Academic Skills, reading, writing and researching for college First Years

Firstly- Congratulations on making the big step to Third Level Education!!

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Yes, it will be very different from secondary school, or if you’re a mature student like I was, it will be like you’ve entered a whole new world of information, learning, stress, laughter, and the making of friends that you thought you were too old to ever make!

No, it won’t all be sitting down writing, reading, and learning.

Yes, there will always be last minute assignments, no matter how much you prepare!

And Yes, if you enjoy the topic you are studying, college really will be some of the best days of your life!

Starting or returning to college can be quite daunting in a number of ways: the abundance of blogs, posters around college and your Student’s Union, and handouts from lectures cover most aspects- but the one thing which always stopped me in my tracks, however, was Academic Skills!!!

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Those dreaded two words together always made my hands sweat, my brain freeze, and my thoughts think that I was nothing but an imposter who doesn’t belong in a class full of people who always knew more than I did- how wrong was I!!

Over the next few weeks, I will offer some advice and tips on how to improve your academic skills. There is no one way of writing essays, creating projects, or answering exam questions and there is never a replacement for going to your academic skills classes put on by your college.

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Each department has their own preferred way of referencing, I learned this the hard way with my psychology assignments versus my history coursework, and each discipline has its own nuanced way of writing essays. What I did find, however, was all the technical, and academic language was so overwhelming, so much so, I had considered quitting the course a few months in as I felt I would never grasp it all. Now I’ve finished with an Honours Degree in English and History and as my years of study progressed, my grades also increased.

Hopefully, the tips that I give over the next few blogs will help ease the transition to college life. If there is any particular topic you would like covered please post below and I will try my best to cover it!

Before you even read my tips, please remember, we are ALL learning, every single one of us in the world, we learn something new every single day, even if we don’t realize it!

We all make mistakes, and we all have to start somewhere. So that Doctor of English or Professor of History standing at the top of the room, looking so confident in their skin talking to you about Postcolonial Theory, or Feminist Sensibility, was just like you only a few years ago, sitting there thinking, what was that all about and walking out of the class wondering how you’re ever going to understand or remember any of what was just said, especially if you’re a philosophy student. (I remember thinking one philosopher’s ideas were exactly what the writer of Star Trek was thinking when he wrote about the Borg, we’re all just one big collective, it was literally the only way I could remember what the lecturer was teaching us).

Tip Number 1: Read, Read, Read, Read, and em yeah, Read. 

I really cannot stress this enough, reading a varied amount of different authors on your research topic, is the only way to get a balanced and objective viewpoint of your topic- a skill which is absolutely necessary to create your own opinion.

I will say, don’t be afraid to read websites, some are absolutely fantastic, but always remember the context in which they are written. I will give examples of what to watch out for when reading in my next blog.

Tip Number 2: Use your local library

Your local library is invaluable. When you have an assignment and thirty of your classmates are all looking for the same book, 9 times out of 10, it will be available in your local library, and if not, you can order it into your local library from any library in the country! And the fines for returning them late are always cheaper than your college library 🙂

In another blog post, I will go further into detail about how your local library can be used to find academic sources other than books.

Tip Number 3: Use YouTube, or other media sources such as movies or plays. 

YouTube is a fantastic source if you are a visual learner like me. There are many academic lectures on the site, which help bring everything you learned in a lecture together and can sometimes lead to the ‘Ahhhh I get it now‘ moments. As with the written sources, you always have to take in to account the bias and context in which some videos are made.

That’s all for today but watch out for more posts. My next one will cover how to know which books to use and how you can help your research without reading every single book prescribed on your course from cover to cover.

Thanks for reading, and as always, Do what you love & love what you do!








After an afternoon of reading Victorian poetry, my mind has been working overload and has me thinking – why do we really write, or read for that matter? Who are our stories, poems and works of literature aimed at? Are they introspective works just for us to look back on and admire, or do we want them in the public domain for people to review, like or criticise?

Stories I hear of writers having epiphanies before they write their greatest works or some great inspiration such as a vision or a dream always leave me wondering:old-1130743_640

Where do writers truly get their material from?

It’s not as if authors dream of something that has absolutely no connection to them whatsoever. Different psychologists from Freud to Jung all have their own theories on that topic. I know I have had some of the weirdest dreams that would give Stephen King a run for his money. I also know that my dreams are a consequence of something I had been watching or doing earlier that day or week. Something which has been playing on my mind and causing me to dream of a crazy dystopian world with walking machines and green people making gloop for dinner.

