Students’ Union

Remotivate yourself after the summer break. New year, new you?

Remotivate Yourself After the Summer Break. New Year, New You?

Don’t you just love/hate the gap between one academic year and another? 🙂

In some ways the summer break feels too short. In other ways it seems far too long.

You relaxed. You got some cash from a summer job. You saw your mates back home.

But your work and your focus gets a bit rusty. You feel unpractised.

As soon as you return to university, you’re expected to get back to work and pick up where you left off.

It’s time to remotivate yourself.

But a new academic year also brings with it new challenges for your learning. Challenges that could stump you even further.

In my second year, I remember people’s unease and worry with the sudden uptake in expectations. Especially as many thought (and still do think) that first year doesn’t count. [Hint: It really does count…]

The new academic year not only meant we had to re-evaluate what we’d already learned, but also meant we had to push toward a higher level.

Not surprising, but a challenge on top of a challenge is…well, a challenge!

How do you recover from a summer away AND build on top of that too?

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

little and often

1. Little and often

It’s so easy to slip into an “I’ll do it later” mindset. Yes, there’s plenty of time, but that time rushes by fast.

Next thing you know, you’ve only got a day before that essay is due in. Or you’re just a few hours before a seminar where you are expected to engage in discussion.

Panic!

There’s a better way. Start when you get it, but only a small amount.

Little and often means that you spend a few minutes each day working on the subject at hand and not overwhelming yourself with too much content.

You may only need 10 minutes a day, you may need half an hour. However long you need, it’s much better spaced out in chunks.

By committing to just a short amount of time, you may be spurred on to continue doing more once you feel a flow. Or you can give up after a bad session, safe in the knowledge that you actually have the next day. And the next. And the next! You weren’t in the mood today, but you’re not forced to carry on regardless.

So the longer you have, the more chance you’ll have for inspiration to hit. If that’s not a reason to start early and not leave everything for the last minute, I don’t know what is.

This is the same method I suggest for working on essays too. The more time you give yourself to do the coursework, the more likely you are to hand in a piece of work that is worthy of you.

prepare in advance

2. Prepare in advance

Preparation shields you from surprises.

You usually get a timetable and reading lists and information on what to expect throughout the module or semester. When you look at this in advance, you can highlight common themes and the types of work that you’re expected to do.

With this information at hand, you’re not actively learning, but you’ve now got an idea of what you’ll need. Then you can focus on any areas you’re uncertain about.

Planning the coming weeks will also help you to find ways of making unenjoyable tasks more friendly and palatable. You may still draw a blank, but at least you’ve got more time to force yourself into a more inspired place. Good luck!

schedule your free time

3. Schedule your free time

Use your timetables and to-do lists for EVERYTHING. Even free time and fun activities.

It sounds strange to schedule free time, but it helps you to focus on the pleasure of leisure.

Without this, you won’t make the most of your free time. It tends to just get lost.

I spoke to Bethany Wren, VP Academic Experience at University of Brighton Students’ Union. Bethany suggests that you should “rota in some ‘you’ time every day, even if it is an hour in the bath with a vanilla candle, this will keep you sane“.

By scheduling ALL your time, including when you just want to do absolutely nothing or when you’re happy to do something on a whim, that free time can be used with more purpose. Even if that purpose is just to relax.

And sometimes the purpose is to gain some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Bethany says:

“Remember your friends once a month. My friends and I had a meal out in Brighton – it reminded us that there was oxygen outside of the library but also that we were all feeling the same kind of stresses, and that was comforting.”

Your summer may have been quiet, lazy and carefree. So keep some of those summer memories and schedule those relaxing times when you’ve genuinely got nothing on. The next day may be back to work, but that can truly wait until tomorrow.

All you need now is a hammock.

find something new to do

4. Find something new to do

In my final year, I had a lot more on my plate. There as the small matter of a dissertation, I was living back on the student village with first years, and I was now a senior student.

