Recently I returned to my old university to work as an examiner for student VIVAs for a day (shameless selfie above taken on the day!) I hadn’t actually been back to the speech therapy department since leaving 10 years ago the same month, so it was very poignant! The building had changed quite a bit over the 10 years (glass atrium overlooking a courtyard, decent coffee – lucky students!) but the essence was the same.
All the memories of being a speech therapy student just came flooding back- it seemed to be such a unique university experience compared to my friends on courses such as history, languages or English. Here are 10 of my strongest memories of my time as an SLT student:
1. Library wars:
The instant a new piece of work was introduced with a recommend reading list, everybody ran for the library and if you weren’t there within five minutes of the lecture ending then you missed out. I ended up having to buy the most obscure titles because I couldn’t get hold of them in the library. This was before Amazon, so it meant ordering through the Waterstones on Gower Street and waiting an age before it arrived. I had come from an environment where it wasn’t cool to show you were interested in studying, so the library wars baffled me initially!
2. ALL DAY lectures:
Your friends on other courses are in the student union eating cheesy chips and nachos and having fun. You, however, are stuck in one room for the entire day, trying to get to grips with an obscure linguistic concept. I remember one teaching room resembling a prison with out of reach windows covered in bars. Caffeine and chocolate were required to fuel the day and by the time you stumbled out onto the street at 1730 all your friends on normal courses were drunk and you had to go home to complete a phonetic transcription.
3. Friday lectures:
All the SLT students in my year were super keen and no one skipped class. Apart from Fridays. People would come in with wheely suitcases. At every break, less people would return, so by 1630 only a handful of people would be in the room. On Fridays we often had visiting lecturers, and if you were one of the few who stayed it was often mortifying as the lecturer would clearly think they were delivering a lack lustre lecture!
4. Placement envy:
Most of my placements were absolutely miles away, requiring a 5am start to catch a tube, train, bus plus an on-foot hike at the end just for good measure. As placements happened on the Autumn and Spring semesters, I just have an over riding memory of being cold all the time. The majority of students had placements like these. However, there was always one or two people that lucked out. Either it was a placement that was 5 minutes walk away, or they scored a lift from their supervisor, or they got the amazing hospital that everybody else wanted! Placement envy abounded!
5. Placement clothes:
I had a wardrobe of clothes I only wore for placement. Whilst my house mates are throwing on jeans and a t-shirt, I was pulling on horrible formal trousers and a blouse. I used to feel so uncomfortable. I wore my placement clothes well into my first job. Then I realised that as long as I didn’t wear denim, I could pretty much wear the normal clothes that I felt comfortable in – skinny trousers and throw on tops usually- and the placement clothes thankfully are long gone!
6. Written exam fear:
I still have dreams now that I am sitting an SLT exam and haven’t been to any of the lectures. Written SLT exams are just so incredibly hard and require such a depth and breadth of knowledge. The added stress at UCL was were are not campus based. The university would rent out massive halls all over London. So you would also have the stress of having to travel to a hall you’ve never been to before. The exams were HUGE. The SLTs (around 60) would make up a tiny proportion of the hall, so it was completely overwhelming.
7. Placement visit:
The awful day when one of your UCL tutors would travel to wherever you were on placement and they & your supervisor would watch you with a patient. Shudder. That is all.
My husband, who I met at uni, was studying Italian. He had to do a weekly translation of Italian literature. I had to do a weekly transcription of how I would pronounce a long and obscure piece of text. Phonetics was not my best subject. I hated that task with a passion. I wish someone had told me you can still be a good therapist without perfect skills in transcribing the way someone has said something.
I’ve never forgotten the feeling of waiting to go into a viva. The cold sweats, the feeling of dread in your stomach. Frantically trying to work out if you’ve correctly labelled the aphasia type you’ve just seen on two repetitions of a short video…
10. Finally being unleashed into the real world:
I started my first job as an SLT quite soon after I finished at UCL. The most amazing bit was how much easier it was compared to studying! I still say now, training to be an SLT was the hardest thing I have ever done. But I don’t regret one minute, because it’s given me a brilliant and rewarding career.