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Take a break, it's not worth it
And that's that.... I have 12 pages of notes to help me revise tomorrow before the exam, and I've gone through the past papers... I'm aiming for anywhere between 20% and 50%, depending on the format of the paper really...

But my final grade is meaning less and less to me now... What does a degree really prove? That you have the guts to stick at something hard? The fact that I've put up with three years of a degree that I hate proves that, even if I only get a Pass. It would prove that I can do high level mathematics, but since I don't want a job in that field, it suits me fine not to have a degree saying I can do it.

I still don't know what I want to do yet, but I'm not concerned. What I do know is that my CV doesn't even need the degree.

"So, what did you do between 2000 and 2003?"

"I moved down to Brighton and concentrated on my writing (insert journalist articles here). I worked part time for a company which manufactures scientific instruments over the three years (insert favourable reference here). I was a part of an ultimate frisbee team called The Mohawks (and by then will hopefully have a committee position), and attended tournaments all over the country, as well as playing in the Beach Frisbee World Cup in Italy (insert drivel about it building teamwork skills). I have also acted as treasurer of an Extreme Sports club and a Swing Dancing club."

I have the work experience, I have the character-building, I have a-level grades which are practically invincible (AAAB and a first in a special maths paper), and I have the resourcefulness for any job anybody cares to throw at me.

So please excuse me if the impending exams fail to make a significant dent in my attitude problem, but I don't need this degree. In five years time, any qualifications I get will be made obsolete by work experience anyway, and I don't even want to work in an industry where being a graduate makes a difference.

I've already got everything I want out of university. The piece of paper at the end is a mere inconsequential formality.

I wrote the following a year ago, just before my second year exams, and it's still pretty relevant:
Dear Academia, and all you embody and represent,

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to study at University for the last two years. It truly has been an enriching experience, and has allowed me to do a great many things I would otherwise have not had the chance to do. However, it is with sadness and regret that I feel we must now part ways.

I have elected to live in a world where people are not dependent on your validation and approval. Whether or not this world exists is of little consequence to me - if it means I have to live inside my own head to escape the suffocation and pressure of your system, then I will do so. I don't think I'm alone when I tell you that my happiness is more important to me than whether I am able to integrate a function on a given interval. I would rather be well adjusted with adequate social skills than have the knowledge required to construct an artificial neural net. I would rather be a person than a source of information.

Previously I have been able to co-exist as both of these, but I fear I may be drawing near to a point where I shall have to make a choice. Your constraints on me have started to destroy what sanity I have left, and all you are willing to replace my it with are differential equations and matrix manipulation. I worry that, if left in your incapable hands for much longer, I will become some sort of post-breakdown drone, incapable of creative expression, able only to perform mathematical tasks and think logically. While I thank you for affording me the opportunity to do this, I must inform you that I will decline.

I am not yet at this crucial crossroads, but I see little reason why I should not arrive there in the near future, so I will have a few things to consider. The first is the fact that a job will be more difficult to find in the event that I decide I want no more of your insane attempts at education. However, I recognise that a job I could get with a qualification in "Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence" is not likely to be a job I wish to keep. The jobs I want are as inaccessible with my degree as without one at all.

Allegedly graduates earn more money. You (by which I mean Academia in general) have told me this time and time again, because you believe it will keep me in University. Well here is a newsflash for you - whores get paid a lot, and get to have sex too, but you don't see me leaping to get a job as one of those. Obviously your winning argument isn't as compelling as you might think. So perhaps you should ask yourself why I'm even here in the first place. Well I shall tell you.

I came to University for two reasons. The first, more minor reason, is for what it would do for me as a person, how it would shape me, who it would turn me into. Well I believe I've become that person, and have evolved into somebody who can grow further without the need for University to catalyze it. I'm mature enough now that I can continue my journey through life without a forced learning program to help me make new friends. The second, and far more pressing, reason that I came here was because everybody expected it of me. "He's clever, he'll go on to University". Since the age of about eight, I've never considered not continuing my education for as many years as I could. Apparently, it's what smart people do, and it's what successful people do.

Well I've just about had enough of doing what's expected of me. Smart people don't do essays set by others for a deadline, because they know they don't need to. Smart people don't write programs their teachers tell them to, because they realise how futile it is. And this new person I've grown into doesn't see why others' expectations are so important any more. What I do with my life ought to be what I want to do, rather than what others think would be the next logical step.

So, I have exams approaching me - it's the end of the year, and in a month, it'll all be over. I was led to believe that the advantage of my degree is not that it teaches me how to differentiate complex functions over imaginary intervals (which has no applications outside of academia), but that it would teach me methods for approaching difficult problems, and would train me to think in a way that would help me in a certain type of job. Given this, I have a question - where is this reflected in our examinations? I can think analytically like a mathematician, I've been able to for the last 5 years easily. I can logically solve problems, and I can approach them from several different angles, applying various methods, just like I'm meant to be able to. This is the applicable knowledge from my degree. Where is this reflected in our examinations? As far as I know, in order to get a good degree, I must memorise a lot of equations, a lot of tedious mathematical methods, some highly application-specific knowledge of Artificial Intelligence, and a few standard definitions.

In a year and a half, when I approach a future employer, and he looks at my CV and is trying to assess my suitability for my job, what is he or she going to do? They're going to look at what I achieved in my degree, and believe that this in some way represents my abilities and skills. If I can get my way to an interview, I may well be able to explain that the grade I get is dependent on the specifics I could recall in the exam rather than the applicable lessons he or she is looking for. Perhaps this is what I should go for.

A decision has to be reached. I will try my hardest in these exams. I will do my best, and if my best is not good enough, then I won't keep on trying. If at first you don't succeed, don't waste time repeating the exercise, but instead do something else at which you might succeed. In twenty years time, do I want to say "I went to University, had to repeat my second year and resit exams, but I got there in the end", or do I want to say "I went to University for two years, then left in disgust and went on to write full time"? Perhaps I'm the only person who sees that the second would be vastly preferable to the first, but at the end of the day, I'm the only person who needs to.

So here is my vague attempt at some sort of threat. If I fail in my exams, and am either unable to retake them or fail the resits, then that is it. I'm through with being spoon fed knowledge that must be committed to memory for the duration of my degree but which will have no applications afterwards. I used to think I was well suited to life as an academic, I have the memory for it. But you only live once, and I demand more from my lifetime than this. Mathematics and Artificial Intelligence be damned, I'd rather learn to dance than learn to add up sums. I'd sooner think for myself than program a machine to do it. I would rather go it alone with what intelligence I've already accumulated than spend another year being taught things I don't need to know. I would rather die than not live.

So, Academia, this is it. If I fail to meet your requirements this time around, then I shall turn my back on you and do something that makes me happy, and doesn't tax my sanity.


Is it egocentric to find myself inspiring? Because I do. I look at the guy who wrote that letter a year ago, and he inspires a certain mind-set in me... He reminds me that I can write, that I can think for myself, and that none of what I'm thinking now is new or fickle. I've felt this way for the latter half of my degree, and I'm not sure there's a part of me left that would regret not getting the grade that I seemed destined for three years ago.

I guess the point is, in twelve hours I'll be in an exam. But it really doesn't matter...

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Reading that I had images of you preparing a crash mat for results day! Indifference to your own failure (and I doubt you will fail by the way) is still a failure no matter how much you excuse it.

.. don't waste time repeating the exercise, but instead do something else at which you might succeed

Don't go for a job in R&D James if you truly believe the above!

Good luck with the exams - keep trying!

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