Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow Q&A

“The opportunity to have a professional writer review my work was incredibly helpful. The advice helped me achieve the highest cluster of marks I’ve received during my time at university; I wished I’d known about it sooner!”

 

1. What is a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow? Tell me a little about your role. 

A Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow is a professional writer who, through individual coaching, works with Higher Education students to improve their writing. Occasionally we work with staff too, and we can cover many different types of writing, not just academic essays – but essentially my role is to help students on a one-to-one basis with their written submissions. As well as making practical suggestions, try to share some general tips or approaches that the students themselves can adopt in the future. It’s not proofreading but an attempt to work through the particular writing issues faced by an individual student. 

There are four Fellows at Bristol and I started in October, working two days a week (the rest of the time I’m writing!). I’m really enjoying it and though mtime as a Fellow concludes in May, will be back at the start of the next academic year – by which point, I’m hoping the world might look a little more normal… 

You can see an RLF Writing Fellow by going to bristol.ac.uk/bristol-futures/royal-literary-fellows/ and sending one of us an email. We’ll then reply with a link that allows you to book your first session at a time when it’s convenient for you. 

2. Why were these roles created? 

I think there was a feeling that students might sometimes value additional help with their written work, and that the one thing professional writers know a bit about is writing! The idea was that authors could be placed on campuses throughout the UK to provide some additional one-on-one tuition. They’re independent of the host university, and not all Writing Fellows are academics – I happen to have a Masters and have lectured at another university, but I very rarely have specialised insight into my students’ subject areas. However, I’ve been writing professionally for almost thirty years, so I hope I know a little about planning, structure and, most importantly, the nitty-gritty of clear written English. 

3. How do you work with students? What sort of issues can they seek help on? 

Sometimes a student will come to me who’s been seeing the same criticism repeated in their essay feedback and we’ll talk about how they might be able to improve in that area. Sometimes they’re already doing well but they want to see if they can find a way of nudging their marks up a little. Or perhaps they feel they’re struggling quite badly – what is an essay anyway, and what is academic writing?!? I hope I’m sympathetic on that point: I was never formally taught to write essays at school or polytechnic (perhaps I should explain: a long time ago, there were things called polytechnics that functioned alongside universities…). 

The Study Skills department is the first port of call if a student’s major issue revolves around dyslexia or English as a Second Language. But generally, if someone has a concern with their writing while at university, or thinks they’re capable of better marks and that somehow their written work is letting them down, then hopefully that’s where myself or one of the other Fellows can help. It’s free, it’s confidential and, as Bob Hoskins used to say in adverts for BT, it’s good to talk.

4. Do you have to be an English Literature student/undergraduate etc? Who can access the service? 

We’re here for everyone! I’ve actually spoken to very few English Literature students so far, but I have seen people studying Criminology, Anthropology, Public Health, Psychology, Economics, History, you name it. I’ve even seen someone studying Medicine which, because my wife is a GP, was great fun. I’ve spoken to almost as many people who are working towards their Masters or PhDs as I have undergraduates, so I think the scheme casts the net pretty wide. In fact, the only work we’re not allowed to take a look at is Creative Writing, which I completely understand, but does feel a bit odd, as that’s what I used to lecture in.

5. Can students still access this support virtually? 

AbsolutelyIn pre-pandemic times, students would see us in person, but for obvious reasons, everything is done online at the momentIt’s a shame I’m not on campus – I was due to be based at Beacon House – and I’m sure I’m as tired of video technology as anyone, but the students I’ve met have been very understanding. 

We use platform called Whereby, which is a bit like Zoom, but it’s more secure and (I think) easier to use. And I’ve had very few technical issues so far. It can never fully replace meeting students in person, but I suppose it can have its advantages, especially as we get more and more used to doing these things from the comfort of our homes. I don’t live in Bristol, so at least it means my commute to work is short 

6. Whats your top writing tip for students? 

Writing is editing. It really is as simple as that. Of course, research is vital, and of course you have to get the first draft done. But that’s the start of the process, not the end. I’ve tried to take this view when I’ve written novels or soap opera scripts, and it’s advice I followed when I worked on my Masters. I’m not saying all writing problems disappear if you give yourself enough time to revise and polish your work, but it’ll certainly help. 