Other writers draw on life experience, some disastrous love story or traumatic childhood experience. What about those authors who have seemingly ‘normal’ childhoods that go on to create amazing works of literature?

Maybe it is because so many of the best-selling authors all have one thing in common- they all write straight from the heart!!

Diaries are fantastic, they give us a personal insight into someone’s life, what they’re thinking and what happened during the course of their day; but do they truly give us an absolute insight into someone’s feelings, ideas, internal desires, wants, and needs. When someone writes a diary, do they truly write it for themselves for no one else to ever read or look at? Then why write it out at all?

Is that not what we do when we look at different critics of literary sources? We try to figure out what the author ‘truly’ meant. We look at the works from different perspectives and we take it into context, taking into account, personal, social, cultural and political contexts, including gender and religion. We analyse what we think the author was thinking when they wrote the piece of literature.

Why do we do this?

Why can we not take a beautiful piece of poetry, a novel, a short story or even a song, for what it is?

Why do we need to know the meaning behind it?

Why can’t we just enjoy it for what it is?

Are we reading too much into works of literature, over analysing, or over-thinking?

What is the answer? I know I don’t have one, do you?

Is it a consequence of human nature to just question absolutely everything?

If so, I think I need to applaud anyone out there who has ever put a piece of writing in the public domain, as you have shared a piece of your mind, heart, and soul with everyone who is willing to read. No one has to like your writing; your thoughts need not make sense to anyone but you.

If I have learned anything from the lecture today on Victorian literature, and the poetry of Alfred Tennyson, it is to write what your heart desires and if people like it, it’s a bonus, if not then, so be it. 


Reading recommendations

For a book with a difference I recommend a modern Gothic novel- Patrick Suskind’s ‘Perfume’. Your sense of smell will never be the same after this read!!! 

There have been many books that I’ve read over the years (some I’ve even forgotten that I’ve read them so read them twice) but only a few have left a lasting impression for the better.

Being a very visual person I love books full of imagery that play on the senses, and Suskind does just that, reminding us that our deepest desires are not always good for us.

Baptiste Grenouille is a character whom you will both love and hate at the same time. He needs to be given an A for his determination while he is grotesque at the same time. Not for the faint-hearted or squeamish, I think ‘Perfume’ is not given enough attention as modern Gothic literature.

Here’s what the people at Wiki and Goodreads think of it:



4 star reviews ain’t too bad either 😉

There has been a movie remake which I had to switch off after 30 minutes, it definitely doesn’t do the novel any justice in my opinion.

Try pick up a copy at your local library or as an ebook online. It is definitely a book you won’t want to put down.


‘Just be yourself’

The topic of ‘just being myself’ was something I had been pondering today as I was reading through some of the poetry on this years reading list and it got me thinking……

Is it really possible to just be yourself? Every minute of every day? Or do we contort our personalities to suit who we are with or the audience to which we are sharing our information with through various social media outlets. With today being the birthday of the internet, how many people actually portray their true selves online, and following on from that thought, how many people truly know themselves anyway?!

Some of the greatest ontological arguments ever have been asking that question for hundreds of years, and no one can truly answer the question but ourselves.

I’ve had so many labels put on me over the years, that have all made me doubt myself and what I believe my ‘self’ to be. Inside, deep down in the reaches of my soul however, I believe myself to be a lover of knowledge, according to good old Wikipedia, I’m a philomath! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philomath (apparently it doesn’t even come up in the spell check. Do I exist????!!)

Well there you go, that answers my question somewhat, no matter how much we think, or question who or what we are, there will always be someone who has a label to put on it. There will always be a word for what you are, or even, are not. Sure going through any gift shop, or airport  your name even has a meaning, it is never solely your name.

No one really ever comes out and tells people – ‘I am myself’ ‘I am me’ and  I am happy with just being called ‘me’. 

With the anniversary of the internet and the explosion of personalities online, some of which are nowhere near real, I think it is time for people to realise just being them as a person is enough.

You don’t need labels, or titles, or even people to know who ‘you‘ are.

If you want to laugh, go ahead and laugh so much it hurts.

If you feel like crying, cry until it turns into laughter and makes you feel good about yourself.

If you need to scream, go ahead and find the highest mountain in the most beautiful place you can find and scream until your heart is content.

Me……. well I’ll just keep reading, writing, learning, researching, talking and being excited about the play I just read or the poem I just fell in love with, because that’s me and that’s what I love to do 🙂



I know nothing……..




