Exam Results 76

A piece of paper does not encapsulate a person’s worth. University is one good way of enhancing your understanding and experience of this wonderful world, but there are many other ways.

I was very unhappy with the discipline and structure of school and did very badly – my A Levels were BEE. I lost my place to do law and scraped into Dundee on clearing to study History. In the free atmosphere of university I flourished and ended up with a First, as well as twice being President of the students union (and eventually became Rector of the university). My parents and friends were very upset the day my A Level results came out but I knew, even then, there were much more important things in life. I know it still more now.

Study what you enjoy, not what you think might pay. The economic world is changing so fast there are few safe bets anyway. But you are a wonderful, complex being, not just an economic agent. Experience life wherever it takes you. Everybody deserves love, and with patience you will find some. Nobody’s worth depends on bits of paper of any kind.

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76 thoughts on “Exam Results

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  • disillusioned medic

    Best advice ever. I got 4 as and studied medicine, and anyone that saw me would think I have an amazing job (though i am grateful to have one when so many don’t). There’s nothing like hindsight, but I wish desperately I had the guts to pack it in when I realised that the reality of practising medicine was far divorced from the image in my head. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a dropout or that I couldn’t do it, so it was almost a matter of pride to finish. And now it is even worse. I hate working in organisation where I am simply a jobs monkey providing a service, where non clinicians and managers make all the decisions, where top consultants can be kicked out for saying what they think, a complete hollow shell. Kids should be given longer to decide, you can’t know at 16 what you want to do for the rest of your life. And it is too difficult to change your mind (my gripe also with postgrad medical training). Surely it’s better for everyone to have someone a yr or two older with more experience coming to study something they want to, than having people when their hearts are elsewhere.

  • writeon

    I collected A levels up to the age of twenty. I think I got six or seven, with good grades, in the arts and sciences. Unfortunately, I hated both the universities I entered. Though I had been warned that I wouldn’t fit the mold. How right that was! So I became a ‘gentleman of leisure’ having married into money… twice. This might have had something to do with my remarkable similarity to a young Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame. Anyway I then spent the next few decades in dedicated study of all the things that interested me, and writing trashy novels and science fiction which secured my fanancial independence and gave me a lot of pocket money to waste on various toys and luxuries. Looking at society from a position of privilege, and regarding it as form of grotesque hoax, has its drawbacks though.

  • Povre Scoler

    @ Disillusioned Medic

    “And it is too difficult to change your mind (my gripe also with postgrad medical training). Surely it’s better for everyone to have someone a yr or two older with more experience coming to study something they want to, than having people when their hearts are elsewhere.”

    Entirely agree. What i find baffling is that it is impossible for students to transfer into medicine but fairly simple to transfer into law. I am aware that the Republic of Ireland allows for GAMSAT entry examinations, but in the UK we have nothing. So if you study humanities and want to change to study medicine, you have to return to your A levels – which probably take two years to complete – and then you have to complete a six year degree (which is entirely unaffordable). Why do we make it so difficult for people to study medicine?

    As for your own personal situation . I empathise completely. It must be very trying to have to fulfil certain targets and to chase up cases; all under within the confines of a demanding work structure. I think you put your finger on the pulse – as it were – when you said that you didn’t want anyone to think you were a dropout. This seems to be a common preoccupation with individuals. But perhaps being a dropout is a rite of passage, something that must be experienced in order to feel integrated into a community of others. Failure is sometimes the only way to learn what you really want, it would seem. Perhaps you completed your degree not merely because of job security, but because of status. After all, there is an inherent status stamped into degrees like medicine and law. Unfortunately there is a huge difference between the status accorded by the subject and the very real work commitments demanded by it.

    I hope you find peace and satisfaction in any event!

  • John Goss

    Suhayl, thanks for the kind comments. There were probably more mechanical problems for me than Persig ancountered, but nothing insurmountable. Travelling alone makes it a whole different kettle of fish. My journal runs to some 50,000 plus words, which is pretty near book length.

