“Everything’s such a bloody great mess!!”
At the beginning of the assignment there was plenty of time until 30 May. But as the semester progressed. the project deadline crept closer and closer. Omnibus has followed two undergraduate students from theology and the study of religion through the ups and downs as they sweat in the run-up to the submission of their Bachelor's project.
Sidse Birk Johannsen and Gunilla Knudsen both got off to difficult starts with their Bachelor’s projects.
After a year studying theology, Gunilla Knudsen started to doubt her choice of subject and took a semester at the political science programme. That confirmed to her that theology was the right choice, but it cost her an extra year’s study. When she began her Bachelor semester, she had found an elective subject to base her Bachelor's project on. At the same time, she was asked to be responsible for preparing a school class for their church confirmation. As both things took place on Fridays morning, she prioritised her job. So she had to quickly come up with a new idea for her project and ended up basing it on a previous elective subject on sin.
On the other hand, Sidse Birk began her project a semester too early. Her study programme is the study of religion, and she had begun a supplementary subject in rhetoric.
"That wasn’t right for me, so I dropped out and instead began taking Scandinavian languages and literature after the summer holidays."
Her Bachelor semester was brought forward ,so she avoided a break between the degree programmes. In addition to this she did two elective subjects in the study of religion where the exams were placed in mid-May.
"Of course it’s annoying that it’s all at the same time. Luckily I knew what the paper was going to be about as I’m a voluntary student assistant on a research project and I can use data from that."
Norah Jones and home comforts
At Gunilla Knudsen’s place, the calm tones of Norah Jones play in the background, and there are books on the desk and the sofa. She has spent the whole semester concentrating exclusively on her Bachelor's project.
"I’m writing about sin and shame in relation to the self in post-modern society," she says.
She is working meticulously on comparing how the concepts are used and understood today in relation to how they are used in the Bible.
"My working days often stretch from 8:00 to 23:00, though I do take longer breaks. I guess I spend 8 to10 hours a day working, but I can’t seem to figure out how to just work from 8:00 to 16:00."
It’s difficult for her to leave the assignment alone. She keeps going back to it and polishing sentences.
"I’m pretty flighty and my way of working reflects this. It’s difficult for me to grasp the whole assignment at once. I write small fragments and then put the jigsaw together at the end."
A bit of a slow starter
Even though Sidse Birk doesn’t have much time, she still has a very calm approach.
"I have a very laissez-faire approach to the project. Each day I plan the next day. I can’t manage to think of a complete assignment at once. Once I’ve done what I planned for the day I take the rest of the day off."
Her to-do list normally takes four hours to get through. She works at home and appreciates the calm mornings in the flat, where the walls are filled with bookshelves and an old piano stands in the corner. Often she doesn’t turn on her computer until around mid-morning.
Her paper is based on interviews with a number of priests and couples who are getting married. She uses them to examine the understanding of ritual in the Danish church and the encounter between church and citizens. In addition to her elective subject, she has also taken a course on references and reading lists during her Bachelor semester:
"It was a good way to get a grip on the formalities," she says.
The course had some deadlines that were a real help.
"I’m a bit of a slow starter, so it was good for me to deliver something early in the process."
Everything seems calm and relaxed at Gunilla Knudsens’ place, but in her view it’s chaos.
"I was supposed to submit my literature list at the end of April and until then I was pretty calm, but now everything’s such a bloody great mess!”
Her biggest worry is whether her argument really is good enough and whether it’s communicated properly.
"It’s frustrating not to be able to see the whole picture. Now it’s all coming to a head and everything needs to be written down. I’ve come to doubt whether I can even get it all done," she says and continues:
"But the paper must be submitted on time cost what it will. I’ll just have to ignore new ideas and focus."
Supervisor helped with start-up difficulties
Sidse Birk has been able to remain level-headed throughout the process, but she had help from her supervisor with some initial teething problems.
"I’d focused totally on two different angles for my paper and became so desperate that I contacted my supervisor. I just didn’t know which to choose. She gave me the idea of combining both and meant that would produce a stronger paper."
The supervisor has made the process easier for her:
"Sometimes you get stuck on a detail. That’s where my supervisor has been good at using my own words and ideas to get me going again."
Back on track
When things look bleak, Gunilla Knudsen uses her hotline to her sister Josephine.
"I can get rid of my frustrations and she’s a good listener. We’re both students and always rely on each other when we write papers. There’s no way she would agree that I seem calm about the assignment," she says laughingly.
His sister's support helps Gunilla to see the big picture. The paper’s topic has also had an effect on her approach:
"One of the things I’m writing about is the difference between being the person you want to be and the person you actually are. When the two are not the same it’s easy to feel shame. But it’s no good being ashamed that I haven’t got any further. I’ve just to get the paper written."
Ten days before submission ,we check up on Gunilla Knudsen and Sidse Birk for the last time.
"Now it’s an even bigger bloody mess," smiles Gunilla Knudsen and explains that she still needs to write three quarters of the paper. She is looking at long days and nights with incalculable amounts of coffee.
"My ambition is for my sister to proofread on 28 May but it could end up being the day before the deadline for submission."
Sidse Birk has 17 out of 20 pages ready and needs to write an introduction, conclusion and some perspective. She has stuck to her schedule.
"It’s important for me to have enough time to let as many people as possible read the paper," she says.
Two of her friends have got the job of proofreaders for her Bachelor's project:
"Proofreading is very important. The text can easily become too self-centred and that’s something I want to avoid," she says.
She is proud of her project and her expectations are high for her grade.
On the other hand, Gunilla Knudsen really likes her idea because shame does not play a big role in Christianity, while sin in the Biblical sense does not play a big role in modern language. But she has a sense of not quite having tied all the loose ends together and has therefore lowered her expectations a bit.
Neither of the students are willing, however, to give their project a mark.
Omnibus will follow them until their marks are given during the summer.
- Follow the story at www.omnibus.au.dk
Three quick questions:
When I started on the assignment, I wish I knew …
Gunilla: "The dos and don’ts. I had never written an independent paper before, and I could’ve used some kind of introduction to writing one."
Sidse: "How rewarding it is to tell other people about your paper. It gives you a good perspective, and it gives you a chance to reflect on your work.”
I get stressed when...
Gunilla: "I often start doubting whether I can manage everything and whether it’s good enough."
Sidse: "When the technology acts up. I spent nearly a whole day fighting with a footnote that kept disappearing. That was almost too much."
The best way to take a break is to get away from it all…
Gunilla: "Netflix - without a doubt. I’ve just seen Orange is the New Black and it’s really good."
Sidse: "My Easter holiday in Ireland. I’d just sent five pages to my supervisor and could go with a clear conscience."
Translated by Peter Lambourne