John Willans

John Willans

BA History 2015

Tell us about the award you have received today. What does this award mean to you?

I was awarded the Dissertation Prize for the best dissertation in the History department. Although completely unexpected, it was a real vote of confidence in the time and thought that I put into the writing of my final piece of university coursework, especially because I struggled with essay writing earlier on in the course. It also felt poignant as I wrote my dissertation on Exeter’s experiences during World War Two – the one piece of work at uni that I have written on the city that I have come to appreciate so much. 

What has been the highlight of your time at Exeter?

The highlight of my time at Exeter has been to see my personal confidence grow in many ways. My confidence in my work has increased as I have consistently seen my work improve over the years. Moreover, I feel far more confident in tackling experiences that are unnatural or new to me. I have learnt new skills through becoming involved in the student radio station, Xpression FM. I have worked with increasing independence on coursework, and this has taught me to confidently accept the challenges that an unknown situation forces you to overcome. 

What will you miss the most about University?

I think most people would say that university is the time in life that offers the greatest level of personal freedom. As long as you remember to keep up with your work, there is a lot of fun to be had with your housemates and the people you meet in societies, and these groups often disperse once people graduate and go their separate ways. I also think Exeter is one of the nicest cities in which to study at university. The city and campus have so many great places and green spaces to escape to for breaks from work (or to study, like the Devon and Exeter Institute) and most of us feel privileged to be able to get to the beach in thirty minutes! 

What advice would you give to current and future students?

To current students I would emphasise the importance of breaking your work up into manageable chunks. The biggest change I made during the course of my degree was getting into a routine of doing a sensible amount of work every day rather than leaving it to the last minute. It really helped later in third year when the work starts to pile up. To future students, I would suggest taking first year seriously. A lot of people often breeze through the ‘year that doesn’t count’, but in fact the first-year modules provide you with a great foundation on which to build on in the tougher years. Also, have no fear of joining a group that you have reservations about – university is the perfect time to try out new things and the chances are you will meet so many great people.   

What are your plans now that you have graduated?

I am going to spend the summer volunteering at IWM Duxford and applying for various graduate schemes in the civil service and heritage sector. But not before a long-awaited break from work!

Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?

Ideally I would love to be working in the heritage sector, trying to increase young people’s interaction with their history and heritage. I would like to find a way of utilising social media to make young people more enthusiastic about history, but this will probably require ten years of thinking to come to fruition. I would also like to be part of a pressure group campaigning for greater funding for the heritage sector, which really felt the pinch of the great recession.