    Courtenay, despite what I wrote a few days back that “a lawyer with his briefcase can rob more people than a hundred men with guns” your profession is, on the whole, an honest one, and from what you write on this blog you do it credit. What does it dishonour is those who use it to circumvent justice. My step-daughter is a solicitor. Your code of practice should be an example to all professions. Unfortunately, all legal practitioners are not so scrupulous in their practices. It’s encouraging, however, to see that the Murdochs’ lawyers appear to have given that Family advice they felt they had no need to heed.

  • vronsky

    I hated university with a passion. I liked my subjects (maths, and astronomy with the kenspeckle Dr Archie Roy at Glasgow) but there was something about the institution that I simply loathed. I don’t know what it was because it kicked in instinctively on Day One for no reason I can think of. I was very shocked, felt I’d made a terrible mistake, had utterly no idea what to do instead and so just plodded miserably on. I’ve never really understood it
    This was the end of the 60s, a time of relative optimism, but I don’t think I was alone in my feelings – many I met had the same sense of disappointment and anticlimax – perhaps we were led to expect too much? I had no career plans (I was just studying my hobbies) and I became terrified that I’d drift into teaching, the path of least resistance back then. I’d a pretty shrewd idea that I hadn’t the cojones for that. I didn’t end up teaching, but I drifted just about everywhere else. The uni isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – it wasn’t for me, anyway.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Suhayl,

    “Courtenay, you did your dad – and yourself – proud, man.”

    Well ditto to you mate.



    “you can be an entrepreneur .remember the bumper sticker ”

    I think that momenet has passed. Nice idea though.


  • disillusioned medic

    Povre Scoler – actually I meant speciality training after you graduate in medicine (although what you understood is a completely valid point too and probably why most medics are so boring). Since the whole Modernising medical careers, you now have to decide effectively within one yr of graduating which speciality you want to work in for the rest of you life. Which is fine if you’ve always wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but what about the rest of us who didn’t have a clue, not having worked in most of the specialities, and not being allowed the opportunity to do so because nobody gives a damn about our training.

    Anyway, the odd thing is, now (aged 25 and as a doctor) I would probably happily leave my job tomorrow if someone came up with a better offer (yes yes I know I have to look for my own opportunities etc :)). I no longer care what anyone says or thinks, I wouldn’t think the years a waste (I had a good time at uni, met lots of nice people, and I can honestly say someone who survives their first 2 yrs as a doctor in the NHS can survive pretty much anything in any job- you can’t get any lower than working ridiculous shifts, working hours a day unpaid yet officiallu only working <48 hrs, being publicly humiliated, being responsible for every crap thing that goes wrong, having no social life whatsoever, and even your measly annual leave rota-ed in for you!). In short, I wouldn't feel like a failure now. I guess you're right about the status issue too, though tbh I never consciously felt that so much (though coming from an south east asian background, I am well aware this is a big issue). When I meet new people I never introduce myself as a doctor (it's not part of who I am yet, I understand that for some people it is, for me it's just my job). Anyway I don't want to give the impression I'm ridiculously unhappy and suicidal, I just find myself in a job I don't love, when I always thought I wouldn't be one of those people. The problem is that our whole working world is not designed to take into account that people who love what they do do disproportionately better at it than those who are just doing the job to provide a service because they need to pay the bills/feed the kids etc.

  • mary

    Was the attack on Israeli military transport near Eilat a false flag? A massive aerial bombardment of Gaza has taken place today and seven Palestinians are dead including a child. Israel is upping the ante in order to destabilize the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN next month.

    As ZBC so lovingly puts it,
    Israel pounds Gaza after deadly attacks near Eilat
    The attacks in Israel started with an assault on a bus
    {Israel and the PalestiniansIsrael protests rattle Netanyahu
    Q&A: Palestinian statehood bid
    Poisoned atmosphere in talks
    Heated diplomacy of statehood bid}
    The Israeli military has carried out air strikes over the Gaza Strip, targeting those it blamed for a series of deadly attacks in southern Israel.
    Eilat is 215 kms from Gaza, the Rafah crossing is sealed tight and the borders between Egypt and Israel and Israel and Gaza are heavily guarded as this blog says.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Thanks, Paul.

