Which Lectures? A Guide for New Humanities Students


University is so different from school, in part because you have so much more control over how you spend your time. Classes and tutorials are still compulsory, but there are far fewer of them, and activities such as lectures are not always compulsory, especially if you are an arts or humanities student. There may be lots of lectures put on by your department at any given time, and so you will have to prioritise and choose which lectures to spend time going to.

  • Of course, go to the compulsory lectures! They are compulsory for a reason.

  • Look at your list and mark the non-compulsory ones which interest you, however little. Go by the titles first, but do check the descriptions, if there are any. You may find that they are not going to be about what you’re expecting, and so you can cross those off. Alternatively, if there is only one lecture that is part of the series which is really relevant to your research/essays, then make a note of it in your planner.

  • Go back and prioritise: which of the ones you have marked, and why? Is it stuff you’re interested in generally, or does it directly have something to do with your academic work? It doesn’t have to (you might want to go because you think it might be helpful in future project, like a dissertation, even if you’re not working on it right now).

  • Work out how many lectures it is plausible for you to go to - which ones clash? Are there too many on a day before you have a deadline? Prioritise accordingly. There’s no point going to too many if you don’t have time/energy to actually do any other reading/writing you have to do.

  • Are any available online, as recordings? If so, you might choose to listen to these at a different time. Consider whether you actually will or not, though - going to the live lecture will mean that you’ll be up, about and ready for the working day afterwards (if they’re in the morning), or does it give you incentive to stay on campus during the day (if it’s in the afternoon)?

  • Writing down the name, time and location of the lecture and putting it on a post-it note can be useful - it saves you writing them out from week to week, as you can move them forward and stick them in again. Also, this is handy because you can see how crowded a hypothetical week might look. Visualising is handy!

  • Don’t be afraid to go, and then decide later that it’s not for you. I mean, try and sit through to the end of the lecture you’ve tried (it’s polite, right?), but don’t worry if you don’t think it’s for you for whatever reason. It might be the person’s lecturing style, or else you might not be quite as interested in the content as you thought you might be. Lectures are often worth persevering with though, so don’t give up on them too easily!

Ellen Brewster is a DPhil (PhD) student at the University of Oxford. She blogs about her experience on Instagram on @_ellenbrewster.

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