If the two-semesters, four terms and eight subjects I took this academic year revealed anything, it was the sheer amount of basic university/life stuff I had either:
a) Drastically over-complicated
b) Really had no clue of or how to do
So in the spirit of blogging, narcissistic self-reflection and the internet’s obsession with lists, allow me to share some of the most abhorrently basic and (some) more complex lessons I have learnt about academics and functioning within the simultaneously fascinating and frustrating world of university. Essentially, all the things I wish I was told, but no doubt would have ignored, before beginning my first year.
- Raise your hand. This is not an original piece of advice, and yes, it is inherently flawed, as many brilliant students are unable to speak up in class discussions for legitimate reasons. Yet, it took the second semester of this year for me to realise that I personally can and should. If you can, voice your opinion, offer an answer and ASK QUESTIONS. I’m coming from a humanities standpoint here and essentially, opinions and interpretations are essential to the classroom and getting the most out of your degree. Speak my wonderful scholarly caterpillars!
- If a tutor/teacher/professor/overlord uses a word or term that you have never heard of before, ask them what it means, ESPECIALLY if they do that thing where they pause and check if we all ‘get it’. Let your tutor unveil their etymological prowess while you and other students learn something. It’s almost like that’s what education is for or something. I mean, wow.
- Go to office hours you hopeless dork. When you’re at that horrible point when you’re so confused or lost that you can’t really grasp what the issue is and no way could you adequately explain yourself in a concise email, help is still available, go to office hours. If I had a dollar for everytime a friend complained about the lack of contact hours for humanities students, I could almost pay off my HECS debt. While 10 minutes in an office won’t completely solve this grievance, it’s a sure-fire way to improve. Remeber, you are not annoying for caring about your degree. At my university, and I’m sure it’s the case at others, it’s actually not mandatory for lectures and tutors to designate open hours when students can drop by unannounced, therefore, the ones who do, clearly want you to use that time as a resource.
- How to write an essay that is not hopeless trash. Yes, it took until my second year of uni to wrap my head around framing a well-researched, coherent argument. I speak more specifically here as a literature student where you need to work to find a balance between your own ideas with those of scholars. Honestly? It takes time, practice and an awful lot of editing, but to give specific advice, I’ll make my next point…
- Engage with the source material. I’m certain this is why my essays have drastically improved. Take my advice, read that literary theory that is referenced by your lecturers and use it as a springboard off into what will then be relevant research. Seriously, I could write a whole damn post about research because it makes my little nerd-heart sing, but I’ll leave it at this for now.
- That learning for the sake of learning is not to be sneered at. There is a clear rhetoric surrounding tertiary education in Australia based on the idea that education must lead (and basically guarantee you) a specific job in a specific area of expertise (think doctor, teacher, lawyer, nurse, accountant etc.). Firstly, the problem with this is that it convinces hordes of eighteen-year-olds that they need to decide upon one job, right now, right out of school. People act as though the course you choose will determine your entire fate, and that’s just not realistic.
Additionally, this line of thinking devalues degrees that are not vocationally focused. It is incredibly irritating to explain why you’re doing a Bachelor of Arts with a major in English, only to be met with the condescending, “So what do you want to do?” sort of questions. As many arts graduates will confirm, there are plenty of jobs and avenues you can work towards with a B.A in hand. The way I see it, you are going to be studying for (at least) three years, so spend your time (and money) on and within a field you genuinely care about. Ignore those who cannot fathom motivations or purpose that aren’t defined by a bank balance or corner office. Doing a B.A takes courage, indeed, following your passions in any degree takes courage and anyone who tries to convince you otherwise obviously has their own regrets.
- Everyone is a mess. You cannot have the perfect grades, job, social life, resume, and apartment unless you’re really, really lucky or some kind of super-human insomniac-genius that also can time travel.
- Above all else, you are responsible for ensuring you get the most out of your university experience. Here’s the thing, university is not perfect, I am not perfect, you are not perfect, and neither are your friends, markers, teachers, tutors, lecturers or professors. We all screw up, quite regularly, and the sooner you stop playing the blame game and succumbing to self-hatred the more you will succeed. Take advantage of this unique environment where you can explore, experiment and learn to your heart’s content. You are in control of this entire experience, so own it, be brave and be bold.
And always bring paracetamol and more than two pens.