Cal Mills headshot, brown curly hair and dark t shirt

Cal Mills

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

Hello, I’m Cal and I’m from Harrogate, a small town in North Yorkshire, not too far from Leeds. Throughout school, particularly during A-levels, I was never quite sure I wanted to make the step up to university studies, this was possibly due to personal circumstances which impacted my A-Levels, as well as the enormous shift in lifestyle that university inevitably brings. I could never envisage myself living in student halls and going out every night, because that isn’t me… 

However, after taking two years out after Sixth Form working, and actually dropping out of my initial course at Leeds, I eventually returned after accepting an offer from Leeds for BA Ancient History and History during the first lockdown. I was unaware that hundreds of other students were in a similar position to me, and that I could enjoy my university experience as much as anyone, despite still living at home. In many ways, the lockdowns allowed me to realise this and understand that my passions, for instance studying history or running, could be extended even further by Leeds’ facilities, staff, and range of extracurricular actives.  

Why did you choose to study your particular course and why did you choose the University of Leeds?

With the benefit of hindsight, I think that many prospective students, myself included in that position, could possibly think that pre-20th Century history can be difficult to engage with – I wished to continue subjects covered at school in order to feel more comfortable. Thus, I started on Leeds’ International History and Politics course and quickly realised I had outgrown multiple subjects that I thought I loved and eventually dropped out. Having never studied any ancient history (apart from watching Gladiator), BA Ancient History and History felt hugely out of my comfort zone, but I certainly wouldn’t change the prolonged process of finally finding the course I love. Having the freedom to explore the widest range of historical periods, from the foundation of Rome in 700 B.C. to the Vietnam War, has allowed me to understand conflicting historiography and become a naturally more rounded historian.  

For me, the on-campus atmosphere and facilities at Leeds were almost incomparable to any other university I visited prior – I don’t think anyone can disagree that the architecture, sense of community and ability to move around campus so effortlessly is a big part of their choice. Equally, the ability to study in such a prestigious university so close to a vibrant, upcoming city like Leeds is a huge benefit. 

However, I can’t talk about ‘why Leeds?’ without talking about Access to Leeds (A2L), which without this entry programme, I would not be studying at university right now. A2L provided me an opportunity to study at my number one choice, with the support and entry requirements that perfectly matched my current personal circumstances during A-Levels. If you’re in struggling in anyway and aren’t sure whether you can achieve the grades to get into Leeds, definitely have a look at A2L ! 

What has been the best aspect of your course so far? 

Without a doubt, the most exciting aspect of my course has been the freedom to explore areas of history I would never have had the opportunity to study. Being from Yorkshire, we are surrounded with abundances of local history dating back to the Roman settlement in Britain, throughout my first two years at Leeds the Roman town at Aldborough has inspired multiple pieces of coursework. Unlike school, university undoubtedly grants you the freedom to discover areas of history which interest you, allowing you yo thrive in an environment where you are working closely with your personal curiosities. 

In addition, the opportunity to represent Leeds as a Student Ambassador on Open Days has been a privilege. Being acknowledged by my academic professors for my studies and having the opportunity to talk to prospective students who are considering Leeds is, for me, what university is all about.   

Can you tell us about some of the exciting projects you have completed as part of your degree? 

Being a joint honours student has allowed me to enrol on various modules offered by alternative schools within the University of Leeds. Possibly my favourite module has been ‘Introduction to World Cinema’, particularly the end of term comparative exercise where two films of my choosing could be explored in relation to socio-political developments in the real world. 

Furthermore, I enrolled on the Fine Art module ‘The Museum’ during my second year. Learning about museum theory was never something I’d considered but understanding the context behind the foundation of Europe’s most renowned institutions, such as The Louvre, was especially eye-opening. Each module I have worked on has contributed to my wider understanding of history as a discipline, whilst maintaining individual elements which ensure each one’s distinctiveness. I have explored local institutions, been part of multiple group projects and engaged in practical sessions to diversify my degree 

Have you worked closely with a particular tutor or member or the University’s academic staff? Tell us about that experience.  

Being under the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies has allowed me to form close relationships with my ancient history tutors. Personally, my interests fall within Romano-British Archaeology, and subsequently I have worked closely with Dr. Gartland, my first year archaeology tutor and Dr. Clarke, my Roman module leader throughout my time at Leeds.  

I am looking forward to continuing working with each tutor on a more personal level as I begin to develop my dissertation on Romano-Scottish Archaeology in Museums.  

What activities outside of your studies were you involved in? 

Outside of my academic studies, I have been heavily involved in the University of Leeds Cross Country Society, particularly in my second year where I was elected to be Men’s Captain. Whether you’ve never run before, or are on course to be an Olympian, the society has the strikes the perfect balance between training and social aspects. Even if you’re not the next Mo Farah, I really recommend getting involved in societies – I have met lifelong friends and had the best experiences as part of University of Leeds Cross Country Club.  

What would you say to students thinking about studying your course? 

Do it!  

BA Ancient History and History is such a unique course as it enables you, as the student, to engage with two drastically differing eras of history which a single honours in either Ancient History or History will not allow you to do. Furthermore, the non-linear structure of the degree ensures you can create your own path in the area of history closest to you, rather than feeling like the degree is steering you. I think that a huge part of university is giving things a chance, and with a course like mine, you definitely have to throw yourself in and study things that you are unsure on… But isn’t that why we’re all here? 

What does Leeds as a city have to offer students? 

Despite often not being compared with the likes of Manchester and Liverpool as a city, I think Leeds is probably one of the coolest up and coming cities in the UK. Walking around the city on an Open Day cannot give you a full insight into the events, bars, restaurants, and shops constantly thriving in Leeds.  

For students, it has everything anyone could ever need.  

What do you plan to do once you graduate?  

To be honest, I don’t really have an idea yet. Although Leeds offers amazing study abroad opportunities and placement years, I haven’t decided to go down this route, and instead I think I’ll enjoy some well-earned time out and probably travel. Cliché, I know, but studying history has opened my eyes to so many places I would usually overlook, which now I am desperate to go and see for myself. 

In the long-term, I could definitely envisage myself as a history teacher somewhere. The teaching I have received at Leeds has been infectious and I would love to share my passion for history with up and coming historians one day too ! 

What experiences at Leeds do you think have particularly helped with your career? (Or what experiences at Leeds do you think will help in securing a graduate role following graduation?) 

A degree from a university like Leeds will inevitably capture the attention of any employer. Studying at university, particularly at Leeds, has taught me excellent research skills which will be seen as invaluable by multiple companies. In addition, the skill to be independent, resilient and diligent is a transferable skill in any role, all of which have developed hugely in my time here.