7. Whats your favourite part of the writing process? 

Finishing! Partly because I know how important editing is, as I just said, and partly because I do find writing that first draft quite difficult. That’s not to say I dislike writing – it’s the only ‘job’ I’ve ever wanted  and of course there are occasional moments of sublime bliss when the words just seem to fall out of you. But I like having written. It’s as if you’ve been carving a block of marble and finally you see the shape you used only to have in your mind. It’s not finished, but at least you have something that looks a bit like a person, or a horse, or a hedgehog. It’s where the real fun starts, I think. 

8. Tell us something your students might be surprised to learn about you (e.g. a fun/unusual fact if you have one 🙂 ) 

It might not be a big surprise, as it’s part of my full RLF bio, but I have a black belt in kickboxing. I’ve been attending classes twice a week for over a decade. Outside of the ring, and possibly even in it, I’m about as threatening as a rice pudding, but I like messing around with the archetype of the middle-aged glasses-wearing nerd who hates sport! Also, you meet a bunch of fascinating people who generally don’t waste time worrying about split infinitives and possessive apostrophes… 

Help the university make real change

Flo Ingram, chair of the Education Network, writes about the importance of using your student voice.

What works and what doesn’t?

Making degrees better would be far more difficult without feedback from other students. Without feedback, there is little way to inform the staff who build your programmes, individual units and assessments what works well and what just doesn’t. This is why the National Student Survey (NSS) is so important.

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Reflections as a black medical student

by Adewale Kukoyi

Reflections

During lockdown, I’ve had ample time to reflect.

To reflect on my first year at University, all the positives and negatives, the pedantic learning techniques I used and my overall perspective on Medicine. However, more profoundly, I’ve reflected on my own position, and the value I can potentially share with others from my community or background who may believe where I am is unachievable for them.

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Find your Support

Hi everyone! Khadija here, chair of the BME network, elected by BME students to represent BME students at a university and SU level.

Many students struggle with finding support, and in my role, I particularly find this as an issue for BME students, who often find it difficult to see how to access the university’s services. As such, I’ve become familiar with what is available, and have had some great discussions with the staff behind them already to incorporate the needs of all students, including those from racial and ethnic minorities! How to Find your Support:

1. Student Wellbeing Service

This is your first port of call if you’re struggling, and includes a range of services, from:

Student Wellbeing Advisors, who can help direct you to where you need to go.

TalkCampus app, giving you online peer-support any time of day and night.

– Self-help resources, including the FIKA Covid-19 support app, which is designed to help you learn practical mental and emotional fitness approaches which you can apply to your everyday life.

The Student Counselling Service, including a specific BAME Counselling service run by NILAARI, which the BME Network supported being expanded into the university last year.

– The uni are working with Bristol Drugs Project too and ‘The Drop’ harm reduction service. If you’re thinking about trying drugs or if drug use has become a problem, reach out via email thedrop@bdp.org.uk find them on Instagram above or call 0117 987 6000.

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Digital learning resources available for you!

Although this is a difficult time for everyone, we are here to ease the transition to online learning and provide you with all the technical support and advice you need.   

There are plenty of useful online resources available to you.  

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Lydia’s MSc shaped her career path

‘I initially chose the MSc at Bristol as I wanted practical training in wildlife health and this course stood out to me. During my Masters however, I discovered that I really enjoyed the research side. I want to be part of the answer and provide useful research to inform wildlife conservation management on a larger scale.

I’ve just started a PhD at the University of Southampton where I’m researching hunting patterns in Belize. I managed to publish my thesis, supported by my excellent supervisor, which has really helped me to stand out from the crowd and secure this next opportunity.

My MSc has shaped my career path and I’m proud that my research will make a difference on an international scale.’

Lydia Katsis, MSc Global Wildlife Health and Conservation

Read about Lydia’s research in Kenya and how this is informing conservation strategy.

 

Read why Sam’s postgraduate studies enabled him to follow his passion

Having a good relationship with his project supervisor inspired Sam to progress from an undergraduate course to an MSc and currently a PhD, all here in Bristol.

‘It’s a really exciting time for nuclear robotics and I feel my path to date has led me to an industry I’m passionate about. I’m currently researching robotic scanning of nuclear waste which could address the issue of nuclear waste storage and make it more accurate and cost effective.

