A regular line used against me in the infamous STEM vs Humanities debate is that of the vast contrast in contact hours between disciplines. Whilst some students are busy doing lectures and supervisions 9:00am to 5:00pm every day, this year I saunter in for a grand total of five and a half hours of taught content a week. However, whilst it does have its benefits, this sparse schedule isn’t necessarily as great as it may seem at first glance.
In my first year as a fresher living off campus, I had to make an extra effort to make friends. Some of the friends I’m closest to now were found in seminars where I swallowed my fear of rejection and made conversation. As such, the few contact hours I did have were vital to ensuring I wouldn’t spend my entire time at university wallowing in my loneliness. Trying to build relationships with people you only really see for an hour a week, as you both sit in silence awkwardly avoiding the seminar tutor’s eye, as you can imagine, is not the easiest thing in the world.
Once I found a solid set of friends, the lengthy gaps were filled with coffee catch ups and collective attempts at studying
In my personal experience, the lack of contact hours really did have an impact on how hard I had to try to combat loneliness on campus. The thought of filling the three-hour gap in between lectures genuinely filled me with dread. It seemed I couldn’t find ‘my’ people. On top of that, I felt somewhat cheated as the reality of how much I was paying for each rare contact hour began to register. Consequently, the guilt of missing lectures was only amplified by the knowledge of the steep price each of the presentation slides would cost me.
Despite this bleak beginning, soon the situation really did start to look up. Once I found a solid set of friends, the lengthy gaps were filled with coffee catch ups, collective attempts at studying and gave us the time to bond as a group. Coming to terms with what I thought was a heavy reading list (first year me knew nothing of what was to come) was made easier when the spare time gave me a chance to get that reading done.
Having the time outside of contact hours is a vital part of my degree experience
As with many other humanities disciplines, my degree requires a lot of independent study that can’t really be provided within a lecture. This means that contact hours are limited but for good reason; without the free time a smaller timetable provides, we would all fall massively behind almost instantly. Even with all that time free, it’s still a push to get four novels and a pile of secondary reading done every week, as well as prepping for essays and balancing other commitments. Coming into my third year with a dissertation on the horizon, that time is more valuable than ever.
Whilst with some courses the content you need to learn can be taught as an objective fact, arts degrees are entirely subjective to opinion. The few seminars we do have can be spaces where you argue your case and learn from the thoughts of your peers. They may take up just a fraction of the week, but they’re valuable and can even be enjoyable if you have a good group and enjoy the module.
Humanities disciplines are about forming your own thoughts and opinions, and that freedom is what I love about my degree
Even with the knowledge that each of my sparse lectures costs significantly more per hour than the contact hours of my Maths friends (and will probably give me less pay out in employment, as the harsh reality suggests), having the time outside of contact hours is a vital part of my degree experience.
Humanities disciplines are about forming your own thoughts and opinions, and that freedom is what I love about my degree. So, despite the drawbacks of a limited timetable, having a low number of contact hours is a justified decision and can make life easier for us humanities students… as long as you don’t fill it with scrolling through Instagram and drinking coffees, as I’ve learned the hard way.