do they organise worldwide meet-ups, they also keep an eye out for current events that take place in London which you can join at short notice. During the Christmas period they organised a gathering for the Regent Street Christmas Lights switch on. There were live performances and Take That were there to turn the lights on, with a fantastic firework display in the background. To keep updated on news around London events I would suggest you to join the ‘Instagramers London’ meet-up page. It is an exciting way to try out new places and meet new people! Step out of your comfort zone and immerse yourself in what London has to offer you.

International Love, International Women’s Day

Sunday 8th March is not any normal Sunday. Yes, the chances are your family’s roast dinner will still be served in all its gravy- sorry groovy – grandeur at the dining table. And yes, Countryfile will most definitely still be gracing your television screens with some lovely sheep and cows (on in the background of course, unless you like that sort of thing – hey, who am I to judge?). Nope, what I am really getting at is Sunday 8th March shines especially bright because it is the date that women all across the globe unite together for International Women’s Day 2015.

women unite
Women unite.

If you don’t know, International Women’s Day is a day of celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.  It was first recorded in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, with over one million men and women attending rallies for women’s civil rights. Today International Women’s Day is a day of celebration for women’s triumphs, a day of raising awareness for women’s struggles, and a day of hope for positive change in the future. In some places of the world International Women’s Day is even a National Holiday. Of course, here in the United Kingdom, good old David Cameron is yet to make the leap to make it one (I’m sure he has a lot of other pressing issues on his plate), but one thing is for sure: with or without a break from the nine-to-five, our immense purple-pride over this momentous day is as strong as ever.

To remember why, let’s cast our minds back to three of the most iconic moments and remarkable achievements of women in the past year.

  • At eleven years old she was blogging anonymously for BBC about her life as a school girl in Swat Valley, Pakistan. Now Malala Yousafzai is a female activist against violence, poverty and for more access to education for women and girls. Most inspiring of all, in 2014 Malala became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of seventeen years old. Upon receiving the prestigious award, she said in her acceptance speech to the world: “I am those 66 million girls deprived of an education. And today I am not raising my voice, it is the voice of those 66 million girls”. Beyoncé may well be ‘Queen B’, but Malala is undoubtedly ‘Queen A’.
  • Emma Sulkowicz, an Art student at Columbia University in New York, vowed to lug around her heavy mattress everywhere she went until her alleged rapist was expelled from the school. And lug she did. The protest originally started as an art project, yet went on to provoke a revolution against sexual assault. 28 mattresses were dropped outside the University President’s office. Now that is some revolution.
  • If you haven’t heard, though no longer Hermione at Hogwarts, Emma Watson showed the world that she is still very much capable of magic with her speech at the UN conference in September 2014. Whether she is a famous film star or not, her message of Gender Equality and Feminism was heard loud and clear by men and women all over the globe. In the speech Emma passionately announced, “It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are”. Somehow I don’t think 10 points to Gryffindor will ever be enough.

There are seven billion people on planet Earth, half of those are women. Above are only three examples of millions of inspiring women making a change for a better future, and it all started over a hundred years ago with the Suffragettes. As for making a positive change to 2015, I suggest you start small and make your dear mum a cup of tea… and even your dad, if he fancies one. Heck, just make a round for your all your friends and the next door neighbour too.

Celebrate International Women’s Day with love on Sunday 8th March with #makeithappen. (Oh – and don’t to #makethetea).

International Women's Day logo

 

On Reading Books You Don’t Like

At the beginning of my second year, during a compulsory module I didn’t much want to be doing, a tutor said to my class: ‘I’d hate to think of you spending your degree just reading what you wanted to read.’ On the contrary, at the time I didn’t think I could imagine anything better than working my way through my degree reading nothing other than modernism and Marx. That’s what I liked, so that’s what I wanted to read. And I had no time for a module which required me to read Wordsworth or editions of The Spectator from the eighteenth century.

Moving from first to second year, I had a very fixed idea of the kind of books I liked, the ones I thought were important, and the ones which I believed were most worthy of study. Personally, and as unpopular as it may sound, I’m of the opinion that we should be studying less Shakespeare in first year, and probably focus more on critical theory. This is most likely because, for my sins, I like reading critical theory a lot more than Shakespeare. On the one hand, of course, it’s very important to feel dedicated to what you’re studying, but I was probably too chauvinistic in regarding twentieth-century literature as far superior to any other branch of English studies. What I’ve learned since, however, is that it’s good for you to read things you do not want to. More than this, it’s crucial to getting the most out of an English degree.

On an English degree you will encounter texts you do not like, spot titles on reading lists that you dread, and be tempted more than once to skip reading books you just can’t stand. This is neither the course’s failure, nor yours. It is not a sign that you aren’t cultured enough to appreciate or ‘get’ the books, or that the course is out of touch with your interests. Given the wide range of books you will be required to engage with on your degree, it is ineluctable that you will dislike some. Again, this is not a problem. These can be some of the most fruitful opportunities for study because we must ask why we did not want to read it, why we didn’t enjoy reading it, and why we wouldn’t want to read it again. On an English degree negative feelings towards the material we encounter can be just as – if not more – provocative and stimulating than positive ones.

It seems an obvious point to make that being prepared to engage with new texts and ideas is important for anyone wanting to be a critical and open-minded English student, but it’s certainly something I needed reminding of. When it came to choosing my third year modules there were plenty I would’ve loved to take, but I was prompted by my personal advisor to take something outside of my comfort zone. Even if that course didn’t sit comfortably alongside my other modules and reading, I might learn new skills and methodological approaches which would enhance my learning in other classes. Much more, though, the very fact of learning new things would be really important in itself.

In the words of Hector in The History Boys, study is never general. And in many ways the point of a degree is to take knowledge from the general to the particular, and specialising in your field is both a natural and desirable consequence of learning in higher education. The journalist John Rentoul advises that acquiring, and being known for, specialist knowledge is fundamental to pursuing a career in the media. But more than a practical and useful tactic of navigating your degree which makes you more employable, developing expertise in a particular field is a very fulfilling and rewarding activity.

I always seem to look back on modules that I didn’t enjoy with a feeling that it was actually pretty useful. Hindsight, they say, is a beautiful thing. Or, perhaps, it’s simply that pain seems less acute at a distance. And the second year module in question was no exception, even though I certainly don’t venture down to the eighteenth century anymore. It seems to me that there is enormous benefit in learning about topics that we might honestly say we don’t care about. Not only from that practical viewpoint, whereby we build versatility and an inclusive attitude to fresh experiences, but more importantly – I would argue – in fostering a critical mindset optimised to open thinking and getting the most out of any text laid before us.