Honours is kind of like the menopause of scholarship. It happens later in your university life – your last year as an undergrad – and it’s a massive adjustment. Uni life becomes something altogether different; your focus shifts, and you’re more likely to be found with a book than in a bar. Much like going through The Change, you struggle to sleep, moods vacillate with wild abandon and you regularly find yourself waking up in cold sweats. Everything is out of your control, from deadlines to bowel movements. It’s rough. And just like menopause, no one ever talks about it.
Yet, ask any academic on campus and they’ll say the same the same thing – nothing is as hard as Honours. No PhD and no Masters can compare to the rigorous pace of an Honours course; a year, as you’ll find out, is startlingly little time to both write a dissertation and keep up with coursework. Add to that lack of time a lack of resources and you’re starting to get close to a sense of what it’s like.
Pelican says no more to the forgotten Honours student. Read this guide as you embark on the hardest, but most instructive year of your university life, and let us light your way. Nobody else will.
- Befriend your cohort.
It’s 2 am in the Reid Library. It’s just you, and a rubbish bin full of Tommy Sugo takeaway cups for company. Honours is a pretty solitary year – my arts course only required three contact hours a week, and they all fell on the same day. The rest of the week was spent in the library, staring at my computer screen, dreaming about the cold embrace of the grave. The antidote to this kind of loneliness is your peers. At the end of the day, the truth is that no one understands what it’s like except them. Get on first name basis, and bring tea and cakes to classes that are few and far between. You’ll be grateful when they offer to proofread your final draft, and for the ‘me too’ when you detail your inevitable breakdown the week before submission. Hold onto each other.
- Start writing your thesis early.
In my experience, the student who starts writing late doesn’t do so out of laziness. In fact, these students are often the most passionate. It’s a bit of a nasty habit to bring over from undergrad to try and nail down all your research before you begin to write. When you’re writing a dissertation, the subject matter is so big that you’ll simply never hold it all in your hands. Write early, and you’ll have time to stop and research when you hit bumps along the way. And nothing’s going to psych you out more than being six hundred words in when the rest of your class is halfway through. Stop researching; start writing.
- Suss your word processing.
There’s typing, and there’s typing. Move on from Microsoft Word and look into ‘project management’ programs like Scrivener that allow you to have both your notes and your dissertation open in the same window. As a self-confessed Luddite, I handwrote my notes and the bulk of my thesis, and saw it come back to bite me in a particularly fraught couple of hours of slapstick comedy at UniPrint. Get a grip on formatting seemingly trivial things like your page numbers and table of contents – save yourself the stress. For those of you including any kind of images, expect a bizarre kind of nightmare scenario in which you waste precious hours trying to format them. If you can’t format the image in a word document without wanting to smash a third-floor library window, insert it into a single table cell – I’ve heard it works a treat.
- Set up a workspace
When I was in my Honours year, fourth-years had access to UWA library postgraduate study areas. The desks in these spaces are bigger, cleaner and all have built in powerpoints. But with UWA radically changing its course structure to accommodate more postgraduate degrees, these spaces are closing their legs to incoming Honours students. This isn’t the catastrophe it sounds like – desks in the PGAs operate on a ‘hot-desk’ basis just like the rest of the library, and it wasn’t unusual for me to leave my things on a desk in the wee hours of the morning to go and have a nap at home, only to return mere hours later to find my stuff had been removed by a library staff member. Library staffers were always lovely about returning my confiscated books, and I wholeheartedly believe the ‘hot-desk’ rule to be the diabolical plan of some lone wolf; a particularly cruel-hearted and passive aggressive librarian. If you can afford to avoid library desk politics, and arseholes that take phone calls from the seat next to you, do it. Set up a desk at home where there’s plenty of space and good vibes to help you through.
- Remember: this is just as hard as it feels.
Some days Honours feels like the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It probably is. The Pelican Office is always open for tea and sympathy – we won’t forget about you.
Words by Lucy Ballantyne