By Emily Castles
“My friends can’t believe how much you lot go out.” The words of my disapproving, nineteen-year-old fresher brother. Perhaps this is the general consensus on twenty-something postgraduate students. They should be locked away in an old creaky library up a hill, with the occasional snack slipped under the door by a subservient first year. But the truth, for me and my friends anyway, is far from this. None of us completed our undergraduate degrees at Durham. Some of us studied in big cities, others in tiny towns, and a small number in obscure locations that no one has ever heard of. Durham is fresh and new to us. Although we are postgrad students, we are freshers in Durham. And we live that way.
It is strange being a postgrad fresher, and you can’t ever really understand it until you’ve experienced it. The first week we moved into college inevitably echoed the first week of our undergrads, but with some key striking details. As the usual awkward introductory conversations began during mealtimes, the answers we gave to the notorious ‘So what are you studying?’ question was greeted with terrified eyes and bored and unimpressed faces. ‘Are you a postgrad?’ Urgh. We were dismissed instantly.
We were immediately marked as outcasts, like victims of the plague. We were lucky because our college had a high percentage of postgraduate livers-in, so we instantly had a big group of friends regardless of our disagreeable nature. And you know what? We started going out, a lot. Even more, according to my nineteen-year-old brother, than the notorious freshers themselves.
Postgraduate life is hard. The reading load is off the chart and the essays never stop coming. You feel guilty if you’re not in the library before 9 am every day. You constantly worry about funding your tuition and finding a job for September, which is why we need to go out more than the freshers. We need to escape our little hobbit holes in the Bill Bryson Library.
Why then are we disregarded by younger years? Why is it presumed that we are old, boring and ‘past it’ at the age of twenty-one? There are no nights targeted at postgrad students, and anything which is in fact organised is always far more sophisticated than we could ever hope to be: we are still happy with Echo Falls in a plastic cup, thank you. We exist in a strange limbo between the rest of the students and the academic staff. This limbo is not catered for; some may even argue it’s a taboo within academia. Someone who wants to go out once a week even though they’ve decided to pursue education past undergraduate level? Good heavens!
As a postgraduate fresher, you make things happen for yourself. This is fine, and we are happy to go out of our way to find the best events even though we started at the same time as the freshers who were, in stark contrast, handed it all on a plate. We have had three years of experience after all. It would just be nice, one time, if we met someone on a night out who said: ‘You’re a postgrad? That’s cool.’
Illustration: Faye Chua