45 Things I Wish I Knew as an English Undergraduate

Danielle reflects back on being an undergraduate, painting a picture of her student days.

In lieu of the interview questions, I'm going to use a list to paint a picture of my student days, instead. This may or may not be useful to you. Here goes.

45 Things I Wish I Knew as an English Undergraduate

1.     That the times I spent drinking beer and eating sandwiches after class, talking to my one best English major friend about books and life, would be important forever.

2.     That everyone was right when they said I would have an easier time getting a job if I studied Business, and that I was right to ignore them.

3.     That partying was a good use of my time. The hangover guilt was mostly misplaced.

4.     That fraternity guys are not worth it. (Fraternity parties are fun though.) 

5.     That people I thought I would love forever, I sometimes didn’t love by the end of the year.

6.     That university is not a good time to adopt a pet.

7.     That you should never drink something you didn’t pour yourself or didn’t see being poured.

8.     That screwing up my face and being really difficult in lectures did not make me seem smarter.

9.     That lecturers pay attention to your progress, and care when you do well.

10.  That doing stuff “to put it on your CV” is a very good idea.

11.  That being skinny was not as important as I thought it was.

12.  That arguing with the sexists was more about me learning who I was than about them learning anything. Lots of them still haven’t learned; I see what they post on Facebook.

University of Georgia's Park Hall, where I wrote a lot of stuff.

University of Georgia's Park Hall, where I wrote a lot of stuff.


13.  That I would remember the really good lectures—all of them.

14.  That my biggest education was going to be the travelling I did after I graduated; but that what I learned at university gave me the tools to process that education in the best ways possible.

15.  That studying literature was making me a better person.

16.  That I could have been going to university for free in most of the countries in Europe.

17.  That American football is boring. Trying really hard to enjoy it just because I went to a “football school” was not a good use of my time.

18.  That sitting around in coffee shops being impressed by my articulate and impassioned friends was the best possible use of my time.

19.  That I should have been reading all the books on the reading lists.

20.  That lecturers can tell when you’re bullshitting. There are giveaways.

21.  That the two most important amenities when looking for a place to live are a good place to go for a run and a quiet place to smoke.

22.  That marriage was not going to be happening to me for a good while.

23.  That just because I could write a good paper in 24 hours didn’t mean I should wait until the day before it was due to write it.

24.  That it’s okay for me to think Shakespeare is boring. (I still think Shakespeare is boring.)

25.  That you can write about almost anything you want in an English paper, if you frame it well.

26.  That what I wrote about in English papers would ultimately become my worldview.

27.  That being a good housemate means doing your dishes right after you eat.

28.  That if you’re ever actually worried you might starve, milk is the cheapest thing you can buy, calorie for calorie.

29.  There’s no such thing as a free drink.

30.  Student loan debt is worth it.

31.  Credit card debt is not.

After graduating I spent a year as an au pair in Finland, and travelling. Best thing I could have done.


32.  That grand gestures are really more for the person who makes them. (Bear this in mind in all romantic relationships.)

33.  That many years after I graduated, people would be reading things I wrote in the margins of library books in pencil and thinking I was a dummy. (Erase. Erase.)

34.  That there is something called a “portfolio career.” If, after you graduate, you aren’t immediately offered a job that lands you on your ideal pathway, this is what creative people should try to develop.

35.  That you can get funding to do a PhD, like get paid, like it’s a job and you get paid.

36.  That depression and anxiety are more or less seminal to every coming-of-age, and that medicine can help. So can forcing yourself to exercise, quitting horrible people, and being sober for a while.

37.  That I, like everyone, am conditioned to think of white male writers and white male teachers as better/smarter/more interesting than female ones or people of colour, even if unconsciously. That I should have admitted to myself that I was biased. That I should have cultivated more respect in myself for thinkers outside that bubble.

38.  That I should have bought that first edition of Moby Dick when I had the chance (even though it’s pretty much the whitest, male-est book around).

39.  That the canon was a thing I could challenge.

40.  That the people throwing around the biggest words at the highest frequency were often the ones with the shallowest grasp of what those words meant. (Same goes for the people who talk loudest and longest in basically every arena of professional life.)

41.  That the best skill I could develop for career success, after critical thinking and accountability, was the ability to have a relaxed conversation with anybody.

42.  That a relaxed conversation is more about listening than talking.

43.  That it’s a good idea to have three good stories—of differing subject matter—that you can pull out at networking events for when things get awkward. Awkward networking events are coming, and they’re horrible, so you might as well prepare.

44.  That failure was going to happen to me.

45.  That I was going to get over it.

Danielle Barrios-O'Neill is a Lecturer in English and Publishing. Her research is focused on emergent practices and intersections in narrative and technology, Ireland, and the environment.