Read blogger Siobhan’s journey through the final year of her undergrad degree in English at Carleton. Siobhan is currently pursuing her M.A. in English at Simon Fraser University.

siobhan doody banner 2MEET SIOBHAN DOODY

September 23, 2013

To start this semester off, I thought I should introduce myself before pouring out my heart and soul to all those who are willing to read about the triumphs and troubles of a Carleton English student. My name is Siobhan (pronounced shuh-vahn, but I’ve heard a multitude of variations over the years, and am long over being offended by mispronunciations) and I am a fourth year English student here at Carleton. I was born and raised in Ottawa and unlike the majority of my friends and family, I chose to stay in my hometown—at least for the duration of my undergrad—and I have never once regretted that decision. To be fair, I did spend four months last fall living in Lyon, France, as an exchange student, but was happy to call Ottawa home after spending my summers’ savings eating and travelling my way through Europe.

For those of you who may be new to Carleton, I’m pleased to report that if my experience over the past three years has any validity, then Carleton’s English department will not disappoint. I started my first year intimidated by the notion of University life and all it could offer, but my experience at Carleton has taught me a few things that I wish I had known from the beginning. Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not all-knowing or full of wisdom after my short time at Carleton, but my experience as an English student here has taught me a few lessons that I’m willing to share (whether you’re willing to read them or not is a different question entirely).Last year in my American Culture class, I came to the pleasant realization that no one ever really stops learning. Everyone says that you “learn something new every day,” but as I sat in a class of 60+ students and realized that it was as much a learning experience for the professor as it was for the students, I saw education in a whole new light. Your professors and TA’s are people too; don’t be afraid to go talk to them. Whether it is to talk about an assignment or just to bounce ideas back and forth, from my experience most professors would be more than happy to have you keep them company in what are otherwise potentially lonely and quiet office hours. They may even learn a thing or two from you (I have yet to prove the possibility of this occurring, but you may surprise yourself)!

Maybe it’s the feminist in me striving to stand out among a sea of men, or the fact that as the youngest of four children I’m constantly trying to get through life without aid from a sibling, but when it comes to being independent, I’m about as stubborn as they come. It took me a while to realize it, but throughout my past few years I’ve slowly come to appreciate that asking for help is never a bad idea. Whether it be about finding my way across campus, getting suggestions on which classes and professors to take, or getting inspiration and feedback on papers, asking for help has proven to be more than beneficial. At the end of the day you’ll still come out independent, just a little less lost and confused.

The quickest thing I learned during my time as a Carleton student is that you can’t get bogged down by all school, all the time. The English department often puts on events which are not only great opportunities to meet new people, but which more importantly almost always include free food (and sometimes alcohol)—I have also clearly learned the most effective ways of being a frugal student. Let yourself have fun once in a while, because the University experience is about more than what you’ll learn in the classroom (cheesy, but true).So that’s me and some of what I’ve learned so far as an English student at Carleton. I’m looking forward to seeing what this last year has in store for me, and sharing what comes my way with those of you who care to read about it. I’m a pretty friendly person, so feel free to stop me in my tracks if you see me on campus; I’m always eager to meet new people.


November 4, 2013

It’s official – I can no longer pretend that it’s just the beginning of the semester, and that I don’t really need to get stressed about assignments or spend too much of my weekends devoted to devouring novels and churning out essays. Thanksgiving has somehow come and gone, and I have already handed in a paper and presented in a seminar. As scary as it is to admit, in less than two months exams will be underway and yet another semester at Carleton will have come and gone in the blink of an eye.Tell-tale Signs

The tell-tale signs of students beginning to get into crunch mode are evident all across campus; the wait for a hand-crafted beverage at the Starbucks on campus easily exceeds fifteen minutes, which always makes me think that the majority of Carleton has blinders on for any coffee shop that doesn’t serve their beloved caffeine out of the iconic white and green cups (Roosters, Second Cup or even Timmy’s anyone?!); the wait in the lines for library printers come in close second to those of the coffee shops; I’ve even had to wait in line to speak to professors during their office hours! Clearly us Carleton students are a patient bunch – especially when caffeine is the reward.Not only have I come to recognize the increased hustle and bustle of students and professors around campus after three years as an English student, but I’ve also come to know my own signs of mid-semester stress. The kitchen becomes my semi-permanent home (escaping when necessary for sleep, work or the occasional, and often necessary, social break) where I can split my time between the books and the baking. When I lived at home, my family would always know when I had a paper or midterm approaching, because they would come home to the aromas of my newest baking endeavour – my most fruitful form of procrastination. I have yet to impose this strange habit of mine upon my roommate, but I have a feeling that she won’t find too much to complain about when I do.Make Something