But I still wanted to find new things to do.

For instance, I wanted to read a selection of Sunday newspapers to check out subjects that I’d never paid much attention to, and to get a taste of the different perspectives that come from a single story.

I would wake up early on Sunday morning. That way, practically every other student in the student village was sleeping, or had gone home for the weekend. I’d walk to the shop, buy a selection of papers, and wash my clothes in the invariably empty laundry.

As the washing machine spun around, I would sit back and read. A peaceful way to find out what’s going on in the world and expand my horizons without interrupting my other plans.

No need for sacrifices.

Okay, getting up early on a Sunday isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But by using the points above, it shouldn’t be hard to find what suits you. There’s always more time than you think.

And if you really are THAT strapped for time, maybe you DO need to make a sacrifice or two. That can be tough, but one you’ll thank yourself for in the long run.

I’m thankful for developing that new habit in my final year of engaging with new content. It’s helped me to build up good curation systems over the years.

ask for help

5. Ask for help

One of Bethany Wren’s top survival tips for getting back on track at university is to always ask for help when you need it:

“Nobody is expecting you to do this by yourself and there are a lot of people out there who are ready to give you a helping hand, all you have to do is ASK. We [at Brighton] have our Support service, SUSS at the SU who you can contact via email any time. Equally, if there is a member of staff such as your personal tutor who you can talk to, do!”

Renewed motivation can only manifest when you get the right type of assistance. Without it, you only feel overwhelmed.

A.S.K. – Asking Secures Knowledge

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Armed with these five tips, you should be well on your way to feeling remotivated.

And if you’re on a real hardcore productivity trip, I heartily recommend Graham Allcott’s books, “How to be a Productivity Ninja” and “How to be a Knowledge Ninja.

No matter what your summer break was like, there’s more than enough scope to remotivate yourself and feel ready for anything as you hit campus once again.

What’s your main focus for this year?

 

10 Things To Know When You Start University – A Fresher Tip Sheet

fresher-tip-sheet

Ah, the joys of starting university! Always room for surprise, even when you think you’ve got it all sussed out beforehand.

I can’t list everything that’ll happen. Nobody can do that.

But here’s a start.

Now you’re a fresher, here’s a list of 10 things to expect. Time to get relationships (with others and with yourself) in check.

In no particular order:

1. First friends aren’t always your best friends.

The pressure to impress is huge. When you find new people, you may form a lasting friendship.

But don’t be too cut up if it doesn’t work out. New people come into your life all the time at university and you’ll get to know all sorts of characters. Some will turn out to be friends for many years to come. Just not necessarily the people you meet in Fresher’s Week.

friendship

2. Everyone is coping except you? Don’t believe it!

No matter how out of place and clueless you feel, there are other students just as overwhelmed as you.

It’s easy to think you’re the only person with issues, because you only know your own mind. Starting out at university is not a walk in the park and there’s so much to get to grips with. But remember the first point…people want to look impressive. Not everyone is being totally honest about their difficulties.

If you think you’re the only person who’s not coping well, you’ll feel even worse about it. All those teething troubles are standard.

3. Homesick is standard.

You don’t think you’ll get over it, but you’re likely to have shaken off the sadness within a few weeks. For some, it takes until after Christmas to settle down. It is rare for the problem to be so bad that you have to leave.

For tips on combating those blues, check out my Help for the Hopelessly Homesick.

4. Give new activities a go, so long as you don’t go against your personal opinions/likes/beliefs.

If you don’t drink alcohol, a Fresher pub crawl won’t be your activity of choice. But what if you want to get involved and be a part of the fun with your new housemates?

No problem with joining in. Just don’t feel the need to defend yourself. Peer pressure goes away quicker when you don’t get involved in other people’s fake debates. And the start of a pub crawl (or halfway through it) is a bad time anyway. Bat conversation away and say you’ll explain another day. If someone is too persistent, it may be best to cut your losses and safely remove yourself from their presence.