    John, re. your 50,000 words, maybe you’d want to knock it into shape, instill some cosmicity, feet on the pedals and go for it. But then, maybe a journal is a private matter. The journey is the thing, not the words, but of course through words you can communicate the journey to many others. Hmn. Interesting.
    ‘Disillusioned Medic’, yes, I’ve heard similar stories of oppressive managerialism from consultants I know. Idiotic edicts like “You must not sit on the bed”. No, so one then has to stand like James Robertson Justice and look down on people, patronise them, the bedside manner is out the window. Yet we know the bedside manner – listening – is crucial, obviously, it doesn’t take a randomised, triple-blinded multi-centre cohort study to tell us this, though such a study would indeed tell us this. Wash one’s hands a million times (because the corporatists say one must because they must be seen to be doing something), one ends up with broken skin which harbours, and spreads, more infection than ever. But they hire the cheapest cleaning companies, and cut staff numbers, cut nurses. Brilliant. Fucking typical managerialism. Wankers. 20+ years of this utter crap. What bullshit. A toxic charade. Yes, I am with you.

  • John Goss

    Alex, I’m sure your cousins will do well. They will be getting what many children, whatever their nationality or alienation never get, encouragement from home and family. We are I guess moving into a new age where not as much emphasis is placed on homework. Computers are so useful, search engines can find out most things, of a general nature, and sometimes of a very complex nature; yet, as things stand now, without reading-books there does seem to be something missing.

    As to homework, you know as I do, that in Russia, and England, if somebody excels at something they get the encouragement to spur them on to greater achievements. Teachers, I suspect, are so pleased to have an attentive pupil, with talent, and a desire to learn, that they are compelled to nurture these gifts.

    Having said that, even if they do not become top-stream – we all have our limitations – there is no reason why they should not live fulfilling and rewarding lives. Pressure is a terrible thing and you can push people too far! At university I heard a tragic story of an eastern undergraduate who had sat his exams and was concerned his results would not be up to his family’s expectations (they had paid for his education). He threw himself off Muirhead Tower to his death. He got a first.

    Muirhead Tower is a different building today.

  • John Goss

    Suhayl, my journal has become more private since I got married. Who wants to read about the prostitutes in Romania, in Turkey, in Georgia, in Madrid? My God, I think I’m inadvertently selling it.

  • Povre Scoler

    @ Disillusioned Medic

    My apologies. I misread your remarks.

    There is a great deal of truth in what you say and I can relate to it personally. I remember the screening process for Phd at university. Many students were selected, not on passion, but on the basis that they happened to have a particularly high average score. The strange thing is, many of those who scored the highest were the most apathetic about continuing on with there study; yet they were persuaded to because of financial security – back in the time when grants were available. After completing their Phd they loathed their subject area, hated the academics they worked with and deplored the niche subject area they studied. Upon entering the job market, they realised just how ‘out-of-touch’ their own discipline was. We sometimes seem to fund the most academically astute without necessarily the most ‘passionate’ students. Passion is missing from many students these days. They are now told to get a degree and are then shoehorned into whatever their degree equates with. As for changing degree pathways; it is almost never heard of. I sometimes laugh about this with my Uncle, who got his doctorate from Durham. He used to tell me stories of how his friend, who studied Musicology, was able to go into Psychology and Podiatry, without much extra work. These days that would never happen. Every so called discipline is ‘boxed-in’ and the very attempt to ‘change’ is a huge endeavour. Why do we make it so difficult to be able to change pathways? Utterly baffling to me.

    By the way, I brought up status as it was the one thing that was connected to my initial pathway, Law. Although nowadays, law degrees are a penny to the dozen! I agree with Craig that one should study whatever one enjoys, but the job market has changed considerably since his time at University. An arts degree is frowned upon – almost as if the only thing you can do is write an essay and that is it! Honestly, how degrading! What makes it worse is that David Willetts has introduced a tiering system for funding: the mighty sciences versus the ‘lowly arts’. Personally I find this entirely demoralising. It almost one to do an alternative degree just to make one remotely – and I hate this word – marketable. I love the romantic vision given by Craig; but perhaps its a bit too romantic?

