Saturday, 5 July 2014

Surviving the first year of Uni

Okay, so I said the blog would mainly be about science, and I suppose I can throw some in by linking it to the course I do, but primarily, this is a different type of post. I wanted to write about surviving your first year of uni, seeing as it's possibly one of the most daunting times of your life. I'll focus on the academic side of things because I know there's lots of advice out there about social life, cooking, meeting new people etc. but personally, I wish I had known more about the learning style before I moved away to Sheffield last September.

As someone who achieved high grades and found school relatively easy, I was shocked when I found that getting 70% is not as simple as I thought it was. Sure, 70% is a first and is considered the highest 'grade' and at GCSE and even A-level, a bit of revision will get you that seventy. Um, not at University. Not meaning to say it's impossible or insult anyone's intelligence, but be prepared to work your arse off if you want a first. I made more notes for my 4 exams this summer than I did for the whole of A level.

If you're lucky enough, you'll get your textbooks for free (like I did ;) ), if not, you'll have to buy them. They're expensive but you'll need them. Also, remember to use them - for the first couple of months of uni I continued googling questions on lattice structures, forgetting that I had three huge textbooks on the shelf above my head containing all the information I needed. How very ditsy of me.

I think the most valuable thing I've learnt since being at Uni is organisation, and I mean being properly organised! Departments will send out emails for events/meetings months before they occur, and in the run up to them they won't remind you; you're expected to be organised and know exactly where you should be and when. I've made this mistake a few times because I hadn't written things down. So yeah, a diary's useful for organising your life. Also, if you have certain assignments to do every week like I do, then plan which days you're going to do them on and try and stick to them. For example, every week I have tutorial questions, a pre-lab assignment, a lab report and anything else I've got to do. In the first semester of uni, I was concentrating on settling in and wasn't really as organised as I should've been, so many a time I was still doing my lab report at 11 o'clock on Sunday night when it was in for Monday morning. I hate the feeling of being rushed and panicking about not having time, so I decided to plan out my week. I would do my report on Monday and Tuesday nights so it was out of the way, Wednesdays were reserved for tutorial questions and Thursdays for my pre-lab assignment. I really can't exaggerate the point of being organised enough. There's lots more commitments at uni than sixth form/college and you have to look after yourself and cook etc. meaning it's so easy to procrastinate. Let's face it though, procrastination is fun.

Probably the most important piece of advice is try to go to lectures. I can't say I went to every one, it's so tempting to miss them when you know that no one will notice if you're not there. Also when my depression got bad at Christmas and around Easter, I missed a hell of a lot of lectures because I simply couldn't drag myself out of bed and kind of gave up. I found catching up quite difficult, especially when you then return to lectures and you have no idea what your lecturer is talking about. Of course a lot of lectures are put online so you can go home and watch them again, but my Quantum Mechanics lecturer made the point of not putting anything online so you had to go to his lectures, otherwise you were screwed basically. Funny guy.

This post may make me sound like a complete geek who sat in my room for the whole year doing work, but please remember I did all these things so I could relax and have fun. I got all my work out of the way as soon as possible so I could go out without nothing to worry about and not have to write a lab report with a hangover (it's not pleasant thinking about gravimetric determination of nickel whilst your head's down the toilet, trust me).

I hope this is of some use and good luck :)
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