I chose to stay at Bristol as the positive and open ethos within the University lends itself towards innovation and the prospect of interesting and exciting future research.

I became friends with some really fantastic people during the course and I’ve extended my professional network too. I’m sure further opportunities will open up in this field in the future and because of my postgraduate studies, I’ll be ready when they do!’

Sam White, MSc Nuclear Science and Engineering / PhD in Nuclear Robotics

Adventures in France: my year abroad

Jaw-dropping scenery; unique personal development; enriching relationships with people from across the world; a year practically dedicated to eye-opening, inspirational experiences: doesn’t sound like a bad year, does it?

My name is Steve, and I’m a 4th year, studying Music and French. Having spent my year abroad in Bordeaux and Lyon, I returned to Bristol to see last year’s year abroad students swarming the streets again. Our first conundrum: how do we approach *that* first conversation?

If you’re late for a lecture, it’s option A: ‘yeah, the year abroad was good thanks!’ Option B is the elaborate five minute epic poem describing everything that has seismically shifted over the year. Nope – five minutes is never enough!

Mind you, five minutes is ample to make observations about what has changed. Most returners are human adverts for what their year abroad experience has brought to them. Some are wiser and more confident; others are more open-minded; many have been completely inspired. Thereafter, each will treat you to a different story of how it all unfolded… just like this:

Build me up, build me up…

Needless to say, the year abroad experience can be a huge challenge. In fact, those first three months of my time abroad were some of the toughest of my life. Plunged out of my comfort zones of city, family and friends, the expression ‘fish out of water’ comes to mind. Would I have opted for a more convenient, relaxing placement to have avoided those tough first three months in Lyon? Non, absolument pas, because it’s all an exposure which forces you to develop in unique ways. At the end of the year, the fish returns to the river having learnt how to breathe air, and I enjoy being an air-breathing fish. This unique personal development is pretty much a given when forcing your brain to adapt to a new language and culture for as much as one month, let alone eleven.

Inspired

I’ve chosen the subtitle ‘inspired’ for a specific reason, which involved something more special than a bit of personal development…

Imagine a typical 21st birthday party. You may picture a marquee in the garden with everyone dressed up, or perhaps party balloons and a juggler. Well, I’m all for clowns and gowns, but as a June baby on a placement that finished in July, I needed to think outside the box when 17 June came around.

It had all the hallmarks of an underwhelming day. I had under-slept, having submitted my year abroad essay the night before a Monday at work; I was translating tourist information; and I had no evening plans. So, I hurriedly got in touch with my friends who hadn’t yet left the city: ‘Quais de Saone, tonight at 8 pm?’

The scene was set: the sun was going down over the Fourvière Basilica, and a smattering of my dear friends gathered round me in the late-night summer heat. On another day, the sunset may have inspired me. Or perhaps the view of the Basilica, reflected in the torrents of the river. This time, the real cherry on the birthday cake was the people that came.

Today’s news bombards us with stories of nations in conflict with nations, and the struggle of integration in multicultural communities. Meanwhile, here were 10 people representing Lithuania, Sweden, the UK, Colombia, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Italy using words, not weapons; laughter, not threats. The uniqueness of their humour, their intriguing philosophies and their cultural insight didn’t collide or clash, but combined in beautiful harmony that I had never witnessed before. It was conversation for conversation’s sake, and laughter for laughter’s sake, with contrasting backgrounds, races and religions, and we never once risked any dissonance or discontent.

I took a step back, felt the warm breeze, and gazed over the river, the view and the sunset, contemplating this moment that only a year abroad experience could produce – one of the most utopian I’d ever witnessed. The sun was setting over my year abroad experience, with a moment to remind me what a heartening asset multiculturalism is to modern society. Since then, I have still been seeing those same dystopian stories of warfare and persecution around the world. But at least now I have hope that one day, the planet may have the same universal harmony as those 10 people on the riverbank.

Find out how you can study, work or volunteer abroad at the Global Opportunities fair on 22 October.

Top tips for student life

Welcome Week has now passed, and we hope you are settling in well! Here are some top tips from your University community on how to manage student life using their own personal experiences.

