By Claudia Jacob and Aimee Dickinson
Interview Editors, Claudia Jacob and Aimee Dickinson, speak to recent Durham alumnus and Studytuber, Jack Edwards, about his new book The Uni-Verse. With over 230,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, Jack explains the inspiration behind the book, his desire to increase accessibility in higher education and his advice for incoming freshers.
Having created YouTube videos throughout his undergraduate degree in English Literature at Durham, Jack Edwards has gone on to write a university survival guide, designed to address “the human issues that real students have”. As a first-generation, state school-educated student, Jack is passionate about representing the university experience as diversely as possible, choosing to include various contributors who cover subjects that he may be less familiar with. As he states, “it’s not really a social commentary, it’s more practical tips about university”.
Jack explains that his YouTube channel was created before he went to university, since he felt “absolutely terrified” at the prospect of such a big life change, not knowing many people who had been to university before. His videos have covered a wide variety of topics; from more educational videos, advising his audience about how to write the perfect personal statement, to daily vlogs which reveal the day to day life of a Durham student.
He goes on to tell us that the book came about somewhat unexpectedly. Someone who had watched his videos was doing work experience at Harper Collins (his publishers), who were planning on putting together a university lifestyle guide using input from lecturers and academic staff. It was suggested that they have a look at Jack’s YouTube channel for inspiration, but instead they decided to ask him to write the whole thing. He adds humorously that when he received the email, he remembers thinking: “If this is a scam, it’s a really elaborate one!”
He explains to us that he felt that “the university survival guides which were already in existence were quite dated and unrealistic”, adding that he wanted his book to sound more like it was written by a friend, rather than a guru. He also explained that if this was going to be the “ultimate guide to university” he was aware that it needed to represent “more than just [his] experience”. “I wanted to amplify the voices of those who don’t have the platform that I’m lucky enough to have”, he adds. With this in mind, he made sure to include contributors from different universities and different backgrounds in an effort to ensure the book’s inclusivity and prevent it from becoming too Durham-centric. He explains that if he felt he was not “the most qualified person to give advice” on a particular topic, he “would reach out straight away”, whether that be including a section on vegan recipes or the experiences of those studying in London, to ensure the book appealed to as many people as possible.
When asked what his favourite part of the writing experience was, he revealed that he had learned a lot about weird and wacky societies at various universities, including an IKEA Appreciation society and a Custard Wrestling society (at Cardiff for anyone who’s interested!). He also got his audience involved, albeit without their knowledge, by asking them to answer questions over Twitter which he then included in various chapters. The hardest part, unsurprisingly, was “fitting it around my degree”, although Jack explained that his editors were very flexible in terms of deadlines.
With the brainstorming and writing process spanning from March 2019 to August 2020, Jack explains that aspects of The Uni-Verse had to be re-considered in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. He adds that “a lot of publishers may have had to reread some of the books that they’d approved previously” to be sensitive to the current circumstances, explaining, for example, that one of his jokes about “the average age on a cruise ship” unsurprisingly had to be amended.
In light of the current restrictions which university students face, Jack is hopeful that his book can be especially helpful, particularly for students who were unable to attend university open days and may have looked to StudyTubers to try and find some reassurance. He adds, “I have a lot of respect for those who are giving uni a go this year”. When asked about the reaction to the book, Jack was delighted by the positive response. He notes that some people were curious as to why he often mentions the fact that he’s state school-educated, explaining that “maybe it’s a Durham thing, but for me it was a massive part of my identity and my experience at Durham”. He is therefore excited for the chance to “give people the advice I would’ve wanted”, stating that “the primary audience for this [book] is probably first-generation, state school kids, which is me”.
Jack concluded by giving us his advice for students this upcoming year. “The biggest message I want people to take away from the book is that you can do it. If university is a goal that you have then don’t let anything stand in your way of getting there; whether that’s internal mental battles that tell you you don’t belong there, whether you have imposter syndrome, whether your mental health doesn’t feel strong enough to deal with a big life change, or whether it’s external barriers like class disparity or inequality, lack of privilege…I hope that this book gives you all the tools to be like, I can do this, all the information I need is in this handbook, now I can focus on the academics.”
Image: Jack Edwards