Times Higher Education

5 Dreadful Pieces Of Student Advice (And Why You Need To Stop Following Them)

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Not all advice is equal. Even the best intentions don’t make for the best suggestions.

What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given at university?

You may have heard some of the following before. Don’t get sucked in!

1. “1st Year Doesn’t Count.”

When all you need to do is pass, you may think there’s no difference between getting 40% and 70% or higher. Just do what you need to get through and spend most of your time enjoying everything else.

Bad move.

Putting in the effort helps you to progress. Without it, you won’t be so prepared for the next year, when your marks do count. There is no easy way to catch up either, as a lot of the process is about technique and practice and abstract links. You can’t bring yourself up to speed with a bit of cramming and rote learning.

Dismissing the importance of your first year is one of the most misguided and dangerous pieces of advice around.

2. “Sign Up For Everything.”

No matter how tempting it is to do ALL THE THINGS, it won’t help your CV (or your schedule) by signing up to every society, every cause, and every extra-curricular activity you can.

Commit to just a few things and throw all your enthusiastic weight and interest into them. Make it count. Aim to come out the other side with great stories to tell and a sense of achievement.

By challenging yourself to be awesome in a small number of areas, you’ll likely have better experiences and you’re sure to look better on paper. Nobody cares that you were in seventeen different clubs; they care that you did amazing things in one or two of them.

Pro tip: Among the things you already have an interest in conquering, find at least one society or group that you think will push you in a new direction. The worst that can happen is that you’ll discover you have absolutely no interest. In which case, find another new path and see what happens. Rinse and repeat until something clicks. With an open attitude, it shouldn’t take long to find something that delivers.

3. “Only Concentrate On The Study.” / “Push Toward A First.”

Some students don’t sign up for everything. In fact, they sign up for nothing. Their degree journey is all about the magical First Class Honours.

Whoa there! Firsts are on the up (more on that later…) and a top grade is no guarantee of success and fame and wealth and [insert amazing thing you want here].

Yes, getting the top mark is fantastic. I wouldn’t want you to aim lower for no reason. But neither should you ignore everything else around you in your pursuit of that grade. In short, do your sensible best, not your perfectionist best.

I’ve spoken to students (and parents) who worry that they’re heading toward a 2:1 because they have been concentrating on other activities to the detriment of their study. But in many cases I hear, students are not so much ignoring their study, but rather improving skills and employability achievements.

One person, developing his own business, was worried that his academic work would drop in quality, risking a 2:1 over a First. Putting aside the risks associated with starting any new business, the potential gains on paper are bigger than the difference between a First and a 2:1.

I recently spoke to a mother who was worried that her son had gone from an almost certain First to a much more likely 2:1. Apparently he was spending a lot of time building up a writing portfolio, which had been getting in the way of his study.

But with his sights set on journalism and having managed to be published in various places, including one or two big names, the difference between a top mark and a good mark isn’t so important. The new achievements should more than make up for it.

4. Anything Too Specific – “Never do this…” / “Always do that…”

The diversity of university ensures that there are loads of things you can do and loads you’ll never manage to do, even in the three or so years you’re there.

All those lists on the stuff you should NEVER do as a student, or the things you MUST do before you graduate, are just a way to get you clicking on a link.

It’s like when a mate tells you the best club in the area. You may agree with their opinion and you may not. But that’s all it is. An opinion.

Be cautious of anyone advising you of a dead cert. Their advice may prove right for you in the end, but you shouldn’t assume it will. Blindly following risks stepping into disaster.

Next time someone says you HAVE to do it, by all means go ahead, but only after you’ve considered it for yourself and you’re happy to do it on your own terms and for your own reasons.

5. “Don’t Panic…Degrees Are Getting Easier.”

The preliminary results of the latest Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey contain many comments from academics that say increasing numbers of students end up graduating with a First or 2:1.

These comments, no matter how true, fuel advice to chill-out and not put too much effort into your work.

The ‘Don’t Panic’ bit is fine, but the reason not to panic doesn’t sit right. I’ve even seen online conversations that say you’d have to be an idiot not to get a 2:1 or better. That’s insulting to everyone; those who don’t manage the grade as well as those who do.

