Q&A with Phil Whitby

Phil graduated from university this year with a degree in German and Management Studies.

Originally from the North West, Phil moved south as he wanted to go to the University of Reading. With this degree combination, Phil’s subjects really complemented each other; he used his knowledge of the German business environment from having lived and worked in Germany on his Year Abroad to use as case studies and examples in his Management essays and dissertation. Here we talk to Phil to find out what it’s like to do a combined degree at uni.

How was your degree structured?

It was split 50/50. I had compulsory and optional units for both the Management part and the German side of it.

What is the workload like in first year compared to final year?

Obviously there is a massive difference between year four and year one. I actually had the largest amount of contact hours in year one; I had 17 hours a week. This was only because on the management side of the degree I had quite a heavy workload.

How did you manage to balance self-study with 17 hours of lectures a week?

Obviously, I could’ve probably done more but all students can say that. Especially in your first year when everything is new and it’s always in the back of your mind that the first year doesn’t really count. As long as you pass the year, then it’s not a great disaster if you don’t do quite as much self-study as you could have or should have.

By final year were you more organised and disciplined with uni work?

More organised? I don’t know. I definitely made much more of an effort in my final year to make it to all my lectures on time. In the first and second year I went to most of my lectures, but for example my attendance to 9am lectures was not very good, let’s say.

I think pretty much anyone can learn a language if they put their mind to it.

What was the assessment set up for the content modules?

For a content module we’d have one major essay per term, and also we’d be expected to be reading either set texts or passages. Some units had more of a heavy workload than others; one unit in particular where I was expected to read 20-25 pages each week.

At uni, what form of assessment did you prefer the most?

I quite enjoyed giving presentations.

Why did you choose the University of Reading?

I really knew from the outset that I wanted to go a university outside of the North West. I went down to Reading on the open day and I was quite impressed with the nice, open and green campus but the reason why I chose Reading really is because I have mild dyspraxia. This doesn’t affect my day to day life but Reading was the only university that mentioned in its prospectus about support and assistance for dyspraxic students. A lot of universities mentioned dyslexia but not dyspraxia. Maybe that was one thing that I had in the back of mind that influenced my decision.

Why did you choose the Management and German degree course in particular?

I’d always enjoyed German at school and it was always a subject that I’d had fairly decent marks in. I liked, from an early stage, the idea of spending a year abroad and using my language skills in a place where they are best used. And also I knew that the employment rates are supposedly quite good for language graduates, although obviously as it’s happened I’ve graduated into a recession, but at the time I knew it was a subject that would give me quite a few options later on. For A-levels I was doing economics and I quite enjoyed that but I chose management as a compromise. At 16, I was looking at German and accountancy courses at uni, but at A-level I found maths quite difficult so that put me off accountancy. Economics was interesting but a lot of it was theoretical and a lot wasn’t applicable in the real world. I chose management as a compromise as it left a door open for accountancy later on and I felt it was a good compromise between economics and the skills that are actually useful in the workplace.

Did you have to do a dissertation?

Yes. It was for the management side of my degree. Although, I had to link my dissertation topic to the country where I spent my Year Abroad, which was Germany. So I chose to do it on the Deutsche Bahn(the German national railway company) as I had used the trains quite a lot during my Year Abroad.

Have you ever used German outside of the university environment?

Yes, I completed an internship with Carl Zeiss for 14 weeks. It was an invaluable experience. I did this internship, at the end of my year abroad. I stayed in Germany during the summer of 2009 and I did 14 weeks with Carl Zeiss in their marketing department.

How did you get the internship?

I just applied off my own volition really. I applied through a general recruitment website called StepStone. I must have applied for eight or ten jobs at the same time and just waited to see what came back really. Luckily, I got offered this internship.

So did you use your German during your internship?

Yes, but I was also using English quite a lot as well. I spent quite a lot of the time proof reading documents in English and doing internal translations.

What was the most interesting aspect of the internship?

What I’d say I found most interesting was during my time they were planning two major marketing campaigns for the autumn. So that was really good to get an insight into. One of the campaigns was similar to the car scrappage scheme but instead it was for microscopes: they were giving discounts for dentists exchanging old equipment for new.

What was the least fun thing about the internship?

At times I did feel I was underutilized but, then again it was the summer holiday period so a lot people were on holiday. I’d ring different departments asking for Herr Schneider and they’d say he wouldn’t be in for another two weeks. So communication between departments was a little difficult.

What do you plan to do now that you’ve graduated?

I’ve just started my placement as a language assistant in Dresden, Germanyteaching English. This was my ‘plan b’ though. At the beginning of Final Year I started applying for all sorts of graduate schemes for marketing, HR and logistic jobs. I must have applied to quite a few schemes and I had 2 or 3 interviews but unfortunately I didn’t get any job offers. So I’m sort of taking a gap year of such at the moment. With this assistantship I’ll be getting enough money to live on, to travel a little bit and I’ll be brushing up on my German, too.

So what do you plan to do this time next year?

I’ve got a view now to apply for a PGCE. I would ideally like to try my hand at business; I believe I’ve got quite a lot to give in this field but the way the economy is at the moment I may have to go into teaching to start off with. As a teacher, I could train to teach Business Studies and German. But I think some years spent in the business would make me a better business teacher, just like living in Germany for a year improved my language considerably.

Why is learning languages important?

I think being able to speak a language definitely broadens your horizons, gives you opportunities over and above those that only speaking English would give you. In times of recession, if you can speak another language then you can obviously try and find work abroad as well, rather than restricting yourself just to working in Britain. Not many people in Britain study languages at school or university so if you do then it definitely makes your CV that little bit more interesting. It makes you stand out from the crowd for sure.

Can you describe what learning languages involve?

I’ve always felt that learning languages is about dedication and patience and having the need for constant improvement. I think pretty much anyone can learn a language if they put their mind to it.

Can you sum up language learning in one word?

Exciting!

In what ways did your university make allowances for dyspraxic students?

I got 15 minutes more time in my written examinations, but not in my oral exam. When I left university, my personal tutor said that when he was marking my essays he never had to take into consideration that I had dyspraxia – so there was no noticeable difference in my writing. My oral marks always tended to be lower than my written work all the way through school, but this didn’t put me off taking languages at GCSE, A-level or university. I know I speak slower than the average person, even in English and I don’t know if that comes across as a bit less fluent when speaking in German. But I do know that my time spent in Germany on my Year Abroad really improved my confidence with speaking.

Should people with learning difficulties be put off studying languages at university?

No way! If you enjoy learning languages, then do it!