How to prepare for your seminars, by Abbie Tibbot

Hello everyone! My name is Abbie and I’m a PhD student in the History department.

University is a lot to take in when you first get here but, when you’re feeling a bit more settled, it’ll be time to get stuck into to your seminars. In 2016, I started my BA in History, and I also studied for my MA at Reading. My experience as a student here means I have some advice on how to prepare for seminars and make the most out of the contact time you have.

1.Show up

I know, it’s obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many of my former course mates thought that they could muddle through a module without attending all the seminars. Small-group teaching is a core method of learning for History modules and missing out on these key moments of discussion will be to your detriment! 

It can be daunting to head to a seminar with only a few people, especially during the first few weeks, but I promise the nerves will be worth it as it’s a great environment to learn in. I’d advise leaving a little bit early if you’re not sure where to go and take some time to read the floor plans on the walls of buildings to find out where you’re based that session. Arrive, set up your laptop or notebook and take a few minutes to acclimatise rather than rushing in at the last minute. Having regular attendance will also help you get into a good routine straight away, which I found difficult to achieve when living away from home for the first time.

Shy? Not to worry, the environment is new to everyone, which leads me onto my next tip.

2. Prepare to get involved

Trust me, the last thing I wanted to do in my first semester at university was to make myself look stupid in front of everyone else, but those fears were quite quickly put to rest once I made the commitment to contribute to every seminar in some way. You may find that some lecturers assign group reading or small presentations to encourage people to speak up, but other staff members will play it by ear regarding how much involvement there is in the discussion. 

There’s no hand raising at university, so jump on in and say what you’re thinking. I decided early on that I wanted to contribute something at least once in each seminar I attended, and I found that rule built the confidence to say even more. Everyone is nervous, and your contribution may inspire others to say something too! I naturally made friends with the more talkative people in my seminars, so this tactic may bag you some good friends along the way. 

3. Get your reading done

There are always going to be a few disasters along the way but, as a general rule, turning up to seminars without reading the assigned work will make the class a lot less useful than it could have been. Here are a few tips for getting it done:

  • Assign a time each week to work on your reading. Wednesday afternoons are a good choice if you don’t play a sport as it’s most likely you’ll have the afternoon off. 
  • Once you’ve made some friends, split the reading up between you, copy and paste your notes onto Google Sheets (it updates in real time) or email them to each other. 
  • Make notes. You’ll read so much that it’ll be hard to remember everything off the top of your head. 

4. Ask for help when you need it

Studying at university is different to school, so don’t let yourself fall behind unnecessarily. There are lots of resources both within the department and outside it, but if you’re struggling with reading, essay planning or just what to do (we’ve all been there), please go and see a member of staff. Your academic tutor is a great choice for study related issues, and they’ll be able to guide you towards the relevant help.

I’d been taught to reference completely incorrectly at school, so I had to quickly relearn before I started writing essays. I was directed to support at the library where I had a quick session giving me tips on how to quickly master the referencing system that our department uses.

If you’d like to find out more about me, I run a #studygram account on Instagram, with the handle @tibbotttalks_study, where I share my life as a student and promote my own blogging platform: where you can find lots of undergraduate-themed content to help you be a thriving history student. I write new blogs every week about the university experience, as well as sharing insights into major decisions I’ve made along the way. 

If you see me on campus (or any other PhD History Student) come and say hello – we are always happy to lend an ear!

Abbie Tibbot is a PhD Student in women’s history, focusing on Conservative Cabinet politics of the interwar cabinet concerning women’s citizenship in Britain.

Twitter: abbie_tibbott

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