  • John Goss

    Craig, I think this is a great blog. It is so important for the rest of us to know that we are not judged by our A levels or degrees, and that education, while being important, is not everything. Like Paul Johnson, I left school at sixteen and served a 5-year indentured apprenticeship, for the same reason as Paul. After that I was tool-making for a further 14 years before deciding to go to university. I think a 5-year apprenticeship is at least on a level with a lower degree, and sometimes a higher. What’s more it equips me to look at work about the house and approach it in a whole different manner, in most cases, from those who have never read, and are incapable of reading, an engineering drawing.

  • John Goss

    Disillusioned Medic, in my opinion the answer might be to get out. The country needs medics, but the hours you work, the stress you are under, the disrespect you get from the general public, and other pressures, all amount to a job that might be taking its toll. What may prove better than getting out is taking a sabbatical. Do a bit of manual work if you can – I really miss it. You don’t have to think too much, you build up muscle and stamina, and if you decide to go back, you can talk to people in manual jobs with an acquired knowledge. You probably won’t earn as much but you will have a social-life, which is what, reading between the lines, you are missing.

  • Kranium

    I wouldn’t advise anyone these days to bother with university unless their chosen profession demands it (or if it’s Oxbridge – for the connections). I spent many years studying subjects from science to humanities and arts, achieving great results, winning scholarships, and bagging top awards. But in the end my degrees only ever led to a lot of blind alleys and unpaid commitments. Cronyism is rife at this level. I investigated a few of my most surprising rejections and found that the successful applicants were less qualified but had prior professional or personal relationships with the employers. After a couple of years of fruitless applications, I finally landed a job – doing something technical I never actually studied, in a sector I have no previous experience of. I was just able to demonstrate a flair for it. It doesn’t even use my “transferable skills” like analysis, research or reporting. Economically, I’m now almost nearly 20 years behind my pals who didn’t go to uni: they have houses, cars and are supporting families, while I have nothing – I’m still paying off a 15-year old student loan! Some of my former postgrad mates haven’t even started the repayments yet. I’m sure that if they’d gone straight into employment as school leavers and invested as much effort as they did into academia, they’d be very successful by now. Talented, dedicated people will thrive if they get the opportunity. Sometimes university only gets in the way.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Povre,

    I respect you – for what that statement means:-

    ” I received three As and enrolled to study law at my local university. It was a terrible idea. Absolutely hated law and hated the types it attracted. The head of school asked all those who were there for the sake of money and not human rights to put there hands up. 99% of those present put there hands up for the first, and my lowly hand went up for the second”

    I always thought that a law degree was a fucking waste of time. The way I went about it was to get a place at London University – tried out to read philosophy at a time when A.J. Ayer was king and the Professor tested me along those mathematical lines. I discovered it was not for me – having wanted to develop my logical, analytical and reasoning skills – Ayer’s philosophy was too mathematically based for me to take on. I ended up with economics and political science. Post-grad I was accepted to read International Relations ( would have ended up like Craig Murray bucking the system – had I pursued that course). Did a fast track post-grad law diploma and took the British Bar with a focus on international law. Continued along that career path, qualified as a Barrister – and – as they say – the rest is history.

    With 2 death threats and 1 arson threat to my credit for doing what I have done in my professional life – guess like you – I am within the 1% that would have put his hand up for human rights had any of my law tutors bothered to ask me.

    The reality Povre is that I end up doing a bit of a “Robin Hood” – charge the fees to the rich in full so that I can afford to assist the indigent.

    Problem you find with modern society is that the society in your time afforded you a good education but the society does a “hood-Robin” on you – it robs from the poorer classes, educated ones and deserving to cosset a select group – of which you now find yourself – apart – and not within the charmed circle.

    Fucked up world!

