A couple of weeks ago, I was reading Asha Sumroy’s article ‘Don’t mix your soul with your university work’, during a break in one of my favourite modules, Global Education. Asha wrote that she believes it can be disheartening and demoralising to try and pour your heart and soul into an assignment whilst still meeting a word count and making sure your citations are perfect; and to an extent I agree with her. Coincidentally, I was reading her blog about five minutes before begging my lecturer to give me an inkling on how I’d done on my latest assignment; an annotated presentation about the educational impacts of violent conflict in Israel and Palestine.
Anyone on my course will be able to tell you what my interests in life are, based purely on what I write my assignments on. So far, every assignment where I’ve chosen the topic, has been on one of two subjects; Israel or children with Special Educational Needs. I love having the freedom to write about something I really care about. It brings another dynamic to my writing and allows me to focus far more than I would if it were a set question.
It turns out I had nothing to worry about, getting my highest grade at university so far. Now, I can’t lie and say that writing this assignment was a breeze. Writing about something so close to my heart caused a lot of frustration, and a fair amount of emotion at times. I hadn’t expected the compassion I would feel for Palestinian children, or the huge amount of bias against Israeli children.
It was just as difficult for me to find out that 73 per cent of Palestinian children affected by war have psychological problems due to witnessing shooting or shelling (Unicef, 2001), as it was to find out that 40 per cent of Israeli children in high conflict areas suffer from PTSD and anxiety disorders (Goldlist-Eichler, 2015). Writing an assignment on something so close to my heart taught me far more personally than academically.
As Asha comments, sometimes formulating arguments fuelled by emotion and interest into “soulless syntax” (great phrase, that!) is truly demoralising. Knowing that a lecturer sometimes doesn’t actually care what you think about the best way to educate children with autism, even though it’s something you’re incredibly passionate about, is undoubtedly hard. That said, when you do well on an assignment you really care about, it can be hugely rewarding. I am never prouder of an essay than when it’s one that means a lot to me and that I tried hard on.
It comes down to the true purpose of writing assignments. Writing on a topic you have no interest in allows you to tick a box, but does it fulfil you? In my opinion, the answer is no. Whilst writing simply because you have to allows you to get the grades you need, writing from the heart brings something entirely different. It allows you to grow as a person, learning more about yourself and the things that matter to you. If done right, it can be enriching and enjoyable. To contradict Asha’s phrase, maybe it isn’t about mixing your soul with your university work; it’s about allowing your university work to touch your soul.
Orli West is in her second year at Birmingham University where she is studying Education.