A message for new BA students

Today, six years ago, I was very happy. My boyfriend and I had just moved into our first flat. I had been accepted into a voluntary position as a counsellor at Youthline, and was working two paid jobs – one as a barista at a cafe in Christchurch’s beautiful New Regent Street, and the other as an administrator at a rehab centre. I was 19, with a gorgeous tan from my first OE in Europe, and just about to start my BA.

The tan faded in a couple of weeks. It was followed, each December, by another year of my youth. Four years after starting my degree, all three of my workplaces crumbled. After another two years, most of the significant architectural landmarks of my childhood, along with my relationship, had followed. Last month, I turned 25, and – according to the New Zealand government, at least – lost my youth entirely. 

And yet, today, six years after starting my BA, I’m very happy. While my youth is gone, my tan is back – revived by a trip to North Queensland to see in the New Year. As I write this from the lounge of my own flat, I’m looking alternately between the bush-clad, villa-studded hills of Wellington and the floor, where my cat is sprawled in a perfect square of sunlight. I’m running through my to-do list for the next few weeks: finish Term One lesson plans, sort second publishing deal, book next holiday.

To me, all this suggests that change is inevitable, and that the the most important thing we can do is to prepare for it. And that’s where the BA comes in. Every entry on my to-do list is exciting, but I couldn’t achieve any of them without my degree. As the haters will eagerly profess, a BA is expensive, time-consuming, and devoid of hands-on skills. What they don’t realise, though, is that a BA is also a powerful tool for change. By enabling me to meaningfully think and work, mine has allowed me to navigate the most changeable time of my life to date and to come out the other side with a smile (and a tan) on my face.

So, to the new BA students of 2013, remember: getting your BA isn’t about getting a bit of paper at the end. Sure, it’s a nice bit of paper, but even the snazziest bits of paper can be crushed, burned, or washed away. Getting your BA is about getting choices, freedom and resilience. So, while haters are always gonna hate, BA grads are always going to adapt.

Sort your enrolment, get the stuff you need, and prepare to change your life forever.


Merry Christmas

To the first years of 2012 – you’ve got it. You know who you are as students, and you know how to play those roles in ways that work for you. Next year is going to be sweet.

To the first years of 2013 – welcome. You’re about to become part of something amazing. You’ve got a lot to learn, but by this time next year you’ll be fine. Brace yourself for a wild ride.

To all students – I hope you have an awesome Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Kick back, enjoy the festivities and, if you choose to read at all over the summer, make sure that it’s something with no literary acclaim whatsoever.

All the very best,


End of an era

And, just like that, it’s done. Your first year as a BA student is over. You are no longer a newbie, you are a Second Year.

Look back to all of those essays and exams and lectures that you’ve worked on and stressed over and succeeded in. Look back to where you were at the start of the year – what you knew, what you didn’t know, what you feared. Look at where you’re at now, and how you’re really starting to get the hang of things.

Now’s the time to make sure that all the essentials for next year are sorted – courses, Studylink, somewhere to live. But it’s not the time to dwell on the future. Nope, as soon as your final exam is over and the basics for next year are in check, it’s time to kick back. Sit in the sun, have a drink, and think about something very novel for a while: nothing.

Enjoy it

We experience a lot of emotions over the course of our BAs. Inspiration. Stress. Motivation. Fear. Pride. Confusion. Energy. Exhaustion. I believe, though, that the defining emotion of a BA is the one that you feel when you push your essay through the hand-in slot and hear it drop into the box below. The one that you feel when you hit ‘submit’. The one that you feel when you walk out of your last exam. The one that you’re probably feeling right now. Enjoy it.


If you’ve been following my advice – do practice exams at home, over and over, until your real exams are done – you’ll be totally shattered by now. Your writing hand will be blistered, your legs stiff from lack of exercise, your brain aching. You’ll be missing your friends and family. You’ll be fantasising about the day that you can sit and do nothing.

