De-Stresstival: Achieving an Enriching Student Experience
De-Stresstival: Achieving an Enriching Student Experience
Almost five years ago, I completed my undergraduate degree and since then, I have had a brief, but eye-opening experience of the ‘real world’, bagged myself a nine-to-five job and spent copious amounts of time reflecting on my university experience. As I am about to embark on my journey as a postgraduate student, who is new to YSJ, I know I will be pursuing a more enriching study experience this time around. Allow me to share some of the approaches to undergraduate study that served me well and some things that I plan to do differently this time. Hopefully some of my personal reflections, tips and tricks, beyond the monotonous recommendation to drink less and party less, will be of use to you.
I would like to begin by emphasising what an amazing opportunity lies ahead of us. This week, our lecturer concluded the postgraduate induction by reminding us to enjoy our studies on the basis that people would lay down their lives to be in our position. My initial thoughts on hearing this was that it was an overstatement, yet the more I have pondered this sentiment, the more it has resonated with me. He was exactly right. Time is a valuable thing. Amongst a multitude of barriers to education, for many adults, it is not financially viable to dedicate time to study. When in full-time employment, I often struggled to make time to socialise and engage with hobbies amidst my endeavour to get enough sleep, exercise and eat a healthy diet. Time to develop my knowledge and understanding of a field of study that I was passionate about was non-existent. Having been in this position, I will personally be savouring this time that I have been granted to focus solely on my studies and I urge you to do the same. It’s precious. Closely associated with this, is the notion that what you put in, is what you will get out. This has been reiterated to me many times, in many areas of my life. However, it is only in recent years that I have acknowledged the true significance of this concept and it is this which will underpin my pursuit of a fulfilling experience as a student in the following ways…
Not only are we fortunate to have the time to fully immerse ourselves in our field of study, we have a myriad of invaluable resources available to us as students. One of my biggest regrets is not utilising this as an undergraduate. I would turn up to seminars, sit right at the back, only speak when spoken to, and then leave as soon as possible. The only times I spoke directly to my tutors were at our mandatory one-to-one tutorials. What I didn’t appreciate was that these valuable humans are masters in our field. As soon as I was left alone in my occupation, I wished I had drawn upon their experience and proficiency.
This time around I fully intend to engage in conversation with my tutors, familiarise myself with their individual areas of expertise and ask as many questions as possible. Amid the endless list of resources that I wish I had made use of while at university are student wellbeing services and careers advice, not to mention extra-curricular opportunities. I used to consider emails offering ‘extra-curricular opportunities’ as spam - a nuisance to be ignored. My sole aim was to obtain my qualification and move on to the world of work. I failed to recognise that I simply wouldn’t come across many of these opportunities outside of university. It was only a few years into my career when I realised I’d taken the wrong path, that I longed for the luxury of having a careers advisor to hand. Make the effort to familiarise yourself with what is available and use it, because you may reap the benefits in the future.
Teaching and Learning
It’s common to be afraid of failure, especially as you take your studies to new levels. I like to reduce this fear by breaking down my journey to success into simple steps. For example, the first step is to attend lectures and engage in seminars and workshops. Keeping a diary is a good starting point in order to record and manage all of your commitments. Don’t forget to check your online timetable for last-minute changes though. Following taught sessions, it’s important to take the time to reflect on your learning and I have always found it better to do this while it is fresh in my mind. Refer back to your notes and presentations that will be shared on Moodle and be sure to discuss, with your peers or tutors, any resounding questions, concerns or ideas that arise. At the beginning of each module, you will be introduced to the teaching aims and assessment criteria to keep at the forefront of your mind throughout your study. You must also familiarise yourself with deadlines, wordcounts and submission procedures so that you are fully prepared for your assessment.
