Diary of a Fresher: 'I've become someone who merely wants to get by'

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The Independent Online

This past week, I've had to submit two essays and perform in two shows as well as write this bloody column, and it's almost killed me. It's my fault – at the beginning of term, a lot of my friends resolved to get more involved in university life, and I decided to join them. Now that my academic workload has been unexpectedly doubled by the powers that be, I'm forced to get up earlier than the science students and limit my social interaction to meal times just to stay afloat. It's not a fun life.

My most recent essay has been particularly nasty. Three thousand words on a topic of which I knew nothing, and with the one set of lectures that might have helped me being given by a sweet old gentleman whose style makes Ulysses seem coherent.

Apart from the occasional covert peek at Wikipedia, there are certain other tricks I've started using to maximise the reading-time-to-essay-worthy-information-gleaned ratio when doing research. I always look out for library books that have been illegally but helpfully annotated by someone who has obviously been writing the same essay as me. It's often useful to find books on tangential subjects, so long as the specific essay topic exists in the index. Such books normally contain a wealth of supremely quotable soundbites, and, what's more, will likely make your essay "original".

It's essentially impossible to understand properly any subject in the time we've got. This makes it difficult to gauge how hard we ought to be working here. It's very possible to spend every waking hour in the library and still feel like we haven't done enough.

It would be very easy to divide students into the pasty-faced, glasses-wearing intellectuals who devote themselves whole-heartedly to their work, and the virile, lager-swilling sportspeople who work only hard enough to get by, but for the most part this simply isn't the case. My friend Frank, for instance, is a scientist with vague plans to go into medicine. He wants to do as well as he possibly can and he plays rugby. Conversely, now I no longer have the goal of getting into a good university to motivate me, I've become someone who merely wants to get by. Alas, I can't say I've noticed any increase in my virility yet.

It still doesn't feel like there are enough hours in the day to get my essays written, no matter how sloppily. My most recent essay ended in a 12-hour marathon on the day of the deadline, skipping lectures and substituting energy drinks for meals before sending off my triumphant, un-proof-read submission two minutes before the deadline.

My supervision the next day was slightly less triumphant. The essay was fine, I was told, but one of the more eminent professors, whom I had referred to in my essay as "he", turned out to be a woman. I felt like the worst kind of misogynist. I'd also used the word "overtly" 12 times. I decided it would be best to spend the rest of the supervision nodding mutely.

As I was about to leave, my supervisor had a thought.

"You also might want to take another look at your introduction, David. It reads a bit journalistically." Ah.