Keep going. This will end. You will ace your exams. You will be so glad that you put in the effort. You will have no regrets, only pride. Trust me, it’s a feeling totally worth suffering for.

Being a doer, not just a knower

Yesterday my Year 10 class and I started decoding some quotes from Act 1, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice (awesome play – Google it if you’re not familiar with the story line). A quote that we talked about quite a bit was this one, from Portia:

“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to
do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s
cottages princes’ palaces.”

We worked out that, in a nutshell, it’s a fancy rewording of the cliche ‘easier said than done’. If doing the right thing was as easy as knowing the right thing, the world would be a better place. Lots of people have ideas but few people actually do anything with them.

There are lots of theories for what sets the doers apart from the knowers. I believe, though, that it all comes down to enthusiasm. From enthusiasm comes motivation and from motivation comes action.

To do well in an essay, you have to be a doer. It’s not enough to know that content; if you’re going to do something meaningful with that content, you have to be enthusiastic about it. All very well, I know, but how can you make yourself enthusiastic?

1) Relate it to you. What’s your view on it? How can it be applied to your life?

2) Relate it to people you know. Who do you know who does/thinks this? Who do you know who doesn’t? Once you’ve found a connection to your world, it’s a whole lot easier to give a damn. 

3) Pretend. Ever heard of method acting? It’s when an actor manifests themselves in the character – their personality, beliefs, mannerisms – and actually lives that role. They get inside the character and feel their emotions – not so much acting as actually ‘being’ that person. If you can’t connect to a topic in any other way, imagine what it would be like to be someone who’s enthusiastic about it, and try to be that person for a little while.

I’ll leave you with the other quote that we talked about a lot yesterday, from Antonio:

“I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;
A stage, where every man must play a part”

Analysis: the heart of your essay

By now, you’ll be well-practised in putting together a structured paragraph. You know how it goes: topic sentence, explanation of the point, evidence and examples, analysis. Link on to next para. And so on.

All the parts of a paragraph are important: without a good topic sentence, your marker might not ‘get’ the main point of your paragraph; without a clear explanation, it’ll be hard for him or her to follow along; without evidence, he or she isn’t going to be convinced. Getting these bits right are crucial if you want to pass your essay.

If you want to ace it, though, you need to also master the ‘analysis’ section. This is the part of the paragraph after your evidence, in which you decode, unpick, evaluate, compare and contrast it, and explain what it means in relation to your argument. It’s where you show that you’ve researched and carefully considered all the information before reaching your own conclusion; it’s where you acknowledge that there are two sides to every argument.

While a killer analysis gets you the top grades, it’s the hardest part of your essay to write: it’s hard to know what to say, how to sound, and what to consider. Here are a few questions that might help you analyse the two main types of evidence that you’ll use in your BA essays: quotations (direct or paraphrased) and examples from texts or real life.


  1. In plain English, what is he/she actually saying? What’s his/her main point?
  2. What does he/she not say in this quote? What parts of the issue does he/she ignore/overlook?
  3. What might have influenced him/her to say this (think of how the things we say reflect the things we feel, which reflect the things we’ve been told or experience)?
  4. What does his/her quote therefore suggest about his/her beliefs/bias/agenda?
  5. How might this statement affect those who hear/read it? What might be the wider implications of him/her having said it?
  6. What deeper message might he/she be trying to convey in this quote?
  7. Who else has said something similar about this issue? What might this suggest?
  8. Who has said something totally different about this? Where might the truth really lie?


  1. Whose perspective does this example support? How and why does it do this?
  2. What other examples are there that support this perspective? How are they similar/different to this one?
  3. Whose perspective does this example challenge? How and why does it do this?
  4. What deeper issue or idea does this example represent?
  5. What issues or ideas are not represented by this example?
  6. What effect might this example, and ones like it, have on those who read/see it? How might this, in turn, affect the wider world?
  7. Why is this the most convincing example for the point that you’re making?
  8. If you could imagine a better example, what would it be? Why have you not found this example?