So, why, you may ask, do baking and writing go hand in hand for me? I think it’s the notion that I can make something out of close to nothing. Some of my earliest memories involve me standing on a little blue stool in my childhood kitchen, acting as sous-chef to my mother as we produced batch after batch of cookies, muffins and other numerous creations. My mom taught me the secrets of the baking world, and I learned quickly that I had the capacity to make something out of nothing with just a few tools and ingredients. While the process of putting words to a page is often more time consuming and considerably more demanding on my brain, the ease with which I can turn a pile of ingredients into an edible concoction always seems to spur my desire to turn that blank page into something more.It’s also the most delicious form of procrastination I’ve yet to discover, so unless I ever find a better option, baking will always accompany this time of year for me. Despite my attempts to ignore it, it is undoubtedly that middle of the semester crunch where all of a sudden everything is due and the campus explodes into a fury of highly-caffeinated students with a look of determination and purpose in their eye (or maybe it’s just the lack of sleep that gives our eyes that certain twinkle). And on that note, I’ve got a banana bread to bake before I can attend to the paper and midterm that are so unkindly calling my name.Good luck to everyone with whatever this semester has thrown at you, and I hope you’ve all found your methods for coping – no matter how averse or strange they may seem to the ignorant observer. I feel ya; keep on doing what you do, whatever keeps you sane.


December 2, 2013

I’m sure we’ve all been in this situation: you meet someone new—whether it be a family acquaintance, a customer at work, or that cutie at the local coffee shop—and within minutes the small talk leads to questions about your education. And when it finally comes up that you have decided to dedicate at least four years of your young adult life to pursuing a degree in English, the inevitable response will go something along the lines of, “Why?”, “What are you going to do with an English degree?”, or the ever popular, “Oh, so you want to be a teacher.”

Why English? Because I think that reading is fun, and everyone’s told me that any degree could be as useless as the next, so why not have fun while pursuing a pointless degree? I’m not sure what I’ll do with my degree, other than admire and appreciate my overflowing bookshelf that is the result of over four years of becoming engrossed and confused by every sort of character, from Milton’s Satan to Pynchon’s Oedipa. Who knows, maybe I will be a teacher, but that’s not something I’m ready to pursue yet. The beauty of an English degree is that the opportunities are endless (as long as it doesn’t involve any algorithms or equations; numbers ceased being my friends once they started hanging out with those letters—letters belong in words, not in math). Sure, I’m probably not going to step off that stage in June and walk into my office with a career waiting for me, but I was never really planning on that. For now, I’m going to keep on pursuing my purportedly useless degree, and I’ll build and find my career along the way.

I was unfortunately unable to attend the department’s Full Stop Friday last week due to my part-time job (I keep telling myself that my degree will get me farther than retail despite the naysayers), but I did find time this week to plan for my life outside of the classroom. While not as fun or filling as Full Stop Friday, the English department’s “Life After English” presentation was informative and hopeful. To be honest, it made me want to do a little bit of everything, and I may do just that.

One of the first suggestions of the afternoon was to continue your education by doing a Master’s program. So as long as your bank account will allow it, there’s always that. I’m planning on starting a Master’s program next Fall, with the possibility of pursuing a career in publishing/editing after completing yet another year of school in a college program. If you told sixteen-year-old me that I’d have at least another six years of school after graduating high school, I probably would’ve laughed in your face. But that’s the beauty of undergrad—you learn and develop from more than just the books, adapting to meet the needs of your constantly changing world, and you come out better because of it.

After learning about the numerous college and university programs that are available for post-grad English students, for the first time I felt that my undergrad degree choice had opened almost too many doors to choose from! If any English undergrads out there are still feeling hesitant about pursuing a degree in a subject you love because you’ve heard you won’t get a job out of it, don’t give up yet! It may take a little more work than your Engineer friends, but if it’s what you love you’ll be willing to work hard to find a career worth working in—and besides, we get to have all the fun in undergrad while all the other guys are locked up studying away in their labs.

More school is also not the only option after undergrad. I could find a job implementing my honed communications skills, or sell my writing abilities as a free-lancer, or network my way to the top to find those jobs that never even get posted. It’s a scary and unfamiliar world, but it’s out there waiting for the eager graduates. And if all else fails, I’ll teach! I’m not ready to set foot into a suburban Canadian classroom as the teacher, since it feels like I just left my spot at the pupil’s desk, but the travel bug in me would be more than willing to teach internationally.

All this is to say that, no, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my Bachelor of Arts in English once I cross that stage and hold that multiple-thousand dollar piece of paper in my hand. But I do know that the possibilities are endless. And despite the dozens of essays I wrote each year, and the obscure terms I’ve had to learn throughout my degree (kunstlerroman anyone?), I’ve had fun making my way through my undergrad.