Stay confident in your identity. As you settle in over the coming weeks, you’ll find situations to suit your lifestyle. The people you get to know here will at least accept who you are, and may even share your core values.

Oh, and if you just want to limit the booze, here are some tips to tame the spirits.

drinking

5. You are yourself.

You can’t work out how to make other people like you, because there’s no way for you to befriend yourself. Besides, you don’t need to fake it at university. There are an almost limitless number of choices, options, opinions, likes and dislikes to explore. As with the point above, find the people who will accept and love you for who you are.

6. Everyone pulled except you? Exaggeration only upsets you more.

Everyone did it except me…

So and so ALWAYS happens…

You don’t need to follow the crowd or succomb to peer pressure, as hard as it feels to go against the grain. And I can assure you that not EVERYONE pulls during fresher’s, even though it can seem a bit in your face at times.

7. What do you want to be known for? Be careful.

Do you want to make a big impact on campus from Day One? Getting exposure is great, but you don’t need to do it straight away. Playing the long game is safer than trying to be a hero before you’ve worked out the lay of the land.

Known to be known, no matter what…Is that enough?

8. “If I think the worst, then things can’t get any worse. They’ll only get better.” NOT TRUE!

With this attitude, you’ll only ever think the worst. No matter how good it gets, you’re fixed on the worst outcome, which blinds you to what’s happening.

Prepare for the worst, but don’t think it. Preparation is different to expectation.

words

9. You’ll work out most things sooner than you think.

The impossible struggle only feels impossible while you’re struggling. Beyond that, it gets better.

It practically always gets better. In all my dealings with freshers over the years, most start with issues that feel insurmountable and nearly every one recovers without fuss. Of the few who find it more difficult, most of them still manage to get over that hurdle.

And if you think your case is different, just remember Point 2. You’re much closer to the side of hope and recovery and success than you think.

10. SU activities are great, but don’t dismiss them if one doesn’t work out.

I made this mistake. I signed up for clubs at the Freshers Fayre, went to my first meeting for one of the clubs, found it disappointing, and decided clubs and societies weren’t much good.

I hardly bothered for a while after that. Yeah…well done me. Sigh.

I’m one of the first people to tell you to look beyond first impressions. Dig deeper, even if your opinion stays the same.

I didn’t follow my own advice here and suffered a little for it. Don’t be quick to dismiss!

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There’s a lot to think about settling in as a fresher.

And as soon as you’ve calmed down with these lifestyle issues, then comes all the studying!

If you’re worried about the academic work for the year ahead, I’ve got a great freebie for you…

Get the upper hand and learn to appreciate what’s expected of you and how to prepare for it. Download my ebook ‘Live Life, Study Hard‘ right now.

How do you make first year count enough to feel worthwhile?

After discussing whether a year at university seems worth paying £9,000 in tuition fees, I got thinking about Freshers. I’ve long said that the first year of university does count, but not in terms of needing the highest grades possible.

A recent Guardian piece quotes Nottingham student, Emily Tripp:

“It doesn’t make sense to have a ‘practice’ year in the year when you’re doing the least outside of your degree. Either make the first semester not count, or get lecturers to set practice essays that don’t count.”

With the prospect of some students ignoring the academic importance of the first year, second year can be a lot of catch-up. What could have been practice becomes time wasted.

halls of residence (photo by Peter J Dean)

Is this student kitchen empty because they’re busy at work in their rooms? (photo by Peter J Dean)

The question is, how do you make the first year count enough to feel worthwhile, yet remain focused on Fresher year and allowing a gradual development?

The ‘first year doesn’t count’ attitude has been around for years and doesn’t show signs of going away. Yet. It used to be a misunderstood concept. Now it’s resented. A mental link between fees and value does little more than annoy those who want to get on with the work. Worse, schoolchildren already fear the financial implications of university, according to a Sutton Trust report. For those who do end up attending, that first year may fuel their fears, rather than put them at ease academically.

