What the Guardian University Rankings Won’t Tell You

University rankings remind me of the Daily Mail. We all know we shouldn’t take them seriously but we also want to know what they’re saying.

So the Guardian’s “University Guide” for 2014 has been released, comprised of a variety of metrics comprising that elusive “Guardian Score.”

I’m currently a graduand of Sheffield’s Politics department, so I’m using Sheffield in the Guardian’s Politics league table as my example. It currently ranks 21st out of 77 institution and 13th out of the Russell Group. Not dreadful, but it’s not exactly something the Politics department want to be shouting about.

Yet ranking institutions in terms of their “Guardian” hides some really interesting stats and I guess, more “marketable” stats:

  • It’s second in the Russell Group (to Cambridge) for “course satisfaction” and “teaching satisfaction” (95%)
  • First in the Russell Group for “feedback satisfaction” (77%)

(I use the Russell Group as a proxy measure for prestige, whether I should or not is obviously debate-able).

Sheffield admittedly ranks poor in some areas, one of them being student:staff ratio, which is 23.1:1. Only Leeds University has a higher ratio in the Russell Group.

But, despite this, Sheffield is actually very good at student:staff interaction. In my final year, I wasn’t once taught by a PhD student (a.k.a GTA). The amount of interaction with professors and lecturers you get in your final year is brilliant, and it’s a key selling point of Sheffield.

Sure, it’s not the Oxbridge tutorial system but you won’t find this kind of interaction at the London School of Economics, who have the lowest student:staff ratio (10.7:1). In other words, having a lower student:staff ratio doesn’t mean that you’re more likely to be able to spend time with your academics.

There’s a similar problem with the “spend per student” metric, where Sheffield gets a pretty poor 4/10. But what does this actually mean? Will you actually get more resources at your disposal, or is it actually paying a top-of-the-range academic that doesn’t interact with undergraduate students? It’s not obvious from the statistic.

I’m not saying rankings aren’t useful. Graduate job statistics are always worth considering, especially given how high the fees are (and Sheffield isn’t exactly stellar in this regard). But are the graduates getting jobs you’re interested in? You have to dig deeper than the rankings to find this stuff out.

Is it Worth Doing a Postgraduate Degree?

Now that I’m in my final year of my undergraduate degree, one of the questions I’ve had to ask myself is whether I want to apply for a Masters.

I’ve always thought that one of the reasons that postgraduate study is so attractive to final years is because we have been on what I like to describe as an ‘educational conveyer belt’.

For the last seventeen years, we have been on this conveyer belt of education. We’ve had the opportunity to drop off at 16 and 18, but we’ve chosen to stay on. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily stop you from having a part-time/summer job but education has been somewhat of a paramount structure for the overwhelming majority of our lives.

The idea of ‘falling off’ that conveyor belt can seem pretty scary, particularly for those that have very little experience of the 9 to 5 working world. And yet, the fact that the benefits of postgraduate are generally less clear-cut compared to A-Levels/undergraduate study, as well as the costs and lack of funding opportunities, it can be a terribly risky investment.

I have thought long and hard about whether postgraduate study would benefit me and, given my personal circumstances, I would prefer to jump straight into a job if I can. However, I thought I would share what I consider to be the key questions that anyone considering postgraduate study should ask themselves:

Is it going to enhance your career prospects?

Not all vocations require a postgraduate degree, and some recruiters may in fact see you as ‘overqualified.’ Some companies may see it as a bonus and others will treat you the same as a candidate with just an undergraduate degree. This will vary between career paths and between companies.

In terms of trying to find out the benefits of postgraduate study, it may be useful to search for the LinkedIn profiles of those with the degree you’re thinking about studying. The scope is limited and it’s probably skewed towards those who are in a decent job, but it’s a start to see what kind of positions that the degree can set you up for.Similarly, you could also use LinkedIn to find those in roles which you are interested in order to look at their education background.

It may also be worth finding job advertisements for positions of interest and considering if the skills/knowledge you would gain in postgraduate study would allow you to better match the person specification for these roles. After all, general skills like teamworking and independent research are already ticked off by the time you’ve completed your undergraduate, so the emphasis can be on more practical skills or in-depth knowledge of a subject area.

Have you looked into part-time/distance learning?