You may be tempted to try getting away with the smallest amount of work possible. The tactic doesn’t save time in the long run and does more harm than good. If you’ve not found enjoyment in your studies to the extent that you’re trying to minimise your workload like this, what do you really want from this?

So yes, try not to panic. But no, don’t expect your degree to be easy. If you do, the reality will likely emerge at precisely the wrong time.

Explore ways to make your effort effortless and your challenges enjoyable. You’ll be better placed to find an enjoyable flow in your work. Your degree will feel easier, but by no means will it be easy. The relaxed flow will, instead, be testament to your attitude.

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Mission Groups, Labels, and Getting Tough on HE

Now that the Russell Group has officially welcomed Durham, Exeter, Queen Mary UoL, and York to its list of member institutions, it’s worth revisiting a 2009 Times Higher Education piece about mission groups:

“…Michael Arthur, head of the Russell Group, argued that giving research money to universities other than the 25-30 top institutions amounted to funding ‘mediocrity’. He said that 90 per cent of research funding should be concentrated on this elite: giving any more to the rest would ‘come at a price’.”

There are now 24 universities in the Russell Group, ever so close to the 25-30 mentioned by Michael Arthur.

These aren’t automatically the top 24 institutions, especially as the diversity and purposes of HE increases. However, the collective influence of these institutions will no doubt dominate proceedings when it comes to research.

The timing in welcoming four new members to the Russell Group is important and will surely serve to strengthen their approach over the coming months and years.

Also worth noting from the THE piece is a remark made by Marie-Elisabeth Deroche-Miles at University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne:

“My prediction is that the fiercer the competition becomes between higher education institutions in the current market context, the more outspoken their various representatives are going to be.”

Increasingly aggressive higher ed?

Another question is whether or not we’re ‘all in this together’. Which type of university sounds most accurate:

  • ‘the’ university;
  • ‘this’ university;
  • ‘our’ university?

In considering this, it’s useful to quote Ronald Barnett from his recent book, “Being A University“:

“So the university has its own being, independently of its members. It is not that ‘the university is its members and its members are the university’. To the contrary, the corporate university is fashioned as an entity distinct from its members. That is its point. The old-style research university was ‘loosely coupled’ (Clark, 1983: 17): its members saw little in common among themselves and their relationship with their university was semi-detached. Their loyalty lay towards their discipline (Becher, 1989). The typical academic might know better and feel more connection with other researchers in his or her discipline on the other side of the world than with an academic in another discipline in the same university, even in the same building. So the corporate university is a vehicle through which to develop collective ties. Now, in the corporate university, every member of staff can –or should– feel themselves to be a part of the same enterprise.” [pages 50-51]

Do umbrella mission groups make a difference to where individuals and/or institutions place themselves? Are we to refer to ‘the corporate mission group’, or something completely different?

photo by Christi Nielsen

How are you labelled, how is a university labelled, and how is a mission group labelled? (photo by Christi Nielsen)

Worries that don’t go away…and how to make them go away

How different is it to be a student now compared to five years ago? Ten years? Twenty years?

The world continues to change. Your experiences are shaped by advances in technology. What you take for granted today may not have existed when you were born.

But how different are your worries compared to previous years?

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

A YouthInsight poll of more than 1,500 students has asked current students and this year’s uni applicants about their anxieties about campus life. Times Higher Education reports on the top five concerns as:

  1. Money (63%)
  2. Difficulties settling in (50%)
  3. Trouble making friends (48%)
  4. Getting on with flatmates (44%)
  5. Too much partying/drinking (22%)

There is nothing new in this list. And it’s understandable that you’d be worried about these things. For many, stepping on campus for the first time is also the first time away from the family home. The first time you’re fending for yourself in a major way.

If any of these matters are causing you anxiety, check out these links from the archives…

Money

Settling In

Making Friends

Getting Along

Partying/Alcohol

Many of your worries may be similar to others around you. The cliché goes that you’re all in the same boat when you start university. Cliché or not, that means you’re all trying to make sense of what’s new. And that’s not always easy.

Remember, you’re not getting it wrong. You’re exploring and discovering. The awesomeness can take time.

It’s worth the wait. 🙂