First: a confession. I was a stereotypically incompetent Oxford undergraduate, who found it especially hard to manage my time, regularly pulling caffeine-crazed all-nighters to meet my weekly essay deadlines, worrying over how to start writing, not knowing where or when to ask for help. I did ok by the end of my BA degree because I loved literature, read widely, and could write about it in exams fairly well. But it was not until I began my postgraduate education in Canada that I began to acquire the study skills that made a PhD possible.
Once I discovered that every good writer finds the process difficult, and that there are many texts and websites that give sound advice on developing an efficient individual writing process, I was on my way. Two profs in particular helped me with my prose too, and I still mentally run every piece I write today across their desks. I now actually enjoy writing, and pride myself on defying the cliché of turgid, unreadable prose that is–fancy that–read only by other academics, family members, and polite friends. Don’t do this to your friends or your mother!
What has this to do with your upcoming experience at the BISC? Well I imagine that amongst the excitement at the adventures you are about to have, there will be anxiety about the essay writing that will be a major component in the assessment of many of your castle courses. To put it bluntly, in the next academic year you will have to write a fair amount of high quality prose, structured well, and articulating engaging arguments. This is a tall order, but castle students are all capable of it, or they would not have been admitted in the first place.
Help is, of course, at hand. You could take WRITING 175: Effective Writing, a fall term class, that will guide you through the whole writing process to give you confidence in your own practice and ability as an academic writer. The transferable skills you’ll learn in this course will pay off throughout your degree. We also organize free lunchtime seminars throughout the year to address particular writing issues that first years find tricky, such as “writing your first university essay”, or “how to research online effectively”. There are many friendly mentors available on campus, too. First among these are your profs who will happily review work in progress with you. You might also talk to our Scholar in Residence, or our Research Director, if you would like a point of view from outside the class you are writing for. Upper year students can be a good source of advice from your own generation, and we have an excellent ESL specialist and buddy program if linguistic issues are making writing tough. There is absolutely no shame in seeking help– indeed it is a sign of intelligence–and being an efficient writer gives you more time to do the fun things in England.
So, don’t worry! Writing will be a major challenge of your first year, but use the help we provide, and you will be fair set for the rest of your degree…
Dr Christian Lloyd
BISC Academic Director