So I’ve spent the best part of the last 3 hours just doing basic research and setting up my work space for the two projects I have due this year for college. The first project is on the Great Famine and the second is a local area history project. As I have not gotten the specs of the projects yet I am technically working blind so I have been doing background work, researching digital humanities and how Information technology impacts on historical information.

My Goodness……. I know nothing but then I feel like I’ve learned loads, so that’s always a bonus, right?!

On the plus side, I now know that Digital Humanities is definitely the career I want to pursue after I finish my degree. To help me with my project and note taking I’ve been utilising a fantastic DH project that contains archival material from Europe. For any humanities student this site is worth registering for:


I also found a great blog that contains fantastic printable to help with study:


And obviously no student these days can do without good old youtube!

These are my go to’s for another while. Til the next time I need to vent, auf wiedersehen !!



The ‘SELF’, what does it mean to be ‘me’?!

“Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her. This may seem like a ponderous weight of wisdom to descend upon the soul of a young woman of twenty-eight — perhaps more wisdom than the Holy Ghost is usually pleased to vouchsafe to any woman.”

Just about two years complete in my degree, almost 30 years of reading all sorts of books, poems and stories and it has taken one short novel to do exactly what a good story is supposed to do: it has made me think so much that I cannot move on to study anymore without getting all my thoughts down on paper. Well, that’s the thing, I would get them down on paper but having Fibromyalgia hinders that process, so a digital blog it needs to be!

If I’ve been listening correctly for the past college year, and studying and reflecting properly, the theme we have been tracing in most of our classes is on the ‘self’. The rise in Enlightenment thinking and what it means to be an individual rather than part of a collective of human beings. And here’s my issue, even then, being an individual only meant for a male to be an individual, women never came into the conversation. A quote from Chopin’s ‘The Awakening ‘ sums it up perfectly ‘she’s got some notion in her head concerning the eternal rights of women’.

And this is why this story has such an impact on me. Right up to our modern times, a story which was written over a century ago is still relevant. Despite feminist movements, suffrage movements, new laws brought into place and movement in the right direction towards women having their own body autonomy, we as people are still penalizing women for having their own say over what they do with their bodies.

I always believed I wasn’t a feminist, sure didn’t they just burn their own bras and stuff. Sometimes it takes a little enlightening to realize that we should all be feminists, we should all stand up for the right for women to have a say over how they use their own body. And by this I don’t just mean standing up the young girl prosecuted last week for performing a home abortion on herself because it is actually against our laws to choose when you would like to become a mother. No, it is also about the mentality that women are the best ones to stay in the home with children, or say the word single parent and it is automatically assumed that they are female, that women should automatically love their newborn child or know how to interact with children, or even want to have children. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, there are many other things that are automatically assumed of women, one being close to my heart, that of illness, men get man flu but women are never allowed get sick. That’s BS if you ask me, both males and females suffer the same when it comes to all of these issues. And it is this reason I always believed I wasn’t a feminist, men should be treated equally to women, they get depression too, they are single parents too, they are great at picking out nice dresses or cooking the dinner just as much as the next woman, but we aren’t treated equally and it’s pretty irritating when you see it happening right under your own nose.

For years working in a photography studio I witnessed it, if I had a euro for every time I was asked ‘so is he on his way?’ I would be living in the sun somewhere! Everyone assumed a young girl like me couldn’t be a photographer and a damned good one at that too. Nope, it had to be an ageing old man with a camera around his neck.

I suppose the reason this book has changed my mindset so much is because it is inundated with things the everyday modern woman can relate to. Postnatal depression, the suffocation felt when you can’t be your ‘self’, the feeling that you have to do what society expects of you, and most importantly of all, having no language or words to express these feelings. The main protagonist in The Awakening, Edna Pontellier, uses art and music to figure out what it is she is missing, what it is that is making her feel the way she is. Despite almost figuring it out, she realizes she will never live up to societies expectations so allows the sea to claim her soul. I believe that the sea can be a metaphor for the commercial and materialistic life we are all leading today, we allow other people expectations of us to determine how we must feel, what we must do, and how it should be done.

I know it seems like I’m rambling on now but my main point is that we should not allow society and its archaic rules and ideas determine what our ‘self’ should be. Determine who you are and feck the rest of the world. Only you can make you happy, no man, woman or child, material object or eternal being; you need to look after the ‘self’ before any part of you can mature or be happy.

Do what you love & love what you do 🙂 ❤