Dedicated to the celebration of—finally, finally—handing in my last assignment of the semester.
Also, this post has not been through my usual religious routine of proofreading and editing, so everything is everywhere. But since it reflects (no pun intended) my current post-final-assignments state of mind, I’ll be this unruly version of me for a while.
For one of our subjects this session, the final task is to write a (compared to the usual 300-level word limits, very) short reflection that is worth 20% of our final mark—no scholarly sources were required, the only criteria were honesty and insightfulness.
That, to me, was the hardest assignment to write in this first half of my third year. It is not the academic rigour that challenges me anymore; it’s original thinking that does.
The library is buzzing with a typical exam-period cocktail of emotions and mental states—stress, anxiety, relief, lethargy. Whispers and exchanges and laughter. Voices and voices and voices.
Yet the voice that has been guiding my writing for years is nowhere in my mind to be heard. I’ve been sitting in front of my laptop for more than an hour, writing then deleting then writing then deleting.
I have been stagnant, blog-wise, for the past five months. Except for the obligatory, subject-requirement, updates and write-ups of university projects, I have not written a single original thing.
The first thing I learned when I started uni was how to reference things correctly. My argument would be considered invalid without evidence and statements sourced from academic journal articles, conference papers, theses, lecture notes.
Sometimes it’s because out of the trifecta of ethos-logos-pathos, ethos is critical when it comes to sourcing references for a uni assignment. Quoting yourself seems silly when you should be searching the Internet and the library website up and down for something similar but not-quite-there-yet by a credited, highly acclaimed author.
I must have written more than five thousand words altogether (not counting those trimmed) for three major assignments for three different subjects in the span of a few weeks, admittedly procrastinating a lot (out of the fear that my work is inadequate, but that’s for another blog post). Almost all of them are carefully chosen and assembled based on roughly eighty readings, by credible figures in those areas, that I either skimmed through or critically analysed. Of course, all of that means I’m getting better at critical reading and critical thinking.
But I’ve also lost my spark for “freehand’ writing along the way. It might be a writer’s block; it might be that I’ve lost my confidence in my own, original, ideas and standpoints. I hesitate whenever I make a statement, I’m uncomfortable typing I think and I believe, even when I’m writing for assignments with scholarly sources, even when I’m critically analysing, comparing, and contrasting arguments by different authors. I’m not sure I believe XYZ that much, I believe that the people claiming that they believe XYZ are credible and that I should trust them.
A few days before the reflection was due, I came across a Twitter conversation about it between a few of my classmates, and it seemed we were all confused as to how a short piece with zero referencing requirement could count for a staggering one-fifth of the end result. It’s just not something we are used to.
I might be reading too much into it, but it’s as if we’re not used to our original insights being treated as the absolute credible basis for our work. It’s as if we’re all dumbfounded as soon as we’re faced with only our own opinions to rely on.
So here is my original, backed by zero academic references, opinion for once: all of this seems—to me at least—to be a detrimental side-effect of my university education. The university education that I immensely enjoy yet am anxious and unsure about at times like this.