January 15, 2014

As the youngest child of four, I grew up thinking that I’d never be as smart as my over achieving siblings who seemed to know more than I could ever learn in a lifetime. I never expected to outsmart them, I just wanted to know how they could answer so many questions in so many categories of Trivial Pursuit—a game that proved time and time again to be unbeatable against the likes of my brothers and sister, who knew things about people and places that I had never even heard of. While I have yet to beat anyone in Trivial Pursuit to date, I have gradually come to understand how my siblings became so knowledgeable, and I have begun to accumulate some of that same knowledge. The classroom obviously contributes a great deal to the process of learning, but I think there is something to be said for the more general knowledge that is gained through the simple act of reading. As an English student I would not say that I am a conventionally smart person—I never calculate tip without my cell phone’s calculator, I don’t know how many bones are in the human body or why we have so many, and I’m useless with my apartment’s appliances without referencing manuals multiple times—but I can read, and that’s something.

As the youngest child of four, I grew up thinking that I’d never be as smart as my over achieving siblings who seemed to know more than I could ever learn in a lifetime. I never expected to outsmart them, I just wanted to know how they could answer so many questions in so many categories of Trivial Pursuit—a game that proved time and time again to be unbeatable against the likes of my brothers and sister, who knew things about people and places that I had never even heard of. While I have yet to beat anyone in Trivial Pursuit to date, I have gradually come to understand how my siblings became so knowledgeable, and I have begun to accumulate some of that same knowledge. The classroom obviously contributes a great deal to the process of learning, but I think there is something to be said for the more general knowledge that is gained through the simple act of reading. As an English student I would not say that I am a conventionally smart person—I never calculate tip without my cell phone’s calculator, I don’t know how many bones are in the human body or why we have so many, and I’m useless with my apartment’s appliances without referencing manuals multiple times—but I can read, and that’s something.

The characters and the places that I read about in literature, regardless of whether they are in fiction or nonfiction, offer an education that crosses multiple disciplines, cultures, and centuries. I’ll be the first to admit that I sat doe-eyed and clueless in ENGL 2300 as Professor Wallace spoke of Milton and Beowulf as if we should’ve known them as well as our best friends. I didn’t know who, or what, they were, and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t become my friends. To my pleasant surprise, I came to appreciate the words of some of literature’s earliest contributors, and by the end of my second year I felt like I could answer just a few more of those arbitrary trivia questions that had stumped me for so long.

After my first two years at Carleton, I had a bit more freedom in the classes that I chose, and therefore in the books that I read. In third year I finally hopped on the Kurt Vonnegut bandwagon (I know, I know, took me long enough) and read other American classics that are such a prevalent part of our culture. I began to actually understand and appreciate cultural references in movies and other books. This was the knowledge I thought I’d never have, and the whole time it was hiding in my books.

This all became apparent to me when a friend texted me the other day because she was all excited that Parks and Recreation mentioned Dave Eggers, and she caught the reference because she was reading one of his books as per my suggestion. As a science student who spent her undergrad memorizing the human brain from textbooks, she’d never really had time to read for fun until this year. I’ve been suggesting authors and titles faster than she can get through the books, and she’s finally come to the realization that I’m not smart, I just read a lot.

It seems like a simple enough strategy: the more you read, the more you’ll know. And sure, it doesn’t matter if you’re an English student or any other kind of student; you are bound to be reading a lot. But the beauty of being an English student is that more than half the time, the process of reading is actually enjoyable. Best of all, I can justify watching Benedict Cumberbatch make deductions in BBC’s Sherlock because it’s as if I am doing homework for my Renaissance Lit class, “British Spy Fiction from the Great War to the Cold War and Beyond.” What more could I ask of my degree?


February 28, 2014

I swear I had good intentions for this reading week. I was going to get through three novels and maybe start at least one of the four research papers that will be fast approaching as soon as March rolls around. I told myself and my quickly declining bank account that I was going to hunt for the perfect summer job and revamp my CV to sell myself as the ideal candidate. But alas, here I am on Sunday afternoon of what I hope will be my last reading week of undergrad, with a few too many items left unchecked on the illusory checklist.

The work that I did manage to get done was due the first day back, so I like to tell myself that I’m just living in the moment, not wasting my time worrying about what the future holds for me, because everyone knows you can’t control that. Try as I may to be proactive to get ahead of my work, instead of the work getting ahead of me, it’s just not going to happen. It didn’t happen in the first three and half years of my degree, and it’s certainly not going to happen in the last two months of it (cue excitement/fear at the prospect of being done my degree in LESS THAN TWO MONTHS!).

