Our finalists graduated in October. One of them, Martin Baker, tells us about why he came to Newman and how it helped him tackle the next stage of his career.
There are lots of blogs out there that sing the praises or more commonly highlight the faults of an institution, person or group. I thought I would try to make this blog a little different. Yes, this blog will focus on my time at Newman University, but it will aim to give a different angle. My time at Newman was both the most rewarding and challenging experience, but how did Newman equip me with the skills for the dreaded ‘real world’? What does Newman’s unique nature mean? I will also attempt to give any prospective students some ‘top tips’ for getting their most out of their time at Newman.
Firstly, let me try and stretch my memory as to why I chose ‘destination Newman’. Essentially I chose Newman because like many other of its students its inclusive and personalised nature was simply too much of an offer to turn down. Don’t underestimate the benefits of a ‘smaller institution’, it has benefits that far outweigh any concerns you may have. You get to know the staff much better and most importantly you get to know your fellow students much, much better. So, how does this materialise in university life? Well, three years can at times feel like a lifetime and those long winter nights when you may be struggling to find any inspiration or might just be having a day are made more bearable. No, they can’t do your work for you! But what they can do is offer guidance, support and a reassuring ‘don’t worry, I’m in the same position’. I can tell you now, this is invaluable.
So, what else do I remember fondly from my time at Newman? Well at the top of the list must be the various field trips we embarked upon. Wroxeter, Oxford, Thinktank and Cosford to name but a few. But without doubt what I remember most fondly (and what made me the envy of many of my friends studying History elsewhere) was the trips to Athens, Rome and Florence. I should say that visiting the centre of the Ancient world and the home of the Renaissance was both memorable, fun and remarkably useful. I was able to connect what I had read in books to real life experiences, visit places I probably never would have had the opportunity to and perhaps most importantly gain new ideas which would go on to form the basis of my dissertation. Of course, there is primarily an academic nature to the trip but what also made these trips great was the time I was able to spend with friends and meeting fellow students from other years. It’s fair to say we saw many a monument coupled with fine Italian food (not to mention the odd glass of wine). These trips are a must, yes there is a fee, but they are totally affordable and offer experiences you will remember well past your degree.
Another unique feature of studying History at Newman is the work placement module. Studying a history degree which includes a work placement element may seem unusual but this was one of the most useful parts of my degree. It enabled me to make my degree relevant, to make a difference and to enhance my skills base. Once again this part of the course makes Newman one of the unique institutions. There are no limits as to where you can carry out your placement but I can give you a few ideas as to where some people chose. Law firms, primary and secondary schools, archives, libraries and a wide range of museums cover just a few. I chose Newman Brothers coffin works, it’s a recently opened niche museum in Birmingham’s famous jewellery quarter. I carried on volunteering well after my 100 hour placement had finished. I was then lucky enough to gain two paid jobs in the highly competitive museums sector following this which eventually enabled me to gain a place on a PGDipEd teaching course in secondary history. Well what made all this possible? Undoubtedly it was Newman’s brilliant connections to different sectors right across the Midlands. Without those connections, I wouldn’t have got into museums in the first place or got onto the course I am now. The work placement is a highly relevant, attractive and enjoyable module. It really does place you in good stead for life after graduation and makes you a much more attractive proposition to future employers.
So I’ve highlighted some of the features that enhanced my time at Newman but what were my academic experiences like? What I, and many of my course mates enjoyed was the wide variety of assessment methods. These ranged from essays, individual and group presentations, source analyses, exams, commentaries and of course a final dissertation. This pretty much means that there will be some form of assessment for everybody. They are all highly academic and challenging but the variety of assessment provides you with a wider set of skills and opportunities than most other intuitions. Now of course the dissertation is the pinnacle of all degrees and is challenging. What made it much easier for me was having my ideas accepted, stretched and challenged by academics at the top of their discipline. They went above and beyond at the most awkward of hours to help me build a distant question into a 10,000 word thesis. They were always just an email away and this made my dissertation much more less daunting and enjoyable! Research seminars are another part of academic life at Newman that are open to all. Seminars led by academics from across the country can help to shape your ideas on certain subjects and spark interests. I was also lucky enough to act as an ambassador for a conference held at Newman that attracted world leading academics from across the globe. Now I’m sure that I’ve forgotten some things but I have one simple message. Yes, Newman is a smaller institution, but it’s at the top of its academic game and you will be both challenged academically and be provided with numerous opportunities to get involved and grow your ideas.
Undoubtedly everybody has different experiences at University but if I was to recommend some top tips for getting the most out of your time at Newman it would be these. Firstly, embrace Newman’s nature as a smaller institution. Speak to the lecturers for help and guidance, especially if your struggling or have any ideas you want to develop further. Also, make as many friendships with fellow students as you can. Newman lends itself to this and everybody is in the same situation, this is invaluable. Secondly, go on as many field trips as you can. These are both extremely useful, memorable and most of all enjoyable! I can pretty much guarantee that you will be the envy of your friends. Finally, try and make the most out of the work placement module. This makes you a highly attractive proposition as a graduate and can also be useful during your degree. Let’s put it this way. The work placement module transformed my weekends from a 5am start in a fast food chain to working alongside priceless artefacts and mixing with likeminded professionals in the heritage industry. So, if I was to sum up my time at Newman in three words they would have to be, unique, memorable and enjoyable. And no, I wouldn’t change a thing, I’d do it all again!