  • Canspeccy

    Kranium argues that attending university will be counterproductive, at least economically, for most.
    This view is supported by the data on life-time earnings, which are very similar for graduates and non-graduates, i.e., based on the experience of past generations of school leavers, when those attending university were much more of an elite group than today. In the future, therefore, we can expect that life-time earnings of today’s much less select group of graduates will be significantly less than those of non graduates, even before counting the cost of university tuition.
    But there is another line of argument that leads to the same conclusion. If graduates who may be assumed to comprise, for the most part, the intellectually more gifted half of the population do no better economically than non-graduates, one has to suspect that a university education is actually a handicap when it comes to earning a living.
    Why would this be so?
    Several possible reasons come to mind. Four years under the tutelage of second-rate, or worse, often arrogant, salary-for-life academic fantasists may simply warp one’s judgment and give one an unrealistic sense of one’s own importance — not a characteristic that appeals much to employers. Non-graduates on the other hand, must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and tackle whatever mundane work they can find, thereby developing a healthy work ethic.

  • Michael

    I live in Ireland, our local Secondary School thought me organic chemistry, calculus, modern maths and Latin up to age 17 when in 1966 I joined the Royal Air Force where the emphasis was on education. Due to the selection procedure most of the people were of the same standard. I studied up to ONC level in Grimbsy Tech for a number of years. When I left the RAF and joined an Engineering firm in Lincoln I was in for a shock how uneducated the workforce was. Most of the apprentices had been through the Company’s apprentice school and were very good at what they did

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Canspeccy,

    You said:-

    ” Several possible reasons come to mind. Four years under the tutelage of second-rate, or worse, often arrogant, salary-for-life academic fantasists may simply warp one’s judgment and give one an unrealistic sense of one’s own importance — not a characteristic that appeals much to employers. Non-graduates on the other hand, must be prepared to roll up their sleeves and tackle whatever mundane work they can find, thereby developing a healthy work ethic.

    This is copied from a Fulbright commentary on the internet.

    Americans tend to believe that individuals control their circumstances by how much they work. This work ethic is reflected in American attitudes towards academics. Do not be surprised if you meet students who spend a vast majority of their free time studying in the library.
    Americans also tend to care much more for punctuality than their UK peers. Everything from classes to a lunch date is expected to start right on time. Along with punctuality, most of the US moves at a faster pace than in the UK. For example, dinners at a restaurant, even a sit-down restaurant, can be finished in under a half-hour. Additionally, you will not have to ask for the bill. It will be brought to you as soon as it is clear to your waiter or waitress that you are finished ordering more items.
    The vast majority of Americans also tend to be more openly patriotic than Britons. Having been raised reciting the Pledge of Allegiance daily at school, many Americans are proud (at times even defensive) of their country. Just as some Americans do not appreciate sarcastic humour, they may not appreciate self-deprecating humour either. Whether it is about them or their country, Americans can have a hard time laughing at themselves.”

    I make these observations:-

    1. Britain has always been a more class ridden society than the US. The US is not driven by the “Protestant ethic” to the extent Germans are, but more so than the people of the UK. The US had a real belief in a tough days work for advance and financial security, far more than the UK value system. The US middle class was not bothered about the under-class ( they had pat explanations that ignored discrimination; had no concept about the structural and historical roots of poverty) – by contrast – the class system in the UK ensured that the historical and structural factors became deeply embedded in the British collective consciousness. That kind of difference in outlook explains to some extent the differences on political issues on either side of the pond.

    2. The Tsunami like structural changes presently impacting the economic and financial world is making everyone wake up and question the inherited assumptions and values they grew up with as they see rapid changes washing into their societies and find that the changes challenge and question their most sacredly held values.

