You didn’t think getting a degree would be all fun and games, did you? I guess it was hard to anticipate that opening your laptop would result in a burst of unfinished essays, deadlines, coursework, lectures and seminars all screaming at you.
In my last blog I talked about how to organise yourself in preparation for the challenges and joys of university life. This included a bit of budgeting which might seem like even more work, but remember, it’ll be very beneficial in the long term! So, amidst all the chaos of the ‘bare necessities,’ as Balloo in the Jungle Book would say, it can be hard to manage the workload on top of it all.
If you speak to older students, they might just reply with a ‘you’ll get the hang of it with time’. Whilst this is true to an extent, it doesn’t mean that we should just sit around (or rather, scramble frantically trying to manage everything) until the so-called ‘time’ comes. There are, as always, things you can do to make life easier for yourself.
Firstly, know your tutor and their office hours. Or, rather, the step before that, know what a tutor is. If you haven’t been introduced formally or informally to yours yet, they’re the people who are in charge of your module or course that you’re taking this year. You might usually have tutorials either in person or online with them, so they’d be a familiar face already. It’s still crucial you know for sure who they are, because your tutor is one of your main points of contact if you have any questions or queries. Adjusting to university is hard in its own right, but one of the main differences from secondary school is the lack of contact with professors or teachers you have. This can make uni pretty challenging at first, but knowing that there is somebody out there who can help is pretty reassuring.
Your tutor’s office hours may have been messed around by covid, so it’s important to email or speak to them about it. Sometimes office hours are online via zoom or teams, other times their door is quite literally open for you to come in and chat. Although it might seem a bit daunting, after you start to familiarise yourself with the whole concept, it’ll be easier to ask for help on areas where you're struggling rather than waiting until you feel like you want to drop out because you cannot for the life of you understand how referencing systems work. Another nice thing about office hours is that you don’t have to go for specific, anxiety-inducing problems. It can simply just be to talk more about the topic you're studying if it interests you, or a general chit- chat. Again, the better you familiarise yourself with your tutor now, the easier this will become. So, getting to know your tutor and their office hours is a really handy way of not only making yourself more comfortable with university but also managing the workload for any specific (or general questions). Killing two birds in one stone!
If you applied tips from my last blog (extra points for you) then organising when and where your classes are will already make life and your workload easier to manage. Still, this systematic (and smart) distribution of work doesn’t quite get rid of the sheer piles of worksheets and tutorial questions you have to do. A lot of students tend to struggle with finding motivation in first year as modules are more varied and aren’t specifically chosen to your interest. This can be made harder when the freshness of freshers is fading in the run up to Christmas break which seems so far (yet so close)! When the lights aren’t up yet, and months are just drearily dripping along, having to do work for uni isn’t particularly exciting.
Getting a study group is a great way to combat this. Not only does it make studying relatively fun, it’s a great way of getting to meet more people on your course to help with the adjustment into uni. Having a study session with people who aren’t even doing the same course as you can also be helpful - having someone to set small goals with is great motivation. For example, you could both promise to watch a lecture and then go out for a bite to eat after. Make sure you reward yourself with some fun! Remember, though, to avoid the strict plagiarism rules when doing assessed pieces of work. You’d be able to bounce ideas off your study buddies, but don’t copy someone else’s ideas or look at their essay (even if it is mutual). The plagiarism policy is a whole other ballpark at uni, and even though it’s only the first year, it’s good to get into the habit now!
So, whilst all these independent hours can be pretty isolating and unmotivating, I’d definitely suggest finding some people who you work well with to study with. Remember, too, all the resources the university has to help you with your workload, such as office hours with your tutor. Happy studying!
Anisha Minocha is studying English and Philosophy at the University of St Andrews. She is a passionate writer and poet whose work has been published in anthologies, magazines, blogs and won competitions. Contributing to Sink Magazine, she is keen to utilize the voice of young people and share work through her creative writing blog. As a climate activist, she has combined her love for words and the planet in a performance of spoken word at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 'Letters to the Earth'. She also co-runs Young Friends of the Earth: Manchester and has organised workshops, participated in panels and spoken at Manchester Cathedral.
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