Making friends…

Sarah Ashley, Marketing Officer (Postgraduate) – Welcome Week is a great time to meet people, have fun and explore your new city but don’t worry if you don’t immediately click with people. I didn’t meet the people I’m still friends with now (10 years after graduation) until I was almost at the end of my second year.

Annie Avery, Student Living Room Coordinator – Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you’re having ‘the best time of your life’ give lots of opportunities a chance and you’ll find your people

Living in halls…

Robert Smart, Partnerships Manager – If in Halls, get to know your reception teams and staff. They are friendly and can make things happen, particular if you talk to them!

Paul Arnold , SU Head of Business Development – When you move into halls and are getting settled in to your room, pop your door open to let people know you want to say hi and make friends!

Jemma Harford, SU Student Opportunities Manager (Groups and Services) – Bring food to share, your new accommodation can be daunting but everyone loves food. Bring some homemade biscuits, local treats or cook a flat meal together that incorporates all of your favourite foods.

Studying…

Marton Balaz, Reader in Probability (Mathematics) – In my first weeks of studies I realized that difficult concepts settle. Material that seemed shockingly complicated in the first week became rather natural two weeks later. I just had to look back in my notes again. So, don’t panic! revisit difficult stuff regularly.

Susan Pettinger-Moores, Medicine Teaching and Learning Manager – Pop in and meet the admin team for your course – we don’t bite! We have lots of knowledge and really want to see students succeed.

Look after yourself..

Simon Gamble, Head of Study Skills – Don’t worry about trying to be perfect. It’s fine to get things wrong and it’s good to try new things, because that’s how we grow and learn.

Tom Wallis, SU Student Development Coordinator (Sports and Physical Activity). If you don’t immediately feel at home, work and broaden your horizons; your people and your place are somewhere and they’re waiting for you to find them.

Chloe Hogan, SU Events Coordinator – Don’t put too much pressure on yourself that “university is the best time of your life”. Enjoy each moment as it comes and don’t put pressure on yourself to do too much as this will burn you out!

Managing your time…

Elle Chilton-Knight, Undergraduate Student Administrator – Get everywhere 5 minutes early! You’ll get best pick of seats/equipment and it makes all the difference towards a calm, confident exterior. From there you’ll be chatting to people in no time!

Getting involved…

Helen Dury, Portfolio Marketing Manager – University is the perfect opportunity to try new things. I joined a ski club and competed around the country and met someone I’m still great friends with now, nearly 30 years later!

Philip Gravatt, SU Finance Assistant -My tip would be to look into all the societies and clubs available at the Students Union. They’re a fantastic way of learning something new and easing academic stress.

Matt Humberstone, SU Student Development Coordinator – Join a student group! For many students, their student group becomes the best part of their university experience.

Jenny Reeve, Lecturer in Small Animal Medicine – Take every opportunity to get involved with new activities, skills or social events that you have not had the chance to do before – there is such a vibrant and diverse student population, it is a great way to meet others who share your interests. There is so much more to University life than your academic program – have fun!

Explore the city..

Robbie Fox, Alumni Mentoring Coordinator – Explore this amazing city! I came here as a student , fell in love with the place and have been here ever since! This video is a nice example.

Linda Gerrard, Residential and Hospitality Services – Get your walking shoes on and get lost! Around most corners there is something to delight, amuse or inform.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, Undergraduate Education Officer – My one piece of advice for new students would be to not confine themselves to the University bubble. Get out and discover new places and cultures in the city – Easton, St Pauls, and Stokes Croft are the perfect places to start!

Lauren Wardle, Student Wellbeing Adviser – Explore the city as a whole, and get involved in hobbies and interests that make you ‘you’! You might find your interests lead to new friends, or even some job opportunities down the line.

Services available to you..

Knut Schroeder, Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer – Download our free Student Health App, which is listed on the NHS Apps Library. It’s been developed by the University of Bristol Students’ Health Service and University of Bristol students, and it’s packed with common-sense health advice that can make all the difference for your health and wellbeing. You can even customise the app for Bristol when you open it up for the first time.

Lauren Cole, Careers Information Advisers – Pop in to your Careers Service and get to know the support you can access. We can help you find and apply for part time work, internships and work experience, graduate roles, or start your own business!