My first year experience in English and Creative Writing

Melissa Severn joined Birmingham City University's School of English in 2019 after transferring from another university to study BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing. Melissa explains to us why she chose to pursue a course at BCU, how beneficial her course trips have been, and shares her tips on how to avoid putting pressure on yourself during your first year!

Image of Melissa Severn - School of English blog post - My first year Experience in english and creative writing

What were your expectations before starting your first year at university?

I was expecting (and hoping for) a friendly, inclusive environment in which to learn and flourish in my studies. I hoped for helpful and inspiring professors, role models and kind peers who shared my passions. I also hoped for quiet studying spaces and good social areas on campus. I was nervous but excited!

How did you find the first few months of university?

I found my first few months of university very comfortable and encouraging. All of my module tutors were hard-working and supportive. I found the modules interesting and my peers friendly. I would like to add that the ease I felt during my first year may also be partly due to having started the first year of a degree twice before elsewhere! My previous attempts were on courses that were not suited for me, hence why I chose to come to BCU. My older brother gave it a glowing recommendation after studying there himself and I was impressed on the Open Day. Living at home and commuting on the train also helped to alleviate social anxieties that I’ve experienced previously when living in student halls. 

I found BCU’s lecture halls, seminar classrooms and study spaces more than exceptional; there is enough room for everyone to work independently whilst also being perfect for social interactions and group study. Everywhere is very clean, including the toilets and corridors, which might not sound like a massively important thing - but it really does make a difference. 

Have you been on any course trips? If so, where have you been?

We went to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens which were beautiful, the canal and the Art Museum. Each was highly beneficial to our assignment tasks and so much fun; there were opportunities for both collaborative activities with peers and individual study.

What has been the most fun/interesting project you have worked on?

We visited the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in October. We made notes to later use in original pieces of poetry and prose. Exploring the Gardens was so fun; it was a great social activity considering it was at the beginning of term and therefore everyone was looking to make friends, as well as being a source of inspiration for our assignment task. I also enjoyed writing a feminist essay based on Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ at the end of the year; I felt completely in my element.

Have you had any work experience in your first year?

I haven’t, but I am really looking forward to taking a work experience module next year. I am looking to work in a publishing house for the semester or perhaps shadow a lecturer at BCU. When I have completed my degree and Masters, I would like to become a lecturer and study for a Doctorate.

What is the community like in your school?

Calm and yet thriving; innovative but not over-the-top and overwhelming. The writing tutors are inspiring (I would like to mention Helen Cross in particular here) as they actively work in the industry themselves as well as teaching their craft to us. My peers have been wonderful this year; there has been a distinct lack of any kind of malicious competitiveness that I have experienced in the past elsewhere. We share our work with each other, support each other, complement each other and share constructive criticism.

Are there any projects/trips/modules you are particularly looking forward to in your second year?

I’m excited to study a Poetry module in my second year and also a Screenwriting module. These will be interesting and new for me as I have predominantly focused on writing short stories and working on a novel so far. Work experience will also be incredible – if not slightly nerve-wracking!

Is studying at university much different to college/sixth form? If so/if not, why?

Studying at university is a huge leap from studying at a college/sixth form level. It is highly independent and requires a great deal of self-motivation. BCU tutors and the curriculum supply you with the knowledge needed to complete assignments to a high level, as well as being supportive and inspiring – but the rest is up to you as an individual. How you choose to spend your time outside of contact hours is vital to being successful in your studies.

What advice would you give to students who are starting university soon?

My advice would be not to worry about the social aspects of university life in the first term. Through engaging in lectures and seminars, you will make friends naturally without having to stress yourself out by expending valuable effort trying to befriend your peers. Your peers will grow to be your friends in time without anybody having to feel overly anxious about it. Just be yourself and don’t try to be somebody you’re not. Kind peers are the best type of peers; everybody needs a smiling face that they feel they can approach and sit down next to when they don’t know anybody. 

In terms of studying, I would suggest staying behind on campus after lectures and seminars to do your work. After I catch the train home and settle in for the evening, I never feel like I want to do any work because I'm in comfort mode. At university, I'm in work mode; capitalise on that and make university your studying environment and home your chilling-out environment respectively. Reach out to tutors if you’re struggling and maintain an email relationship with them. Communication is important. Try to stay organised, do your reading and pre-sessional activities within plenty of time (I’m not always perfect at this!) Try not to leave your assignments until the last minute and enjoy them as much as possible. The more time you leave to complete them, the calmer you’ll be. 

My last nugget of advice would be not to put too much pressure on yourself; we’re all young and learning. Of course we’re adults, but the majority of us are new adults, and therefore we’ll make mistakes due to being inexperienced. Don’t beat yourself up; move on and learn from it. Loneliness can be a massive hindrance to happiness and success in your studies, so make sure you always reach out to someone. Mental health comes first! If your mental health is suffering then your studies will suffer; the two are interlinked and the most important thing is that you take care of yourself.

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