Sunday 26 May 2013

Rosy's Guide to Surviving University

Or:  how not to set yourself up for failure.

So, with 12 hours to go until the first 7,000 words of my dissertation are due to be submitted, I've spent the last 3 hours sitting on my sofa catching up on yesterday's TV.  Why, you ask, with a deadline looming?

Well, I'm not entirely sure I believe it myself, but...  IT'S WRITTEN!  7698 words (I love the 10% rule) - DONE.  I don't think I have ever ever been in this situation.  Ever.  Yes, I've spent every day for the last ten days dragging my bum to the library and splashing words out left, right and centre;  I never want to see a Business Research Methods text book again, and if anyone says the word "engagement" to me this week, I will cry.  But it's done, which means I can spend this evening watching The Voice in peace.

Which brings me on to the topic of this post.  University.

The last dissertation I wrote was a total disaster.  I totally and utterly screwed up my undergrad degree.  I came bottom of my class (actually bottom;  I was the only person to not get a 2:1).  To go from being a straight A student all the way through school, to the class dunce was a massive achievement.  No, wait.  Failure.  Yup.

So now, four years on, to be nearing the end of a Masters degree with the potential to do a PhD, I'm just about ready to start forgiving myself for completely messing up first time round. 

I know some of the people who read my blog are current students, or are maybe thinking about going to study, either for the first time or again, so here is my advice.  In particular, I know there is at least one person reading this who should be revising for exams...  You know who you are...

You can take it or leave it, I won't be offended, but here is my guide to surviving university.

1.  Listen to YOU - you are the only person who knows what you want to do.  People can tell you what they think you should do, but that doesn't mean it's right for you.  Be it choosing a university, choosing a course, choosing a flat or choosing which clubs to join (or not), acknowledge other people's suggestions, but listen to what you want to do.  I didn't, and eight years after leaving school I'm frantically trying to catch up.

2.  Travel  - if you want to travel, do it.  Now is the time to go and explore the world.  Those long summer breaks students get (from about May through to September - I really miss those...) - actually use them!  I literally didn't stop working from October 2005 until I left my job a month ago, and although the money was great, I never actually had time to spend it until I graduated and discovered the wonderful world of bills and council tax.  Bye bye savings. 

3.  Eat - I don't mean eat fancy food or eat out every day, I mean just eat.  I didn't, and by the the middle of my first year at uni I was surviving on half a piece of toast and an apple a day.  The day I realised I was anorexic I was sitting at the top of a mountain, on my own, in the Scottish Highlands, having forced myself to eat half a bar of chocolate for the first time in six months, just so I would have the energy to get there. 

4.  Find the Library - don't wait until three months until the end of your final year - all the good seats will have gone.  I have a massive bit of a fear of books (too much knowledge, not enough brain power, aaargh!) so I think I used the library maybe three times the whole time I was an undergraduate student.  Maybe that's where I fell down...

5.  Read your notes - it took me until about two months ago, right before the end of my Masters degree to realise that lecturers actually aren't out to get you.  They do actually want you to pass.  Huh!  So when they set you essay questions or exam questions or homework questions, they've probably already told you the answer, to some extent at least.  All you need to do is actually look at that pile of lecture slides you've been doodling all over for the last three hours.  Genius!  (NB.  You may have to put in a bit more effort than that to actually pass, but it's a good starting point...)

6.  Ask questions - as an undergrad student, I always assumed that Lecturers and tutors were experts in everything, and everything they told you was gospel.  Turns out, nope, they're actually human too.  And they get it wrong sometimes.  AND they generally don't mind if you ask them questions.  Just make sure it's relevant and it isn't something they just said while you were busy doodling/ texting your mum/ boyfriend/ dog.

7. Check deadlines - As Douglas Adams said, "I like deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by".  I'm pretty sure he was talking about me when he said this.  But as true as it may be, don't leave it until the last minute.  A degree is not worth that much stress! 

8.  Meet people - I can pretty much guarantee you will never see most of the people you meet in Freshers Week ever again.  So join societies/ sports clubs/ volunteer/ get a job...  whatever - just go and meet some people.  There are some crazy, super, awesome people in universities, waiting to be your friend.  You just have to go and look for them!

9.  Do stuff - this is basically me trying to tell you not to spend your whole life at uni studying, and equally don't spend your whole life in the pub.  I tried both.  Clearly neither worked.  Just go out and explore - see the city you live in outside of student-central, you might just fall in love with it!  (And if you don't, it's ok - you'll be leaving before you know it!)

10.  Relax - just chill out.  It'll be fine.  And if it's not, smile, meditate, go for a walk, scream, punch something, drink tea and eat cake.  Whatever you need to do, do it.  As a wise person I know likes to say, it'll be ok in the end.  If it's not ok, it's not the end.

My Graduation Day
You know what?  So what I messed up?  I still graduated.  I still came away from four years with a piece of paper that says I went to University.  I got to spend an awesome (but really really hot) day surrounded by my friends and family, and then walk away at the end knowing I'd survived.  That'll do. 

That'll do.

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