Your mind de-contorted

History goes out but the lessons remain: university taught Joe Goddard to be self-reliant and to reject stereotypes

July 8, 2010

I went to St Hugh's College, Oxford from 1999 to 2002 and studied modern history. I chose the subject because at school I had three fantastic teachers who made history exciting and full of fun, whereas I found science and mathematics difficult and didn't have anyone to inspire me to get better.

I have never used my degree to get a job that required a history degree, so it could be said that I wasted time in solidly studying history for three years, but I use the skills that university taught me constantly.

Most of these skills are connected to the experience of being asked to work independently to deadlines and finding useful information through your own resources, structuring essays and deciding what point you would like to argue on a specific subject. These things develop the way your brain works in fundamental ways and help you in discussions, arguments and meetings for the rest of your life.

I can't remember a lot of the details of the subjects that I studied as part of my degree, but those new ways of working were drilled into my head by the pressure of having to produce an essay a week and discuss my work with an expert tutor. At first, that idea was frightening, but as I got into my course I started to find it exciting and rewarding, as the tutors were experts in their subjects and their passion was infectious.

During my final year I spent a lot of time reading in the Rhodes House Library, home to the Bodleian Library's American history books: I was studying slavery in the US and there were hundreds of documents to familiarise myself with. I would go there at about 10am, stay until 5 or 6pm and then go home to cook some food and work on making music on my computer. I fell into this great routine of working and remember this time in my life as being happy and peaceful.

I would often fall asleep in the library in the early afternoon and others on my course started calling me "Sleepy Joe", so I must have been pretty at ease.

It is a good thing for students to be set regular tasks and to have to work out solutions to them without adult supervision: you realise how to work for yourself and that working independently can make you feel good.

For a long time after I graduated I thought of making music in the same way as I had approached American history - I worked solidly all day and spent the evening doing other things.

I went up to Oxford from a comprehensive school in Putney: it taught kids from all around the world and from totally different backgrounds - some poor families and others who were better off. It was difficult at first to go from a school like that to Oxford, where quite a lot of the other students came from a small number of expensive private schools and therefore knew each other before they started.

Occasionally I felt like I did not belong. I didn't understand some of the customs and felt I had a lot to learn fairly quickly about how to socialise with these people. But those feelings didn't last long - I found new friends, some of whom had not been to private school and some of whom had.

I think it helps later in life to have studied with people from wealthy backgrounds, as you learn that you cannot generalise about them: just because they had expensive educations does not mean they are better than you, so you should not feel intimidated by them.

That is a good thing about university in general. You are confronted with people of all types, and quickly learn that you should judge each person as an individual and never rely on stereotypes.

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