The next step is to continue your study independently, using guidance from your taught sessions, where there will often be tasks set for completion and indications for further reading. Further reading is the key to success. Rather than sticking to the essential reading sections on your reading lists, branch out to the texts listed as further reading, texts mentioned in passing by your tutors or texts referenced within texts. The academic librarians are also an excellent source to guide your reading in the right direction. This is how you will develop a rich understanding required to achieve the best grades. As you are reading, remember to take notes, as this will later help you with your assessment. Note-taking is a learnt skill, which you will develop over time, but help with this as a distinct study skill will be available through the university and there is also lots of support online.
As you reach the end of a taught module, your final step will usually be to write some form of assignment or take an examination. It is important that you plan for this in advance. Whether you are due to hand in an assignment or sit an exam, map out your study time carefully. The worst thing I did when I was an undergraduate was leave it until the last minute and find myself in situations where I had to set my alarm before sunrise in order to complete my work minutes before the submission deadlines. There was just no need for that level of stress in my life and I certainly plan to avoid it this year.
So how will I achieve this? Well, I have come to learn that the key is to start early and work little and often. Creating a study schedule for the weeks before the deadline, incorporating small chunks of study time (20-40 minutes – whatever works best for you), with regular breaks, to make things more manageable. Rather than generating your schedule weeks in advance, it is helpful to review it daily. In the same sense, while you may have a weekly to-do list, it is worth breaking this down into daily tasks. This flexibility enables you to take into consideration your current headspace and accommodate your day-to-day commitments outside of your study, ensuring that your goals are achievable.
This way, you can prevent burnout by allowing yourself the odd day to rejuvenate where necessary and also take time out to reflect on your work and return to it with a fresh pair of eyes. This is effective time-management and it will serve you well.
My most successful approach to tackling an assignment was to use my study time to plan, plan and plan some more. This meant that I never sat in front of an empty page, desperately trying to squeeze words out of nowhere. Instead, I planned everything that I was going to write in advance. I gathered all the relevant references that I would be using and summarised the bones of my essay in bullet points, paragraph by paragraph. Of course, the content of your essay will naturally require moderation, you will need to redraft and polish your work (it’s a process), but you will certainly feel more confident in your writing if you know roughly what you want to say and in what order. At this point, it is also useful to allocate a proportion of your wordcount for each section of your essay to prevent having to reduce your wordcount or make unplanned additions at the last minute. Although, a leverage of 10% above or below the set wordcount is usually allowed. Another aspect to consider at this stage is your referencing and bibliography. Familiarise yourself with the referencing system used by the university and ensure that you adhere to this with precision. This will become easier over time, but it is useful to cite your references as you go along, rather than having to source this information at the last minute.
While working towards your academic qualification, you will be presented with a range of opportunities within and beyond your area of study. Again, this is your chance to connect with experts in the field and further develop your insight. Initiating communication will enable you to establish valuable relationships and network with professional communities. Take the opportunity to learn from others who are already in a position that you would like to be in. Also, be open to new and alternative pathways and experiences as you never know what doors could be opened for you. We can benefit from these unprecedented times by utilising online opportunities. Many events that may previously have been out of our reach are now accessible online, from the comfort of our homes. Your online presence will play an important part of your success at university. Besides the obvious advice to use your emails and online learning hubs, such as Moodle, use social media platforms to put yourself out there. While social media can be an unhelpful distraction from study, aside from limiting your screen time, you can use it to your advantage, in ways that will enhance your engagement with your subject. Modify your consumption so that it relates to your field of study, connect with professionals and others that share your passion. There are so many ways that you can supplement your academic study by fully immersing yourself in your subject. Make use of each and every opportunity that comes your way, as there is nothing to lose, but an abundance to be gained.
There is so much to consider on the topic of enriching your studies and it is certainly daunting to begin with. Hopefully, some of the information shared above will help you prosper on your journey to success.
Cassie Harrison xo
*This blog was written prior to the National lockdown. Although some suggestions may not be possible at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions, we hope you can take out some helpful recommendations from Cassie!