I definitely understand the importance of time management, and I’m not the type to be writing a paper the night before it’s due, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there is beauty in living in the moment—try as hard as you may to plan and organize your life away, at some point there is only so much you can control. Which brings me to what I have been doing this reading week while not doing my readings.

When I wasn’t binge-watching Veronica Mars episodes in preparation for the movie’s release in a few weeks, I was contemplating what to do with my life after June’s long-anticipated graduation. Both my roommate and I have taken an extra year to complete our undergrad degree, and we couldn’t be more excited about finally crossing that stage after five years! Conversations over the past week have often turned to the topic of ‘where will we be in September’? We have yet to come up with a conclusive answer to that elusive question, but that’s the beauty of change—you never know what to expect.

I feel like a fraud as an English student whenever I tell people that I am not a fan of poetry, and I’ve never had a favourite poem or a favourite poet, but what I do have is a favourite quote from a poet, and that’s the best I can offer. While living abroad I stumbled upon a quote by e. e. cummings that really resonated with me and has stuck with me ever since; “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”. He just put how I feel about life right now, so well.

The closer I get to graduation, the more I realize just how much courage it takes to actually make life decisions. The real world, as I like to call life after education, is a scary place, and I’m not sure whether or not I am ready. Which is likely why I’ve decided to postpone the inevitable by pursuing a Masters degree. Despite this fear of the unknown, I’m excited to see where I’ll be come September, and I’m definitely ready for a change. Since my plans to be proactive and get ahead of my work during reading week fell through and left me disappointed in my inactivity I’m going to embrace the unknown. I’ll take solace in knowing that my future is in the hands of the faculty and staff of the schools and organizations that now hold my Masters and Grant applications. It’s out of my control now, and I’ll just keep telling myself that I’m ok with that until I finally believe it.


March 21, 2014

I was sitting at Mike’s Place this Wednesday for trivia with some friends, when the inevitable question of the value of an English degree came up in conversation. I had been complaining that sometimes it can be hard to explain to people what it is that I do as an English student, without belittling the degree down to the simple terms of “I read and I write . . . a lot.” My friend and fellow English student responded in earnest that it is valuable to be an English student, and made me feel guilty for ever second-guessing my degree or feeling the need to justify it to myself or others. She went on a mini-rant about how we have the most valuable degree because we look at a range of cultures from various perspectives and can think critically about other people’s ideas and imaginary worlds. It is likely that it sounded marginally more insightful and awe-inspiring after a beer or two, but it made me grateful to have people like her in my life that remind me why it is I do what I do. And while I wouldn’t say that an English degree is any more valuable than the next Arts degree, I do value what I’ve learned and what I can take away from my time here. Most importantly, I’m happy that I can sit at a bar with some friends and critically discuss the importance of the past four years of our lives and not end the night in a deep pit of pessimism and despair.

Talking about the last four years of my life does tend to leave me with a sense of nostalgia for something that isn’t even over yet. I remember a very vivid moment in the second semester of my First Year Seminar English class as my professor gave our class yet another piece of advice. She warned us how quickly the semester would be over, and advised us not to get too stressed but to find time to enjoy our experiences. I think she meant both the educational and the not-so-educational experiences that we would encounter that winter semester of 2011, and in the four years of our degree. I cannot believe that here I am, four years later, procrastinating from writing my last three term papers by writing what will be one of my final blog posts for the department. I feel like that stubborn five-year old who is bewailing to an impatient parent; “I’m not leaving! You can’t make me!” Ok, ok, I am leaving, and I don’t really want to sit through yet another year’s worth of undergraduate classes, papers, and novels. I’m just saying that I’ll be sad to go.

But I’m not saying goodbye just quite yet. Mostly this is just a filler post, like those obnoxious TV episodes where they play clips from past seasons with some overlaying commentary to give the show some structure while their writers get extra time to write real material. Writing this post seemed like a better idea than tackling one of the three papers that have been on my to-do list since February. Fret not, I haven’t completely given up on school with less than three weeks to go! I have managed to do most of the preliminary research for two out of the three essays, which is a good start. The library and I have become good friends in my last semester at Carleton, and I think I am finally starting to master the art of researching. Well, maybe master is a strong word, but I think I am starting to get the hang of it. Let’s just hope it shows when I finally submit the forty-plus pages that will effortlessly flow from my caffeine-infused brain to the tips of my overly-energized fingertips in the hours leading up to the deadlines (she tells herself with false hope and overly exaggerated enthusiasm).

So there’s that. I am not too sure what to think of this post. I think I needed a place to empty my brain of some of the nonsense before I could really begin to tackle the more serious writing that my professors are expecting of me. But that’s the beauty of writing, and mostly why I am an English student. Writing helps clear my head; it’s just what I do.