31 March 2020
I graduated from the BA (Hons) History at ARU in 2016. I am about to finish my distance learning Archives and Records Management MLitt with the University of Dundee, and I am also working full-time as a Records Officer with Surrey Police.
To begin with, like many, I had no idea what I wanted to do after university. My boyfriend did some of his dissertation research at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge and told me that I should volunteer there because all they do is drink tea all day! Of course they do far more than that and I absolutely fell in love with it.
I did my first week of volunteering there in August 2016, just before graduating from ARU, and applied for the University of Dundee's Archives and Records Management MLitt for the May 2017 start and got in. It helped me get my job with Surrey Police in 2018 and my History degree has earned me the unofficial title of Force Historian.
Getting in to study my Masters was a major achievement for me. I never thought I would be able to do one but ARU and the support of the tutors, who wrote the most amazing references, gave me the confidence to apply.
I applied to ARU's History degree because of the breadth of history it covered, as well as the opportunities to focus on the Cold War in the third year, and it did not disappoint. I loved the lectures and the discussions in seminars, not only because I was interested in the subject, but because you could see how passionate the lecturers were.
A highlight for me was seeing myself improve; the lecturers were always there to give you feedback, which encouraged me to aim higher and not 'just pass'. I would never have imagined when I started that I would graduate three marks away from a First, which I am still so proud of.
I absolutely loved the lectures and accompanying seminars. Every subject was laid out in a similar way, with workbooks given at the beginning of term so we always knew what was being taught and what the reading was for the week ahead. This was especially useful in third year, when I could research the seminar questions well in advance, giving me time later in the term to concentrate on my dissertation. There was also always a specific accompanying lecture and seminar to the choice of essay questions, so you knew which seminar to ask more questions in to better plan your essay.
We had the chance to attend a talk about work after university from a former student who worked at Duxford. They showed us the volunteering opportunities that were available in museums and archives, but also how competitive the sector could be, and advised us to get as much experience as we could.
We also had a few lectures from the ARU employment team where they talked about using sites, their CV workshops, and other resources to look at for career inspiration after university. We also had a PhD student taking some of our Russian History lectures and talking to him about doing a PhD and what was involved was really useful.
Studying in Cambridge meant that I was within walking distance of the Cambridge University Library, which ARU students can use for free. It was a massive help during my third year essays and dissertation. My location also gave me an advantage when applying to volunteer at the Churchill Archives Centre and King’s College Archive Centre in Cambridge. Without that opportunity I wouldn't have got into my Masters. I also wouldn't have bumped into one of my professors in the reading room while volunteering!
It goes without saying that the end of term History socials, the friends I made on the course, and my boyfriend, who I met in the first month on the course and now live with seven years later, were also outstanding highlights.
My advice for other history students would be absolutely to keep going. Volunteer wherever possible and find the career you love, whether that's being a curator, archivist, lecturer, teacher, conservationist or something else - there are so many other opportunities. There is so much that you can do with a history degree, so if you love history, and you know you want to go to university, just do it. You can figure out the next step out along the way.
By Daisy Murray-Smith