Student experience is a changing term. Every experience is different and students’ requirements alter over the years.

The 2012 UNITE Student Experience Report interviewed over 1,200 applicants to university. The survey picks up on changing attitudes:

“University is no longer three years of partying and cruising through for a 2.2 degree. Now it costs so much, you can’t afford to waste the experience… People are now going to university with the view of the future; the ‘student experience’ is changing from socialising to setting yourself up for the future.”

Nothing too surprising there. You don’t want to waste the experience, so you want to work where it counts. There are many activities outside of the degree itself, but resentment may begin because they aren’t seen as part of the tuition fee. A student making their mark across a range of extra-curricular sessions could still feel their first year is a waste of time.

Freshers Fayre (photo by upsuportsmouth)

Taking part in many activities. But do students find value in paying for the first year at university? (photo by upsuportsmouth)

The Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey for 2012 found large numbers of students attending university in order to improve job opportunities and salary prospects. Plenty also wanted to improve knowledge in their area of interest, yet their main focus is apparently on the future.

With such an eye on life after university, the first year may feel like a case of running on the spot: you’re working, but you’re not going anywhere.

If a perceived link between fees and grades can’t be pulled apart, what can be done?

Universities could drop the first year entirely. But that’s an extreme first option and tough for institutions to implement without massive upheaval, not to mention the higher workload on academics who may have to shun research completely to deal with such a change. Two-year degrees are on offer at the University of Buckingham, so there is potential for some universities to make the move, especially those that focus only on teaching.

There’s also the option to make the first year count so that students must rely on getting good marks in order to achieve a better grade upon graduation. You wouldn’t want to aim at a bare minimum 40% pass then, would you?

But that skirts around the issue, rather than addressing it. So what else can be done?

  • Shortening need to merely pass to first term instead? – An entire year may feel excessive to many students. A single semester could be the answer. Give students room to jump off, but don’t drag it out for a third of the degree.
  • More face-to-face tutor time to explain reasons why first year does count? – Second year is a time for many to hurriedly get up to speed and develop a decent academic tone. Can better and longer quality time with tutors help first years to understand where the first year has real value? The better you work toward the first year of work, the greater potential you have when you reach the second year and the grades matter. If you average the first year with a 2:1, the coming years should be more comfortable for you than for those who average with a Third.
  • Combine the many threads of induction so it achieves a greater purpose? – When you arrive on campus, there is a lot to take in. Induction is a big deal, even if it doesn’t stop the sense of overwhelm.
    Institutions could tighten induction programmes even further by placing much importance on introductory academic development and extending that aspect of induction further into the year.
    This would still take less time than a whole year, yet–done well–would potentially help students more in the process.
    Induction is different dependent on institution, and there is already a focus on academic transition alongside everything else new. Nevertheless, continued work on a solid student introduction may be the difference between resenting the first year and taking responsibility regardless of the maximum grades under offer.
    Morosanu, Handley and O’Donovan have a great academic paper worth reading on transition and induction, “Seeking Support: Researching first-year students’ experiences of coping with academic life“.
  • Explore how ‘ready’ students are and assess needs more closely for a changing intake and higher number of students? – Admitting so many students means that universities are faced with people from many different backgrounds with a huge range of experiences. Some will be prepared for academic work from the outset, while others will need a lot of attention before they understand what is expected of them.
    The difficulty with a broad brush approach to first year is that it takes so long. One complete academic year. Not everybody requires such a lengthy run-up. But neither is it possible to shift goalposts for one set of people while leaving others behind.
    Further research should be undertaken to evaluate the current and changing needs of new students. Old methods may no longer be the right way forward, even if they stood the test of time for so long beforehand.

For me, the first year is about mindset. To rely on grades alone to judge whether or not first year is worthwhile is pointless. The fees situation gets in the way, frustratingly. Students need clarification on how to get the most value out of their experience in the early stages of their degree. However, institutions must also ensure that first year stays relevant to incoming years.