Just because you’re not on campus doesn’t mean you should ever stop learning. Part-time or distance learning courses can be a great way to supplement your education whilst you’re earning. Postgraduate qualifications range from Certificates (PGCert), Diplomas (PGDip) and Masters degrees (MA/MSc). Don’t think you’re restricted to universities either, Chartered Institutes such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) also offer their own qualifications that are widely recognised by employers.

Plus, there are plenty of free courses if you just want to brush up your education in your spare time. For a taste of what’s out there, have a look at Coursera, iTunes U and Lifehacker U

Would it be more beneficial to revisit it in future?

By thinking of the educational conveyor belt, you can see how there may be a pressure to sign up for a postgraduate degree immediately after finishing your undergraduate. Yet, even if you have a desire to do postgraduate study, it may be more beneficial to revisit this plan several years down the line.

Firstly, you may benefit from being in a better position both financially and experience-wise, which can make postgraduate study less of a gamble. Also, for some degrees having relevant professional experience is even beneficial in the application process and it will allow you to apply skills gained from employment to your studies.

An employer put it to me once “universities are always going to take your money.” In short, opportunities for postgraduate study are always going to be there. Given the current economic climate, graduate job opportunities tend to be harder to come by.

You know it’s not an extension of your undergrad, right?

Going back again to the education conveyor belt, it’s very easy to think that a postgraduate degree would just be more of the same. As fun as your student years are, the reality is that postgraduate study isn’t going to be another chance of being a fresher as the workload is likely to be more intense.

Unless you plan on doing a PhD after, you’re only delaying the inevitable ending of the education conveyer belt and you may in fact be limiting your opportunities in the process.

In summary, postgraduate study isn’t for everyone. If you’re unsure, scope out those in the jobs you want, consider non-campus based options and remember get advice from a variety of sources (academics, careers services and postgraduates are generally good places to start). If you’re still on the fence, you may find taking some time out can actually benefit your experience, so don’t feel pressured to sign up for a course right away.

Moving On From a Break-Up

I remember someone telling me that you’ll never forget your first love. She said she was going to get a tattoo of the Chinese symbol for love on her back after she falls in love for the first time.

I actually considered getting a tattoo of some sort after my break-up with my first love when our relationship ended a month ago, after nearly two years. Not for the above reason though, it would be because my ex always said how much he didn’t like tattoos (especially the ones I was fond of). I felt the need to rebel against everything he wanted me to be.

Luckily, I didn’t get the tattoo and I no longer feel the need to rebel. Here’s my tips for moving on from a break-up:

The Coping Stage

Everyone has what I call a ‘coping stage’ – coming to terms with the whole thing. It was interesting timing for my break-up (which I think took place about midnight) because I had four of my best female friends from home coming up to stay the next evening. I cried several times as I recounted everything to them.

Sometimes you do have to cry it out, there should be no shame in that. But this group consoling session taught me several important lessons:

1. People Change. Especially when they go to university. New city, new friends, new timetable, new freedoms, new life. And sometimes, people change in such a way that means that the relationship is no longer meant to be.

I changed too, everybody does, but that didn’t mean that my relationship, or any of my friendships from back home, were necessarily going to suffer from it.

Unfortunately, the ways he changed meant our relationship couldn’t work anymore. I don’t say that with any resentment or spite towards him, I say it as a statement of truth. He clearly came out of his shell when he discovered independent living, London clubbing and living in halls with so many single, pretty girls.

From my experience of dealing with heterosexual relationships of this nature, it does seem to be the guy who seems to change more than the girl. Now, this could be a biased because I’ve spoken to far more girls about this that guys. But it does seem that men, especially of university age need to get “having complete freedom” out of their system.

A lot of it is down to gender stereotypes. The stereotype for a single guy at university (rightly or wrongly) is to get drunk and get laid. Single girls also perpetuate the situation by having one night stands. I don’t say the latter point in an anti-feminist way, but there’s definitely more societal pressure for single guys at university to have casual sex than girls.

Sometimes, this pressure prevents them from either staying faithful, or in may case, staying in a LDR. From my experience of talking to male friends who came out of relationships before/whilst at university, they will usually do this “having complete freedom” kick for about six months to a year, before wanting to get back into a relationship again.

2. I Am Independent. Another thing I never quite realised is just how independent I was. But that was because I was blinded by studying my behaviour over the course of relationship(texting him, phoning him, seeing him) and not what I’d actually achieved in other areas. I’ve achieved academic goals, work goals and personal goals. Sure, maybe I got a little pep talk once in a while to get me there, but I had earned it through my hard work.

