Four steps towards a first-class experience.
Talk to people!
The staff and students in ESPS are your most important resource. Here’s why:
Academic staff: You will have regular contact with academic staff – make use of that! They can help you understand texts and ideas as part of your studies, advise you on picking courses for the upcoming year (particularly important in the first year when deciding on a specialization), and could even be told about personal problems. Speak to your class teachers if you have specific questions about their courses; speak to your personal tutor about anything, academic or otherwise, which is impacting on your studies more generally.
Administrative staff: ESPS is an inter-disciplinary, inter-departmental degree. I t involves co-ordination and paperwork! You’ll need to be highly organized for life to run smoothly. So if you’re not sure what you should be doing, and when it should be done – just ask! The administrative staff will help you keep on top of all the forms, and give you a leg up when it comes to jumping through hoops. And they have an excellent overview of the degree and the College as a whole, making them the perfect starting point if you’re not sure where you should be headed with something.
Fellow students: Fellow students are an invaluable source of knowledge and advice. Study groups broaden your understanding and bring new ideas. Students in the years above will also be able tooffer inside information on courses, and on the year abroad. Second years in particular, talk to fourth years about their overseas experiences and gather advice before you go for the default ‘capital city’ option. There is also the European Society, which is a great way to put the degree into a wider context.
Have a goal!
The great thing about ESPS is that it offers variety and flexibility in your studies. But beware the pick and mix! You should not see that variety and flexibility as an opportunity to try a bit of everything. You’ll come out the other end a jack of all trades and a master of none. That’s difficult to market, not to mention hard to sustain. So think carefully and seek advice before picking courses. If you pick coherently then you’ll also find that your courses support each other. There might not be explicit crossover, but the broader understanding of the discipline that comes with it will certainly help.
If you do no other preparation for a class, do the reading. Even if it’s on the bus on the way there. If you don’t read the text, then you’ve got no way into the discussion. An hour wasted. On the other hand, if you do read the text, then you can join in, help yourself (and others) understand, and get something out of the time you spend in the classroom. You’re going to be there anyway, so make use of it. And if you’re struggling, think of it as study time saved later on. An hour in an interactive learning environment must be worth two studying on your own in your room.
Finally, time flies. So stay on the ball. In all years, but especially in the final year, deadlines creep up and pounce. Being organized and doing things in good time (the dissertation springs to mind) opens up a whole lot of doors – your first choice of courses, access funds and grants, interviews and postgraduate offers. It also keeps a lid on stress. Above all though, seek out and take up opportunities. Don’t be complacent: don’t think ‘oh, I’ll have time later/next year/in my next life’. Because before you know it, you’ll be graduating. And you won’t have done it, whatever it was.
Alison Mallard, August 2006
Some points to take into account regarding your exciting experience as an ESPS student.
What makes ESPS special and its consequences: Soon after starting your ESPS degree, anyone will realize that they are not the “Average-Joe student” but a rather unique subspecies, the “interdisciplinary discoverer”. Whereas in other degrees, the programme of study is quite straightforward; what is required of you is the ability to choose and excel in a wide range of subjects. This is not only a fantastic opportunity to provide yourself with a widely differing set of skills and discover academic paths from economics to anthropology but also entails several pitfalls. Therefore, several key points are of essential importance to the ESPS student.
1. Organise events and meetings as a group in the First Year. The core module, Introduction to European History, Law, Politics and Philosophy, provides you with a perfect occasion. This will help you to progress as a year group, form friendships and develop a good atmosphere within the course. The First Year flies by and in the Second Year, you will each follow your individual paths through the labyrinth of academics.
2. Use any help you find. The ESPS staff, both academic and administrative, will help you in any possible way and many other students envy our programme for this. Especially in the beginning, don’t be shy to ask for help. Furthermore, use the other year groups for information on the Year Abroad or questions regarding the organisation of your dissertation.
3. Consistent work. In order to fulfil your academic potential which you have demonstrated by gaining your admission, it is necessary to work consistently and with a certain focus. This is not to say that you should sit fifteen hours per day in your room over your books. However, it is crucial to do the required reading to keep up with the workload. Furthermore, you need to develop good time management skills as work will pile up at certain points, especially with essays towards the end of term.
4. Year Abroad. Enjoy !!!!!!!!!! It will probably be a unique experience and the most important thing in your Year Abroad is that you take the maximum gain from it. Try to improve your language skills both inside and outside the classroom. Make the most of it by mingling not only with other Erasmus students, but also with the locals. And finally, easier said than done, if you are taking the Dissertation option, don’t lose sight of it completely.
5. Dissertation. If you are taking the Dissertation (optional unit for finalists in 2010-11 and 2011-12), no one will ever get tired of telling you how important it is. Whilst this is true, one should not forget that it only entails 1/8 of your final classification, so don’t neglect the rest of the work. It is therefore sensible to have at least a rough draft ready by the time you return from your Year Abroad. This is a very personal piece of work and you will develop a rather special relationship with it; normally it will be the first work you researched yourself. However, it is still considered a piece of academic work, so try not to be too one-sided and opinionated, especially when you cannot back it up with academic references.
Finally, and this is probably the most important piece of advice, have fun and enjoy your time as an ESPS student., because these four years should be a memorable and pleasant experience for all of you.
Best of luck,
Matthias Kerbusch, Summer 2008