If the attitude of ‘first year doesn’t count’ remains in place for too long under this fees system, the disservice already visible for many years will prove more damaging each year it hangs around.

Student Societies and the Problem With Controversial Invitations

Controversy is a strange thing. Simply knowing about the matter is enough to cause a reaction. Nothing needs to have occurred yet to cause offense. The implications and the possibilities can be enough.

Matters such as these that move into the wider public arena quickly draw attention. When people find out that something or someone controversial has been given a platform, opinions quickly divide. A mere invitation will cause offense, creating friction from the outset.

For student societies, that makes inviting any controversial public figure a tough job.

hot topic (photo by Enokson)

photo by Enokson – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Oxford Union, a debating society, recently came under fire for what looked like differing views in how to handle controversial invitations. Reactions surrounding invitations to Julian Assange and Nick Griffin appeared different. Assange was granted a platform, while Griffin was dismissed as not having even been properly invited. Independent student newspaper, Cherwell, quoted an Oxford Union spokesperson: “The Oxford Union does not wish to be associated with the BNP in any way whatsoever. We strongly disagree with their views.”

Assange, however, went on to speak in late January 2013. Former president of the Oxford Union, Izzy Westbury, explained to the Guardian why invitations like these are made:

“Inviting someone controversial – be it in a political sense, a religious one or, in the case of Assange, a legal one – is the best way of showing them for what they really are. When Assange is video-linked to the union, I would expect and encourage questions that challenge both his views and his actions. We should put him in an uncomfortable position – that is the condition of the invite.”

Writing for Cherwell, Alexander Rankine pointed out that such a vocal disapproval of one person and not another is contradictory:

“A Union invitation does not condone. Guests can be cross-examined. The Union is neutral. The idea of the Union adopting a political position or pursuing an agenda goes brazenly against this principle. Now it seems that the Union’s invitations are motivated by political opinions and specific agendas after all. And if that is really the case, then the Assange invitation starts to look more like a vote of support. The Union stops being neutral.”

An invitation is not an entirely neutral move unless you invite the entire population of the world on exactly the same grounds. Invitations arise due to some form of interest or controversy or debate or fame. The matter is complex, so cannot be neutral even if the intention was innocent.

What if a society was more explicit in explaining the reasoning behind an invitation as non-politically as it could? If that happened, the situation is still political, because reasons can be argued and people can disagree with the reasoning given.

Rankine handily wraps up the difficulty and the answer in a single sentence: “I always thought that the Union was meant to be a neutral debating platform.”

That term, “Neutral debating platform“. Can a debating platform ever be entirely neutral?

Debating occurs due to political matters. That’s the point of a debate. Be it a mild discussion, or an emotionally dividing battle, opinions are not all the same.

When Marine Le Pen, president of French political party Front National, spoke at the Cambridge Union, around 200 protesters gathered in opposition. One protester told The Cambridge Student:

“I don’t object to her speaking, but I think the important thing is we make it quite clear there’s opposition. The fact that you can get up and ask her a few questions afterwards is not really enough.”

The term ‘neutral debating platform’ comes into question based not only on the handing out of invitations, but also on the format of the debate.

Yet an invitation is placed in order to bring forth further debate, rather than endorse or congratulate (or, indeed, disagree or disparage) the parties involved. An opportunity for questions may not be seen as enough.

With so much to contend with, inviting a controversial figure cannot be completely neutral. Their views and actions are a necessary part of the package. It’s a big part of why their presence was requested in the first place. Those underlying reasons cannot be temporarily removed for logistical purposes.

Debating societies wouldn’t exist without some sort of controversy. That’s why an attempt to be neutral looks anything but to some. Politics may be intended only once everyone is gathered in the debating hall. However, some decisions are already political long before many realise they are political at all.

How would you handle controversial figures and controversial invitations?