Academic New Year

Academic New Year

Raise your hand if you feel personally victimised by the passing of time and are in denial that it’s September already.

SERIOUSLY, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN. The last time I looked, I was just beginning to settle into summer. Then it rained for a month and now, somehow, mysteriously, it’s the start of the academic year and the shops are full of back-to-school stationery and I’m being forced to exercise a lot of self-control not to buy an infinite number of pens I’m not physically able to use.

Admittedly, I don’t go back to uni until the end of this month. But that still makes it only about four weeks away, and I’m so not ready. I mean, I’m sort of ready to be back in Cambridge as a place, and to be back in uni accommodation instead of at home. My parents are still in Canada, so I’ve been adulting in a house not really built for one person living on their own and I would much rather be adulting in a small flat if I have to be adulting at all because it’s overwhelming trying to do things on such a big scale, you know?

I’m ready to be in Cambridge. It’s not like I’m desperate to stay in my hometown. But I’m not ready to be at Cambridge. I’m not ready for the work and the stress and the brainpower required.

Despite this, I’ve found myself slipping into ‘new academic year’ habits anyway, like eyeing up stationery, reading all the fiction I’ll be leaving behind on my shelves, when I move back to Cambridge, and printing off my timetable. This last one was… not a particularly joyful experience.

Put simply, I’m not impressed. And I’m feeling somewhat lied to by everyone who said, “Oh, third year’s not nearly as bad as second year for ASNaC,” because it sure LOOKS as bad. This term might be okay: I have six contact hours plus I’m due to have a weekly supervision, which makes seven in total. Not a huge number, but they’re spread out across the whole week with no days off, and they’re so irregular that it’ll be really hard to setle into any sort of routine or rhythm.

Honestly, I almost wish they were all morning lectures, just so that I’d have a bit of consistency. But… nope.

I guess I won’t be going to Tuesday afternoon archery then, since I’ll have lectures until 5pm. Better hope dance isn’t that night either, because I can’t see myself feeling up to it at that point. (The ideal night to have dance would be on a Monday: one morning lecture, a whole afternoon to work, then nothing the next day that I have to get up for if I’m achey and exhausted.)

This timetable really isn’t ideal for me at all. I’m a binge-worker. I need to just commit to spending ages on one thing and then moving on: doing it in bits and pieces and trying to fit around a bunch of other commitments makes it much harder for me to concentrate and complete any tasks. Last year, I had a busy Wednesday but no contact hours on Mondays or Fridays, which worked really well. This timetable’s… not so great.

Lent term’s going to be even worse, with nine and a half contact hours including two that overlap (where can I apply for a Time Turner?), but I didn’t write this blog post just to complain about my timetable, so I won’t go into that now.

(Some readers, particularly those more familiar with the US college system, might think this sounds like hardly any contact hours at all. But for an arts/humanities subject at Cambridge, the vast majority of the workload happens outside of these timetabled contact hours, such as essays and translations and supervisions and working on one’s dissertation etc etc.)

I’m nervous about going back to uni. I shouldn’t be, really. This will be my fourth year moving to Cambridge and settling into a new room, and at least this time I know what the room looks like and who my flatmates are. (Well, I know two of them; I haven’t met the third.) I know the city, I know the libraries, I’ve got all the basic knowledge that I didn’t have in first year — plus the cooking equipment and household items. So it should be easy.

But, I’m scared still. And I imagine people who are going to uni for the first time — whether it’s Cambridge or somewhere totally different — are scared too. I was lucky, in that my older siblings went to uni recently and my parents went longer ago, so they could give me advice and explain how things worked. Other people don’t have that. You might have no idea what to bring with you, or what to wear, or what certain terminology means.

My sister went to Durham, so at least I vaguely understood the purpose of a gown…

Over on Tumblr, I’ve been reblogging some of my Cambridge-specific resources for new applicants and incoming freshers (interview and application advice as well as coping with impostor syndrome once you’re there). I also have my ‘Insider Cam’ series on YouTube, which I didn’t really add to at all this year, but which provides some insights into Cambridge life, the ASNaC course, and things like that. Despite having all this stuff already in existence, I still regularly get questions on Tumblr and in Youtube comments about uni and about Cambridge from people who just need to ask someone but who don’t necessarily have anyone to ask.

I thought therefore that I should write some more in-depth posts about preparing for university, whether that’s on a practical level (where should you buy kitchen equipment from?) or on an emotional level or on an academic level. And also about how to cope once you’re there — particularly if you’re disabled or chronically ill, or have any sort of mental illness. The general-purpose guides are never written with us in mind, and it’s hard to take study advice seriously when they keep telling you to do things that are physically impossible for you to do. I might not be able to anticipate everyone’s circumstances, but I’ve had some crappy health and it’s affected my uni experience a lot, which I feel makes me a little bit qualified to talk about this.

So, on that note, do any of you have any specific concerns or questions about starting uni? Or, if your uni days are behind you, is there anything you really wish you’d been told before you started?

5 thoughts on “Academic New Year

  1. hi Miriam, love your blog posts, especially the writerly and uni-focused ones (which are most of them, I know..) I’m starting English at York this September (runs to hide under the bed in denial) and I would love to hear your insights into uni life. how do you budget? whats a good way to make friends when you’re a total introvert? any tips and tricks and advice would be lovely. *hugs* keep doing your thing, you’re awesome :)

    1. Ooh, York. I applied there (and actually just read a book set there, although tbh, I didn’t like the book that much so I’m not going to recommend it to you, haha). I’ll bear those things in mind, although my approach to budgeting is incredibly slap-dash and greatly affected by having to buy gluten-free food. :)

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