what a difference three years makes....
My final assignment has been submitted, and I have now finished my degree! A ‘Leavers Day’ is in the calendar for the end of June, but after that I will be completely finished. It feels very strange; as though I should be reading and searching for quotes, or writing an essay, preparing for the next deadline. It’s been a journey with some difficulties: the pandemic moving all learning online, wobbles in faith are particularly difficult when doing a Key Themes of Theology module, and sometimes deadlines were overwhelming. However, the good times far outweigh the difficulties, and I wouldn’t exchange this experience. Many of the best times come from sitting with friends in the common room catching up, discussions in lectures, and little phrases and illustrations lecturers have used — little things that I hope I remember for a long time.
Earlier this week I had an ‘exit interview’ with my tutor, and we walked through a questionnaire that explored the trials and challenges, as well as the celebrations and highlights. One of the questions looked at what advice I would give to students beginning their first year, second year, and their final third year. I enjoyed reflecting, and thought I’d write a blog post on my learnings, which I hope will be helpful for all students, and perhaps also transferable to those in different context, not studying.
1. Remind yourself that you are a person who can achieve things. In my first year, this was a phrase one of my lecturer used and it has stuck with me. When you are finding an assignment difficult and it feels like you can’t do it, go and do something you can do, such as baking, gaming, or running. Remind yourself that you are a person who can achieve things, and then return to your essay.
2. Learn how you work best. This point is similar to the previous. I find it really difficult to wake up early and get started on an essay. If I woke up at 7, ready to start at 8, I would probably sit starring at my laptop until lunch time, questioning why I can’t even write a plan. I would then break for lunch, but I would then be in the mindset that I can’t do it, so my afternoon would be unproductive too. However, if I were to do something else in the morning — do some Church work, go food shopping — and then begin essay writing after lunch, I can probably work all afternoon, and perhaps into the evening too. I also have learnt that I find it best to write an essay plan, find lots of quotes, put them into a document with sub headings so they’re easy to find, and then begin writing my essay. For others, they might like to write their essay and find quotes as they go. In lectures, you might find it best to type notes, hand write notes, or even doodle. Personally, I find handwriting notes and making them pretty helps me to concentrate and stay focussed, and I know that if I miss anything I can go back to the slides on the e:learning site, Blackboard.
3. Be organised. I find calm in being organised — I don’t work well working right up to the deadline. My last essay was due on a Tuesday, and on the previous Friday I sat for 10 hours writing it because I was stressed that I couldn’t do it in time. I like to be organised, have things together and prepared, but I recognise that’s not how everyone works best. Organisation for you might be putting all the deadlines in your calendar as soon as you get them, sorting out the files on your computer so that you can easily find handbooks, or having a bag packed ready for lectures with all the stationary and snacks you could ever need.
4. Ask for help. I have the blessing of having brilliant, helpful lecturers, so I recognise I might be rubbing salt in a wound here if that’s not your experience. But if you need a quote on a topic but don’t know where to look, ask. If you can’t find a handbook, ask. If you’re going on a trip relating to your studies and you need funding, ask whether there are grants available. If you need extra support, for example you’re dyslexic or you’re struggling with your mental health, ask what support is available.
5. Create community with your class. I really think class relationships can make a uni experience brilliant, or it can make it an uphill struggle. You can give and receive so much when you have good relationship with your class; encouragement, direction, help finding resources, reminders for deadlines, book recommendations, as well as hopefully lasting friendship.
6. Finally, learn to filter the noise. This tip is particularly for those in first or second year. You might find there are people in year groups above you that give you great book recommendations and help you use the library, they’ll show you their portfolio so you have an idea of what it’s meant to look like, and they’ll listen to your struggles. You might also find that there are people in the years above you that tell you second year was the hardest thing ever - they almost dropped out, and that tell you ‘horror stories’ about essay titles, and on your first day tell you to get preparing for dissertation. You will need to learn to filter the noise so that you don’t get overwhelmed and scared before you’ve even started.
I write all this whilst acknowledging that I too am still learning, and that I’ve gathered these tips through trial and error. I don’t write this blog post thinking that I’ve got it all sorted. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I sent the following meme to a lecturer, saying that I have accidentally deleted year 1 and 2 timesheets that I needed. That wasn’t very organised of me.
If you'd like to find out more information on the course I've just completed, or you're interested in something similar, go to https://cym.ac.uk