Spotlight on Joint Honours degree: A student’s perspective

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In this ‘Spotlight on Joint Degrees’ post, student Isabelle Sher reflects on her experience of studying as a Joint Honours student at The University of Edinburgh….

I am a second year Joint Honours student, studying English Literature and History. From the outset of my studies, I assumed that, as a Joint Honours student, I would be studying both disciplines in equal measure. However, as my first year progressed, I found myself reflecting more and more on this point. What did it mean to give equal time to both degree disciplines when the courses were structured so differently? More importantly perhaps, why did the expectations of each school contrast so dramatically from one another?

Don’t get me wrong. For the majority of the year, I was pleased (by and large) with the course content and the way in which the two degrees slotted together. But if I was to describe the structure of my degree in the barest terms possible, I would say it felt like a single Honours in English Literature with additional History modules.

The opportunity to take subjects outside of your core degree was one of the fundamental reasons I applied to The University of Edinburgh, and taking courses outside of my two schools has repeatedly demonstrated just how much of an identity each school has. Whilst I believe it is crucial that schools maintain their identity, I find myself questioning how conducive that is to Joint Honours students from different disciplines. I found myself smiling whilst reading the content of Dr Chris Perkins’s blog post on this subject. “Mishmash”, as he put it, quite accurately depicts the difficulty of navigating these different schools.

So, thinking forward about how the issue of structure and ‘belonging’ might be addressed, I make the following points:

Personal Tutor (PT) System

I was assigned an English Literature PT, who I’m pleased to say has been absolutely amazing. However, I was never consulted about whether or not I would have liked to have had my PT in the History department. If this isn’t an option, then can my degree really be joint?

Think of it this way, if I decide that I would like to do my dissertation in History, then it might very well have been useful for my PT to have been a historian.

What would I propose?

Provide the student with the option to have their tutor in either subject from the outset, and perhaps the option to switch for second year if they feel it would benefit them, or if they sense they would like to head in that subject area.

The Dissertation situation

I’ve always understood that I may do my dissertation in either English Literature or History. But as someone who has distributed my study time pretty equally in both areas, it saddens me that I am unable to combine them both. I love both my subjects, and the thought that I will have to choose one over the other is really sad!

What would I propose?

Start a conversation about how different schools might facilitate collaboration between joint honours subjects for the dissertation. Sure, it would make things a little trickier, but imagine the value and insight that could be gained!

Differing attitudes between the schools

To re-emphasise, this is more about liaison issues.

What would I propose?

Design a document highlighting the key ways courses are structured in each department throughout the years of the course. An example would be that in Years 1 and 2 for History, the Historian’s Toolkit and Historiography are compulsory courses. Years 1 and 2 for English are one prescribed course (rather than individual modules). Both options are great. But it is confusing.

After saying all this, I do feel it’s important to emphasise the benefits of a Joint Honours course. It’s a real opportunity for students to become totally engrossed in two subject matters, and through doing so, open their eyes to gaining a greater understanding of where their academic passion really lies.

Isabelle Sher

Isabelle Sher is a second year student reading an English Literature and History Joint Honours. She is a Lloyds Scholar and Committee Member/Columnist for the HCA Journal ‘Retrospect’. She loves visiting Scottish Castles and writing novels.

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