Sunday, 15 December 2013

Naughty November and the dreaded 'Personal Statement'

Ok, so successfully managed to make it all the way through November without posting anything ... not my finest hour!

I have been spectacular at procrastinating - I've actually got lots typed up in notes form from different events, training, research I’ve done… but not got round to the headache that is typing them into coherent paragraphs. In all fairness though, The month of November has been a busy one in my library - Cambridge only has 8 week terms, so the four weeks of November (half the entire term) were ones of last-minute essay writing, printers breaking (a lot), rushing new books through processing so people could borrow them for Christmas, and the obligatory confusion over Vacation Borrowing. Cue lots of enquiries about due dates, renewing books, and the rules on borrowing 3 day loans. In that time I also went to the Library of Birmingham for Library Camp (one of the best experiences of the year so far!), travelled back to uni for a weekend, sat my driving test twice (and passed!) and went to a fantastic event called 'Late at the Library' at the British Library, to launch their new Georgians Revealed exhibition.

However, the single most time-consuming task for November was writing my personal statement for the Library and Information Studies course at UCL. On November 7th the Cambridge trainees had a fantastic session at Pembroke College, where we were joined by Professor Vanda Broughton of UCL, Dr. Stephen Pinker of Sheffield University, and Dr. Lyn Robinson of City University. We heard about the library post-graduate courses that their institutions offered, and what sort of things each department specialised in. 

I have always had a strong interest in special collections, for which UCL is the obvious choice, offering two or three different modules on rare books, and having some overlap with their Archive course, whereas most other university courses have one module on it, if at all. It does, however, have cataloguing as a core module... which is most certainly not my strong point at this current point in time. But any course is swings and roundabouts!

However, the deciding factor - as indeed it is for many library students - is practicality. I really found the course on offer at Sheffield appealing, much more, if I'm honest, than I was expecting it to! I was certain that I wanted to attend UCL, but Sheffield’s course genuinely made me reconsider for a moment. But even if I worked part-time on the side, I could not afford to live away from home with £8000 masters fees and living costs! For me, it makes more sense to live back at home and commute the 40 minutes to Kings Cross, which is conveniently located next to UCL. Plus, the full-time course at UCL is only 2 or 3 days a week, so I could finance my studies alongside. Distance learning is never something I've considered - I enjoy the lecture and classroom environment too much as a student, and I know I'd over-stress myself trying to juggle a full time job with my post-graduate qualification in my own time. 

So on 23rd November, I submitted my application for UCL’s Library and Information Studies course! My supporting statement went through many incarnations and I had several intense sessions in Starbucks armed with nothing more than a toffee nut latte and an overcrowded CV. As always, with applications, being concise is not something I excel at! And most of my free time in November was spent tweaking it, cutting it down and condensing five sentences into one. I think for the majority of information professionals ‘organisation skills’ are their life-blood, but perfectionism can be an inhibiting personality trait. Even for me, spending a month perfecting a page and a bit of A4 and  a two page CV is a bit much! So I was glad to get it sent off, satisfied that it accurately represented my experience and interests, but more importantly: me, as a candidate and student. One tip I received was that your library school application is not a job application. Yes, it’s important to consult the prospectus, to see whether you have enough experience and whether you are personally suited to the skills taught on the course. But at the end of the day, a degree course is for learning and self-development; you are not, like a job, expected to walk into an MA knowing all about the degree content already.  

I would be interested in knowing how other students have found the process, what courses they’ve applied to and what the deciding factor for them was. I got to know a few students and fellow grad trainees when I went to Library Camp two weekends ago, which was an invaluable experience. But that’s a whole other blog post!

Meriel x

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