Sometimes things hit the fan…

Firstly, a disclaimer. I am in no way trying to slander Imperial College London and the Physics department. They are being very supportive and understanding of my newly developed situation. This is more of a personal account of what’s been happening in life, because answering the question ‘Hey, you’ve not been around…what’s going on?’ gets tedious a hundred iterations in.

Around June, I had my last two exams of first year postponed to the September re-take period. I spent a healthy chunk of the summer revising and felt on track to do just well enough to be ready for second year. Sitting in the exams, I frantically counted up how many marks I was absolutely certain I would be awarded. Happily sure that I had at least passed, I continued with life.

Skip forward to a holiday to Tenerife with my step-mum and sister. After a great day of diving, surfing and getting ridiculously sun burnt, I got an email telling me I had failed one of the exams with a mark of 37. This was, of course, devastating for someone with the anti-failure mindset fairly common at Imperial and such places. I had a cry, called my senior tutor, had a moan, accepted my fate, and ate an entire Sambuca watermelon. My poor sister and step-mum just decided that leaving me to be was easier than trying to tell me that it wasn’t actually the end of the world. One – because I responded with more crying when she tried, and the other – because she was three and it was bedtime. Luckily this was the last day of the holiday, so the only obstacles between me and my bed was a flight.

Regrouped and at a healthier level of sadness a week later, I found out that my retake next June would be capped at 40%. So, I had to do something for a year, take one exam, get my pass and continue with my course – It all started to seem less terrible and more survivable.

The only thing I could do to improve the situation was fight against the decision to cap the exam. I filled out a few forms, talked to a few people and sent off the appeal application, promptly forgetting it existed. Meanwhile, since I was not receiving student finance, I couldn’t even nearly afford the room I was living in and moved out into a family friend’s spare room. It was very cheap and there was a cat, but it took me about an hour and a half to get to uni. All I needed here was a few societies, some meetings, Outreach work and therapy, so the long commute was worth the low rent. I also couldn’t go live back at home because my room had been redesigned for my little sister and it’s way too far away for a daily commute.

I got called into a meeting by my senior tutor with the subject ‘urgent’ sometime in November. Mildly panicked, I was then told that the meeting would be in the office of the department head, since it was such an important matter. Completely panicked out of my mind, I was introduced to the people present and it was explained to me that I actually never failed and a clerical error had occurred instead. I had actually scraped a 2:1 for the year, which is all I needed to achieve the main goal of staying on the year in Europe course.

I then had two options: wait for a year and rejoin the 2nd years or rejoin my year then, taking the missed lab cycles instead of the tutorials and spending any hope of free time on those tutorials and extra help from my personal tutor and senior tutor. This sounded like being busy to the point of death and I figured it would be just about possible if I hadn’t now obtained another 3 jobs to pay for this all and wasn’t living so far away. I firmly decided to not die for physics yet and wait out the year.

To add to the plot, it then turned out that, although the department takes responsibility, I had also added to the chain of events by wrongly marking one of the booklets in the exam, which was then not assigned to anyone and was simply 15 marks flying around unclaimed in the spreadsheet. This was due to a combination of errors, unfortunate coincidences and general bad luck.

The department has been great since – they are paying for my tuition next year, offering me help and access to the online resources and, as always, I have the amazing support of Mery Fajardo who is a beacon of fabulosity for anyone who knows her. A meeting has taken place to basically change every aspect of the marking system that broke down and to ensure none of the same issues ever occur. Realistically, these things happen in all departments, in all universities and in most parallel universes. It’s just a big fat boo when it happens to you.

To sum up:

  1. If you count marks in the exam and you can see an easy 40 your’e certain you have, don’t just believe that that didn’t happen – at least ask to see your paper.
  2.  It’s not the end of the world if you fail!!!
  3. Sambuca watermelons are not designed for a single sitting.
  4. Really focus on labeling your answer booklets correctly. Everyone is mega stressed in exams and things like that are so easy to mix up in that state.
  5.  Don’t read important emails until the last day of your holiday.


One comment for “Sometimes things hit the fan…

  1. That’s so sad, that you had such experience with your re-takes. Luckily I got only one re-take last term. Exams for me are nightmares. I can’t write essays I’m not a creative person, that’s why I have to use such services to find ideas for topics. Thanks for tips in the end. I just wonder why Sambuca watermelons are not designed for a single sitting…

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