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October 15, 2012 | by  | in Features |
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Long Road to Ruin

A peek into the frazzled mind of an honours student

The road to postgrad is a long and arduous one that begins with the fabled honours year. While it’s a cut above the interchangeable mass that is ‘undergraduate study’, honours falls in to that awkward credible-but-not-quite-masters territory. This is a brief round- up of my honours experience, which I write in the hope of deterring idealistic BA students from following in my missteps. I make no secret of the fact that, at the time of writing, I’m six days away from handing in my year-long research project. Regardless, I’m sure the overall stress and lack of sleep hasn’t affected my journalistic objectivity.

It will turn you against the things you love:

So you got excited because your 489 is all about the growth of post-punk or the effects of imperialism.A whole year to delve in to your favourite subject, so the research can’t possibly be boring or difficult, right? What the lecturers fail to mention is that academic jargon and the Chicago referencing style will butcher your interests and passions. This is a best case scenario. Besides the difficulty of choosing a research- worthy project, you can do what I did and pick something that seems engaging but is a bitch to actually execute. Or prove. Or even explain. In the event that you are stuck with a less-than- desirable topic,

Your will annoy your friends and flatmates:

At various points in the year, you’ll find yourself prioritising your 489’s various deadlines.This will involve tons of whining, explaining, and thinking out loud, and as the deadlines approach, your 489 topic will become your only topic of conversation.You’ll stop checking in with friends or going out on weekends until eventually people stop inviting you to things.After 6 months of dinner conversations involving the phrases “thesis”,“my supervisor says” or “how will I incorporate Bourdieu?”your flatmates will start avoiding you too.

Be prepared to let your health go:

Unless you live for exercise and have been vegan for years, this is not the year to start improving your wellbeing. Instead, start practicing your speed cooking and be ready to live off cereal for weeks at a time, because those chapter deadlines wait for no man.When you’re not downing coffee to keep you awake, you’ll be spending all of your disposable income on comfort food to compensate for all the dinners you won’t have time to be making.This inevitably leads to weight gain, sluggishness, and chocolate stains on most of your clothing, but hey, you can procrastinate by doing the laundry.

Admittedly, you will meet great people:

Thus far, this article has been overwrought with gloom, but it isn’t all bad. Undergrad tutorials are filled with insufferable douchebags, but when you reach honours level they miraculously disappear.

Sweep away your preconceptions about competitive classmates and mouthy “intellectuals” because honours students are generally great.The small class sizes allow you to get to know everyone, and the mid-class coffee breaks and after-

class drinks are opportunities to commiserate with people who know what you’re going through. Once you break past the undergrad barrier, lecturers and Masters students become much friendlier. You might even spot one of those mythical PhD seekers, but I wouldn’t bet on it. If you’re lucky enough to take honours in Film,Theatre, or Media Studies, you get to extend your acquaintance circle to include the faculty higher-ups.This of course means that you can partake in casual Friday get-togethers at Southern Cross (or as Salient staffers call it, ‘SoCro’). Hooray for camaraderie.

To provide a more balanced view, I elicited the opinion of someone much more level- headed and organised than my (jaded) self—my classmate, Katie Freeman-Tayler. Katie is finishing her media honours this year and her 489 is about national identity construction in the New Zealand media.

Katie, what do you think about the honours workload? Is it lighter than at an undergraduate level, or does the difficulty level even out the lower number of courses?

I think that it’s just another step up, like harder, but no harder than going from first to second year etc. I think the real difference though is that at undergrad level you are basically taught everything you need to know in lectures/ readings, so it’s legit to start an essay a few days (night before) and you will be sweet. But at postgrad level you don’t get taught directly what essays are on.You get to pick your own topics a lot of the time and are expected to do more research, so because of that it takes longer and you have to put more effort into the work. Oh and yeah, reading theory as opposed to reading about the theory does make it a bit harder.

Hear hear. Do you think being an honours student has made you feel more comfortable with things like talking to lecturers and other post grads? And what are the perks to smaller class sizes?

The perks are definitely the smaller class sizes (especially when Trisha [Dunleavy, lecturer] supplies you with biscuits and coffee/tea). Also, because of the small class sizes then you are able to negotiate with lectures and get extensions and change deadlines, and they are just generally a lot more accommodating.The small classes also mean you actually get to know your class, and now I have ten new friends which is definitely the best part about honours for me. I also feel a lot more comfortable about approaching lecturers in the faculty, as I like that they know who you are and things about you.At undergrad you are just one of many.

Has your honours year been more or less enjoyable than your undergraduate experience?

It has been a lot more enjoyable. I like that you are focused on one area of study and get to know that so well.The small class sizes would be the huge difference for me from undergrad level though.

What’s the worst thing about taking honours? (e.g. 489 stress, having to read Nietzsche, higher expectations..)

The worst thing would be the 489 (but also potentially the best, ask me in a week). It’s really hard to have to think about something for a whole year and not be able to fully relax with it always in the back of your mind, even if it’s the holidays etc. But I also think it will be very rewarding.Another little aside,I think the one thing I have learnt from honours is how to procrastinate. I have become amazing at cooking, I have learnt how to make hollandaise sauce from scratch, I am constantly baking to fill in time, and have a perfectly organised iTunes library.Also,doing honours I have become immune to coffee and picked up weird habits like doing my washing at 3am when I have to stay up and write an essay.

Katie’s terrific baking aside, she does mention some of the better aspects of honours. Maybe I’m overreacting, or using my last 1200 words to take out my frustrations on the world.The truth is, honours really does improve you as a person. You get to expand your mind in fuller, more productive ways than before, and you get to challenge yourself academically. You gain friends, you gain drinking buddies, and maybe you even gain your parents’ respect. Most importantly, you gain a qualification that’ll hopefully convince employers that you’re hireable. And you can’t put a price on that.

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