The real challenge of a BA

My worst essay was for Sociology – whether a person’s sexual identity is influenced more by social or biological factors. Knowing that everyone else would stick with the lecturer’s social view, I decided to be different. I spent ages researching, and found some compelling material. I referenced everything meticulously. I addressed both sides of the issue, and then explained why my biological perspective was the most accurate.

I didn’t do very well. Perplexed, I took it back to my lecturer for some feedback.
‘This is a very well-written essay,’ she said. ‘It’s well researched, and well argued.’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘So why didn’t I get an A?’
She flicked through the perfectly formatted pages for a couple of seconds and then looked at me. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you’ve totally diverged from the key idea of the course. You’ve contradicted everything I’ve said in lectures. This is a sociology course, and you’ve written a biologist’s essay.’

The experience taught me a powerful lesson: the real challenge of a BA isn’t learning how to express your own view, it’s learning how to express the views of others. Your essays aren’t about taking a different view for the sake of being different, they’re about taking the same view as someone else but casting it in a slightly new light. They’re about showing that you can assume perspectives, even if they’re different from your own.

If you’re finding it hard to relate to one of your courses, let go of your own views for a little while. Have a go at speaking your lecturer’s language, and seeing the world through their eyes. You might be surprised by what you learn.

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