I have lots to be proud of in my life and that’s given me confidence. Before, I was blocking out everything else that my ex wasn’t a part of and thinking that I couldn’t do anything without him. In fact, I can now think of a number of things that my ex prevented me from doing, in terms of academia and career progression. So, sometimes a little perspective and evaluation is all that’s needed.

My Tips For Coping

Be Optimistic. I’m a firm believer that nobody has a ‘soulmate.’ And even if they did exist, with six billion people in the world, what would be the chances you’d ever meet them?! If you believe you’ll never find happiness or love again, it’s unlikely you will any time soon as you won’t have the confidence that’s oh-so-attractive. It may take months or even years to find love again, as much of it is down to chance (for a slightly tongue-in-cheek view of this problem, see the Why I Don’t Have a Girlfriend paper from Peter Backus, Warwick University). Yet, your next relationship could be closer to you than you think. Believing things will get better if the first step for them actually getting better.

A Good Break-up Playlist. Apart from maybe professional counselling, music is the best therapist. In fact, you could argue that the only reason I was able to cope is because of my break-up playlist. Everyone has their own preferences, albums I’d recommend are Stronger by Kelly Clarkson and Romance is Boring by Los Campesinos! (although I can’t listen to the latter anymore due to me inviting him to the LC! gig in early November. You live and you learn, clearly).

Really Really Good Friends. I am really lucky that I have lots of good friends both at university and at home. The love and time I used to give to my boyfriend, I’m now giving back to all my friends. I’m seeing/speaking to a lot of friends who I’ve lost contact with, organising reunions, going out for drinks/dinners. A couple of other people have been through some bad times in their relationships too, which I’ve been able to help them through.  Sometimes it’s odd helping someone out with their break-up when they tell me “surely it can’t be half as bad as what you’re going through?” The weird thing is, I know I’ll be fine, therefore I (generally) am.

Avoiding Romantic Films. I’m writing this during the Christmas season, which means there’s a lot of soppiness going about on the telebox at the moment. But there’s a handful of films which avoid the nauseous levels of romance that “Love Actually” throws at us every year. “He’s Just Not That Into You” is probably my favourite film at the moment. Others I’d recommend are “The Holiday” and good old “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” These choices are probably more aimed at women then men, but I am female…

Ride The Wave. This is a phrase that my friend used, basically just do exactly what feels right. I had no appetite for the first few days. And when I did get my appetite I treated myself to lots of steak and chocolates! And I shopped and impulsively bought a Polaroid Pogo (which I’m currently obsessing over) and a new phone. It sounds materialistic but after a break-up I think that it’s the perfect opportunity to mix things up and spoil yourself.

Remember All You’ve Achieved (And Are Currently Achieving). Following on from how I re-discovered how independent I was, it’s worth reinforcing these things. Make a list of all the things you’ve achieved that have been nothing to do with your ex, to remember what you have done alone. I also restarted my Tumblr after my break-up as a way to document all the positive outings and things of note I’ve done since, therefore documenting my happy and single times.

‘Deleting’ the Memories. The one thing that prevents people from moving on is constantly yearning for the ‘good’ times. Even if me and my ex got back together (and there’s more chance of hell of freezing over), it wouldn’t be as good as it was in the beginning, and that’s true for many relationships that sour. My friend gave me the tip of putting all the images on a virtual cloud account (like Dropbox) so they could be deleted from your computer so you wouldn’t stumble across them (but not delete them forever). Personally, I’ve chosen to leave all the images on Facebook/iPhoto. But at the same time, I don’t obsessively look at them. If I do stumble across them, all it reminds me of is how happy I was then and how I never felt that in the final months of our relationship. But as a rule of thumb, deleting the photos is generally a good idea to help the moving on process, at least in the early stages.

Finally, Embrace Being Single! Being single opens a whole world of opportunities to rediscover yourself. It was weird being out of a relationship after nearly two years, to the point I felt like I had to remember what I was like before I was in the relationship to try and be happy as a single person. But all that made me realise was how I am a completely different person now. It’s time to rediscover myself. I could not be more excited for the new year and to take up so many new hobbies, go out more and seize a lot of opportunities!

Hopefully, this blog has helped some people come to terms with how to approach getting over an intense relationship. The cliché “Time heals all wounds” is very very true, but hopefully this can help speed up the process!