By Vanessa Tautter |
In the context of an increasingly competitive academic culture and the tough financial environment that can accompany university studies, particularly in countries with (high) tuition fees, taking extra time to think and learn is difficult. Yet, taking part in discussions, being open to different perspectives, actively processing and digesting new ideas and reflecting upon one’s own development is an essential aspect of learning and academia – and this may take time. University education should not only centre around finishing your courses and degrees as quickly as possible but offer you genuine education and an inspiring learning environment to support academic and personal growth as well as student involvement, in more than just your specialist field.
University is a great opportunity to try out new things, to learn about different areas of study. In a way, it is an experience of trial and error, of detours and distractions, to try out and to gain experiences, to eventually find out what truly interests you, and to also develop several different interests you might focus on at different stages of your (university) life. If your programme offers modules in different thematic fields, attend a variety to broaden your perspective on your own research, but also to enjoy a more holistic learning experience. This may take more time than focusing on one subject only, but it will also be highly rewarding as you may delve into new spheres of knowledge and gain insights you would have missed otherwise.
In addition to learning about different fields of study, academic development in general takes time as learning and intellectual progress do not necessarily follow the set frames of curricula. It takes time to immerse oneself into new ideas and concepts, theories and methods, to thoroughly understand and to critically engage with them to develop your own innovative ideas. University should not only allow for but actively encourage such academic development, even if it may take longer than the standardised time-frames envisaged for completing your degree.
Five years (or longer) of BA and MA studies in addition to the time spent on your PhD research is a substantial period to develop and change as a person. Quite certainly you are a different person when you are in your mid-twenties than when you were 18: You may be more self-reflective, and you may have elaborated the ways in which you perceive the world around you. University can be a space for personal growth, in which students can try out who they are, who they want to be. With programmes like Erasmus+, for instance, going on student exchange has never been easier. Sure, there is still some organisational hassle and it may cost you an additional semester or year, but the pros clearly outweigh the cons. You can meet interesting people, immerse yourself in a different (academic) culture, develop new interests and make friends for a lifetime. Going on exchange, however, is only one way to try out new things. Regardless of what you do, making new experiences and discovering new fields of interest should always be part of university studies, as it is part of any learning process. And, as learning and erring are closely related, universities should also leave room for students to, at times, fail and to, subsequently, learn from their mistakes – regardless of whether this concerns bad life choices or grades. Such reflection process and personal development takes time, too.
A further important aspect that takes a certain amount of time but facilitates learning is student involvement. This can include active engagement with what is going on in the wider world by voicing social and political criticism, taking part in protests, supporting strikes or organising discussion groups. It can also include involvement with student organisations and societies or the organisation of talks, lectures or conferences, such as the “Transcending Borders – Redrawing Perspectives” student conference we are currently organising in Graz. Connecting with like-minded students and getting involved in something you truly care about, regardless of what this may be, is a fruitful experience from which everyone involved can only profit and learn.
Regardless of what part of your studies you are in, academic development, personal growth and student involvement takes time and effort, but it is time well spent. Why would you want to hurry through your undergraduate and postgraduate studies only focusing on one specialist field without using the opportunities and possibilities that university offers to broaden your perspectives? Of course, I am not saying that it is always easy to make time for additional endeavours and side projects, but trying to do so as much as possible is rewarding. So, appreciate and enjoy the time and opportunities you have whilst studying for your BA, MA or PhD – after all, it’s still a privilege.
Vanessa Tautter is a PhD student at the University of Graz with a focus on contemporary history, memory and cultural studies. Currently, she is co-organising the international and interdisciplinary student conference “Transcending Borders – Redrawing Perspectives”.