Academic Support at Durham – a.k.a. How I Survived my Degree

Liv Bennison
Durham Univesrity student support

When, in my first year, I was called into my academic advisor’s office I thought I had done something very very wrong. I had recently written my first university level essay and proudly submitted it to my module tutor. So, when I received an email from my academic advisor saying she wanted to talk to me about my essay the next day, naturally I started to panic. Conveniently I didn’t read the line ‘its nothing to worry about’.

One anxious night later I walked to the history department for my meeting. My advisor sat me down and told my that my first essay, of which I was incredibly proud, had received a third-class mark. Now, as it was only a formative essay (our fancy word for meaning it didn’t count towards my final mark in the module), I had literally nothing to worry about but, being the perfectionist that I am, I was upset. My academic advisor then asked me a strange question.

‘Liv are you dyslexic?’

Believing her to be a mind reader I said yes and asked her how she knew. Apparently my essay structure was a bit of a mess and it seemed similar to those of other dyslexic students she had taught. She then spent the next half an hour talking me through my feedback and how I could improve for next time. The main thing I remember from that meeting was my advisor saying that my mark wasn’t bad, she just knew I had more potential as previously shown in our discussions but I had struggled to get this onto paper.

Looking back at this now, as a third year, this was just the first example of how supportive the staff at Durham could be. I could give so many different examples of what the university has done for me over the past three years but here are just a few demonstrating how different departments can help you make the most of your degree.

Reading essay feedback in a local cafe.

Departmental Support

As I have already mentioned, and it’s the same for all departments, as an undergraduate student you are given an academic advisor who is there to help you navigate the scary new world of university. Their advice is invaluable and they should always be your first port of call if you have any questions, queries, or worries. The History department also has level tutors who will often give introductory talks at the start of each year and are also available to help if there are any questions that your academic advisor cannot answer. The final really important level of support is the Learning and Teaching team within the department, who are there to help with anything from getting extensions on deadlines to making you aware of opportunities within the department.

Disability Services

I would not have been able to do my degree without the help that disability services provided me. From day one they made sure that I had all the accommodations I needed in place in order for me to succeed; these include longer library loans, extensions on essays, and small group teaching. I cannot praise these people enough – if you think you are entitled to support… use it!

Durham Centre for Academic Development

The Durham Centre for Academic Development (or DCAD) offers loads of courses for academic and personal development that are free to access as a student at the university. They offer classes on things ranging from academic writing to time management (or for the science-y people, a maths and statistics drop-in service). One that I think is really interesting and I will be doing next term is ‘Crafts for Wellbeing’ session which might just get me through the end of my degree!

On the way home from the library.

The Careers & Enterprise Centre

The careers service sends weekly emails with graduate job opportunities and offers other services; like a 1:1 appointment with an advisor to talk through things like applications or your CV. Honestly, this is something me and my friends didn’t even look at until this year. I didn’t think about it until one of their advisors gave a talk to my department directed at history undergraduates. I recommend getting involved with the careers service as soon as possible as I really regret not using their services earlier.

What’s next?

As I’m coming to the end of my undergraduate degree the support of the staff here has once again proved invaluable. I’m currently in the process of applying to postgraduate courses, my academic advisor and dissertation supervisor have both massively supported me in formulating my ideas and preparing to write my proposal. They have put me in contact with their colleagues and made me feel valued as an intellectual equal.

My job over the winter is to write a 2,000 word PhD proposal which, as an undergraduate, feels surreal as I’m aiming to secure funding for a 4-year masters and PhD place. It’s going to be an uphill struggle managing both my regular deadlines and my deadlines for applications, but with all of these different levels of support, I feel like the staff at Durham are behind me to help achieve my goals. I obviously hope that I am successful, but if not I know that there are lots of people who are willing to help me pick myself up, dust myself off and help formulate a new plan. I know at Durham they will support me to achieve my goals regardless of how many times I might need to try.

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Liv Bennison

Hi, I am Liv, I graduated with a first-class History degree & I'm now studying for a Master's in Social and Economic History. I am then hoping to continue to do a Ph.D. at Durham.

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