Katie… at the start of her career clock

My Career Clock and Education. University – is it worth it?
*Please note these are Katie’s experiences and her own subjective views and not necessarily the views of her peers.

Interviewee: Katie

Why did you want to go to University Katie?
I enjoy education and I want a good job eventually – but I also don’t know what else I would have done otherwise. I enjoy my subject, which is Biological Science.

So, tell me more about the course you are in the middle of right now:
I’ve just finished my second year. It gets a LOT more intense in the second year – a lot more material to cover and you have to be far more original in your ideas, going much further than they teach you, which can be quite difficult.

What’s your experience of how the course is structured?
We have about 20 hours per week of lectures and this includes some practical sessions in the lab. The practicals are very full – around 100 in a lab at the same time (wow! Says Sally). And there is one professor running it with assistants who don’t always know what they’re doing – which can be quite frustrating.

Tell me more…
There are 16 people to one assistant – it’s a lot and it can be really confusing. The sheet they give you at the start isn’t always specific enough to follow. We spend a lot of time waiting around trying to find out what to do.

How often do you see the professors or have one to ones?
We are assigned to two professor tutors at the beginning of the year – one academic and one personal. I saw the academic tutor twice last year – once for ten minutes when he set me an essay and the second time for about 15 minutes when he went through it with me. He has around 8-10 students to see. The personal tutor is available all year – I saw him twice last year on personal or course related matters. You can easily go all year without seeing them.

So how does that feel for you?
I felt annoyed that because everyone has a different tutor, the pieces of work really varied as did the marking. The feedback he gave me on my essay might not be that relevant as it really is subjective and didn’t appear to adhere to something that is scientific!

Katie, I didn’t go to University in the standard way aged 18 (I did Open University in my mid 20’s) – and that was quite some time ago… How do you feel about the fees and accruing debt that is a feature of modern further education?
I wasn’t happy when it went up from £3k to 9k and I have just heard it is going to be increased even more. This doesn’t currently affect me too much in my budgeting as I do manage and I have a part time job, but if it goes up at my University it means I have to owe even more – which is not what I signed up to. They haven’t consulted us. Neither have they told us there is more interest on the student loans – I have heard the loans have been sold off.

This is really scary and I haven’t looked into it too much as I feel so worried about it. We aren’t informed – nobody tells us what’s going on.

That’s really tough on you all. Tell me a bit about the academic lectures – what are they like?
It varies in how many people there can be – there are 180 doing my subject and around 100 turn up. Because it’s all recorded, some people just wait for those recordings to come out. It can be tricky for the lecturers because sometimes they are oversubscribed for a popular lecture and it means there is a waiting list and people miss out – but then registered people just don’t turn up. There is no attendance register of any kind so people can do what they like.

Do you know if this is the case at all universities?

I don’t think lectures are recorded in the same way at other universities, although I’m not certain. But they can look at the slides online.

Do you think you get value for money at University?
I think my subject – biology – is better value for money than others such as English or History which may only have 5 hours per week contact. We do get a lot more lectures than they do and we get supplied with equipment in the lab. But do I think that the course is worth 9k plus living costs? No, I don’t think it really is worth 27k, plus all the living costs.

How do you manage your living costs?
I don’t necessarily budget but I do record everything I spend. I got a part time job in my second year as the roughly 3k loan doesn’t cover everything by any means to live on for a year! It doesn’t even cover my accommodation. Somehow I have to come up with about 2k for food over the year, on my own.

How do you feel when people say student life is wasteful and all about the drinking and partying?
Some people are like that – but not everyone is. My Uni has some rich people who party a lot but many, many others are living on pasta and beans and building up big debts for the future.

How do you picture your future?
I’m quite unsure at the moment…I don’t have a plan yet. I am thinking about a Masters but that would mean more debt. University is mostly what I thought it would be – it can be a stressful course but I enjoy learning about biology and I have a great group of friends. I may however regret university in the future when I have to start paying off the debt!

What would you say to anyone thinking about university now?
Everyone has their own right to make their own opinion. They all have their own situation. Maybe consider if you need to go to a really good Uni if you have low contact hours. I chose this Uni because the Professors are really good and are researching their subject in their own field. But why would you pay the same amount for far less contact hours at a lower Uni?

I wonder if it should be graded in some way. My course is accredited and its useful as it’s a respected Uni. But if you went somewhere else it might not be recognised as much, however you still have to pay the same amount. But then would only the richest be able to go to the best Unis?

There was a lot of drama last year about the NUS (national union students). There has been a lot of feeling that they haven’t properly represented us. In the end we voted to stay with them but I feel we need better representation. I don’t think the media represents us very well – students are not all bad – just a few as in any society.

Would you like to make a final comment to the Championing Women network Katie?
My course is 90% female and yet when you look at our professors they are mainly men and although some women go on to do a Masters and Doctorate, it’s mainly the male students.

I don’t know why that is – why don’t women take their studies further into their careers? It seems to me that most don’t go on to careers in science afterwards… Is it to do with family or wanting a more stable career?

You have to really compete for grants for research in any science and this can be hard and you need something that will ultimately be used in medicine or energy or conservation. My feeling is that women aren’t as competitive or ambitious. But how can we change this?


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