Searching Uncertainty – determining the value of your university experience

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We are inclined to think of uncertainty as a negative thing. The world beyond university insists that we need to have everything “figured out” as soon as possible. Jobs are scarce and a university degree will no longer guarantee immediate employment. After we leave Higher Education, we apparently find ourselves pitted against each other, competing for those scarce job opportunities. The uncertain individuals will find themselves left behind, unless we transform our lives into checklists, continuously heading towards the next objective.

I graduated, as a student of Architecture, in 2016; a year replete with uncertainty. So much change took place in such a short space of time. The world felt as though it had flipped upside-down; the consequences of which we will all feel in years to come. Graduation passed by in a flash, and my reward for four years of life-altering hard work was a single piece of paper. In a year where so much change was happening all around me, I couldn’t help but feel a little lost; a little uncertain.

What now? What next? What future?

I was reminded of an article I read at the very beginning of my studies in 2012. Calling for a search for ‘Alternative Routes for Architecture‘ in The Architectural Review, Will Hunter urges that drastic change in the Higher Education system needs to happen as the future identity of the architect is thrown into uncertainty. Just as I was heading into the next phase of my life, I was suddenly made aware of the burgeoning uncertainty in the profession I hoped to enter. Choosing a vocational degree wasn’t necessarily going to grant me extra opportunities.

I realised I had discovered my own little paradox; that uncertainty is certain, no matter where you look.

The temptation to dwell on the uncertainty of my future had made me belittle my own achievements. My degree wasn’t just a piece of paper; the certificate was actually a signpost, pointing to the experiences throughout my academic career so far. I had, in fact, undertaken many challenges alongside my studies: curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular. Thinking ahead to the uncertainties of my future led me to reflect on those experiences, and qualitatively assess the impact they have made on my own values. For the first time, in the “year of uncertainty” no less, I was beginning to identify the real value of my degree. It wasn’t any one thing, but a culmination of opportunities for me to change my perspective about what I want in my future.

Uncertainty is a given. Rather than fighting it, I have chosen to work with it. For me, the greatest challenge involved pinning down my own value system. And this is an ongoing process of reflection; of registering any and all experiences, striving to understand what you have learned and how you have grown. For me, pursuing opportunities outside my own degree was vital, to help me gain perspective over the insularity of my profession, and to vary the skills I could accrue.

To this end, the Employability Consultancy has done a lot of work revising the University of Edinburgh’s Graduate Attributes, which, at a base level, can be used as a guide towards structuring reflection. The crucial thing I learned from all this was the active nature of reflection; to measure your experiences as you progress through your degree.

What have you learned? What would you do differently next time? What new skills have you gained?

We have a tendency to look at the future in a very singular way; as one great big uncertainty. Yet that puts a cap on the values our multiple possible experiences may yield. And I’m still searching my uncertain future – I’m just a little better at doing it now.

Ruairidh Maxwell

Having graduated from the MA Architecture programme at the University of Edinburgh in 2016, Ruairidh has started his postgraduate studies. In the summer between the two degree courses, he worked closely with the University’s Employability Consultancy on a number of projects. This included a refresh of the Edinburgh Award’s visual language, as well as designing graphic aids for the Graduate Attributes revision. This work, along with a strong research interest in the pedagogy and practice of Architecture, has formed the basis of a philosophy for him: that reflecting on the experiences you already have will grant you a foothold in an uncertain future.

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