    3. The US always embraced the “roll up your sleeves” attitude as a part of their culture more than the “arrogant, salary-for-life academic fantasists” attitudes to which Canspeccy refers. But – there is also a UK consciousness that more readily appreciates the class dimensions to the societal struggles – far more readily perceived en mass in the UK than in the US – and maybe ironically in part because of the impact of the “arrogant, salary-for-life academic fantasists” attitudes infused into the broader society to which Canspeccy refers. Not in the least diminishing working class consciousness about their postion in the wider scheme of things – but there is also an added dimension in the UK that has always differentiatd the UK from the US and has in consciousness been discernibly set the cultures apat in contrast to that which happens across the pond.
    Not saying I am right – just one man’s intuitive observations.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    @ Michael,

    “I live in Ireland, our local Secondary School thought me organic chemistry, calculus, modern maths and Latin up to age 17 when in 1966 I joined the Royal Air Force where the emphasis was on education. Due to the selection procedure most of the people were of the same standard. I studied up to ONC level in Grimbsy Tech for a number of years. When I left the RAF and joined an Engineering firm in Lincoln I was in for a shock how uneducated the workforce was. Most of the apprentices had been through the Company’s apprentice school and were very good at what they did ”

    Yeah – you sum it up very well. Do you want a person with knowledge who can think for himself – or – do you a mechanical functionary who lacks the tools think?

  • dsadfadsa

    Suhayl – Not reported by the BBC but this herve leger report says that 27 US military have been killed and 34 wounded in an explosion at who lacks the tools to think?”
    in Eastern Afghanistan. Perhaps the state broadcaster is editing out the bad news.

  • glenn

    Excellent post.
    The obsession with “the best and the brightest”, as if they were the only important constituent in society, around whom everyone has to cheer on as our only hope, has long been a problem. We want “the best and the brightest” to get every opportunity, to be encouraged and swept through college, to be fast-tracked through industry or civil service.
    Of course – but doesn’t everyone else deserve the same courtesy? The “best and the brightest” are always going to do much better than everyone else. But it’s everyone else that makes up the majority of the population, and the majority of the contribution to society. Are they really supposed to doff their caps at their betters, to accept sacrifice so those gifted among them can be assured of their rightful places?
    When did it become acceptable to say, as we do in society, “You don’t come from the monied classes. Heck, you’re not even an _exceptionally_ useful and clever one of you poor folk. You deserve nothing but a menial existence.” We have a massive and widening wealth disparity. Dangling carrots for “the best and the brightest” with a few non-public school placements in Oxford (after which they won’t get the right jobs without the right backgrounds anyway) is not going to alter the social problems that disparity is causing.

  • Canspeccy

    @ Courtenay Barnett

    I don’t know much about Americans. I never visit the States now. I fear reacting badly to a TSA pat down and finishing up in Guantanamo.

    I suppose I know even less about Brits. But I have had experience with a good many Canadian graduates, and the best are, like the best anywhere, sensible, self-motivated, responsible, etc., although they may be inclined to feel that once trained in physics or software engineering or whatever that that is what they should be doing for life, and that may not be good for their economic well-being. But I have met plenty of graduates I really would want to have around at all. For some of them, an apprenticeship, formal or otherwise, i.e., working in a lowly capacity with grown-up people, might have done much more to improve their attitude than socializing at uni. for four or more years while gaining only a tenuous grasp of an academic discipline.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Disillusioned Medic, if you’re only 25, there is still time. You’ll only be three years into it. Resign and become self-employed; do locums. Decide what you do want to do. If you don’t it now, you’ll never do it. If you like the core of medicine but find yourself bogged-down by red tape, with Advanced Life Support Training, there are many other potential outlets – the international rescue service (bringing back workers, miners and tourists, travellers, etc. from places like Kazakhstan, Congo, etc.), or Medicins Sans Frontiers, etc. If you now dislike the core of medicine, then you need to decide now what you want to do. Become a student again, pay for it, follow John Goss’s suggestions, etc. Don’t get trapped in the bourgeois cycle of other people’s expectations/needs. There will never be a ‘right’ time.

  • John Goss

    I don’t know if they still do spelling tests at school, or if they still teach basic grammar, but judging by a good number of the posts on Facebook, and similar social-networking sites, the standard is deplorable. We all make mistakes but the one that gets me most is the persistent misuse of “Your” for “You’re”, that is, “Your right Dave” when the commentator clearly means Dave’s right. This is becoming so common it is soon likely to enter the langauge, which as we all know, is an ever-changing entity. That would make my education a waste.

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