June 12, 2013, by Fraser
From studying something you don’t love to studying something you do
Dr Nathan Waddell, Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature at the University, on studying something he didn’t love, studying something he did — and that making all the difference…
Although many people will want to tell you that it’s vital to have your career trajectory mapped out from an early age in perfect sequence, life will often force you down unanticipated roads.
At school I took my exams early and went through the UCAS process three times. At the tender age of 16 I was interviewed for a place to study English Literature at Oriel College, Oxford. I was told I was a bit too young, and that I ought to apply again in due course. Between that interview and the next round of UCAS applications I somehow decided that English wasn’t for me, even though it was the subject I looked forward to studying most in my A-Level classes.
I studied a broad range of A-Level subjects and was offered a place to study Chemistry at Christ Church, Oxford. But within a few days of starting it dawned on me that I had chosen ‘career prospects’ over ‘love for my subject’ as the motivating force for going to university. To cut a long story short, I left Oxford after just two weeks of starting there. Understandably, many friends and family members were convinced that I was making a mistake. Christ Church’s administrators told me that I’d wasted the best opportunity of my life. Hearing this aged 17 was difficult, and I didn’t handle it without shedding tears. But I was convinced that I was in the right, and that leaving Oxford, however difficult, was the correct path.
After leaving Christ Church I opted for the subject I honestly loved most – English Literature – and was offered a place at the University of Birmingham. I stayed on for a Master’s degree in English, but mid-way through that postgraduate course the old nagging feelings of whether or not studying an Arts subject would get me anywhere in life returned.
I decided to take a ‘writing-up year’ to decide what to do. During this period I worked on my MPhil thesis and held several boring jobs. I also applied for, and was interviewed at, the Birmingham School of Acting. In that audition I was told that I was far more convincing discussing literature than performing it. I completed my MPhil in 2007, the same year I began my PhD (for which, again, I received AHRC funding). I completed the doctoral degree in 2010, and achieved my first permanent job as a Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary Literature, after several part-time posts, at Nottingham in late 2012, almost ten years after beginning my University experience.
My advice? Study what you love at university, whatever the subject may be. Fiercely debate with those who try to make you deny your passions. Work as hard as you can throughout your course, and try to achieve the best marks possible. You can do this and have fun at the same time. You’re more likely to do well at university if you concentrate on the task at hand – i.e. learning – and put the end-goal, employment, on the back burner. A different, and perhaps unexpectedly enjoyable, set of employment prospects will come your way if you excel academically. Passion is precious. Embrace it.