From shy student to outspoken academic: Charlotte’s journey

Back in the summer of 2012, I started my BU journey as a fresh-faced, nervous 19-year-old. As a huge bookworm who loves writing, my degree choice felt right; I was enrolled on the English degree, excited to study my favourite A-level subject in depth and learn more about a subject that I loved. I had a good feeling about BU, which is why I decided to apply to study there. The coastal town was beautiful, the staff were welcoming, and the campus was one of the most accessible campuses that I had visited – which was an important factor as a disabled student.

By the time September came around, I could not wait to make new friends and memories. To live away from home and be independent. To learn about myself – and serve my flatmates my signature cheesy pasta bake, the only meal that I was able to cook. Thankfully, my cooking abilities have improved since then! I lived off campus throughout university, in a house share close to Winton high street. During my free time, I went for walks along Bournemouth beach with my flatmates and made the most of the nightlife.

Shockingly, it has been nearly 10 years since I started at BU.  While this does make me feel incredibly old, the life-long memories that I made while studying at BU have shaped the academic that I am today. Through all the highs and lows that naturally come with starting at university, I would not change anything about my higher education experience.

I was rather shy when I first started at BU, and I remember my first day quite distinctly. I was the only wheelchair user in a lobby full of students congregating outside the Allsbrook Lecture Theatre on Talbot Campus. Starting university was miles away from my comfort zone, but I was determined to enjoy it as best as I could, and I did.

During my first academic year, I was worried about saying something wrong in seminars. I dreaded presentations, too. I found speaking in front of my peers and lecturers intimidating.  It took time to adjust to being a university student. But thankfully, BU has networks of support to help students adjust. I was able to speak to older students on the English degree, known as Peer Assisted Learning leaders, who were happy to answer my questions and provide helpful advice. Speaking to students who had been through the similar experiences made me feel much better and less alone. For me, my cohort was my lifeline.

Although I was not sure what career I wanted to pursue after university, the English degree appealed to me due to the variety of modules that I could study and the opportunity to complete a placement as part of the course. I loved a module called narrative non-fiction, which taught me some vital writing skills that I still use as a freelancer. My other favourites were children’s literature, post-colonial texts, and my independent dissertation project, which allowed me to study a topic of personal interest, guided by a very supportive lecturer.

By the time I graduated from BU, I had gained a tremendous amount of confidence. And importantly, I had learnt how to express myself.

A highlight of my university experience was speaking about my final year thesis at BU’s annual Showcasing Undergraduate Research Excellence conference. After presenting a paper based on my dissertation and winning an award for my research on representations of disabilities in literature, I realised that I wanted to continue to contribute to academia. Disabled people are often mis-represented in the public sphere, including within literature, which can lead to negative ideas and attitudes about our lived experiences. As an academic, my ambition is to challenge these problematic narratives about disability through my research and through working within education.

After graduating, I worked at BU as a research assistant before starting a Master’s degree, which then led me to completing a teaching degree, starting a job at a sixth form college and finally, embarking on a PhD, which has brought me back to working at BU. That’s 10 years of my life summarised – and what a whirlwind it has been.

If someone were to tell my quiet, 19-year-old self that in 10-years’ time I would be teaching on BU’s English degree, I am not sure I would have believed it. I imagined myself working in a library, tucked away behind a mountain of books, out of sight.

I attribute this self-growth to the environment of university, to the challenging assignments and the inspiring lecturers who encouraged me to be the best version of myself. I am now able to pass on the knowledge that I learnt while at university to the next generations of BU English students.