Rebecca Stubbing offers some words of wisdom to start off your second semester
I am about to finish my last semester at uni. I have been here for 12 semesters across seven years. I will graduate with a combination of degrees that’s “supposed to take” four years. I have changed my majors, I have dropped a degree, I have picked up a different degree after a particularly enjoyable Gen Ed. I have taken so many papers that this semester I didn’t get a choice in Philosophy courses to take because I had already done all of the other ones being offered.
I have been at uni for a very long time. I have been here for so long because uni is really hard. I know that for some people, uni is easy. Some people find the classes so easy they’re boring. Some find that it gets stressful around the end of semester but things are generally manageable. For others it’s a massive struggle. The stress, the challenge of working independently (no matter how smart or capable you are), trying to work and study, other life stuff; all of these things make uni hard. One or maybe all of these things could be making it hard for you right now. Given my long experience at uni, I am here to impart some of my assorted wisdom with you.
- Pick a Sitting Spot and a Backup Sitting Spot: I cannot explain to you how much time I have spent wandering about the university trying to find a place to sit. During my seven years here, many study spaces have closed, but luckily a few have actually been made a lot nicer. If you were here seven years ago and you know how the science student space used to look (and smell) I’m so sorry. It doesn’t matter where you make your berth, but you should pick somewhere as a go-to location, and somewhere as a back-up go-to location in case the first one is full or rained out or stinks that day. This means that when you have a gap you know where to go and you can just go there without having to stress about where you should be going.
- You deserve a clean bathroom: If you go into a bathroom and it is a total mess because the university doesn’t employ enough cleaning staff or pay any of those staff a living wage, but you know there’s a newer/less popular bathroom a five-minute walk away, go to it. Treat yourself. Do it. Make that journey and you will thank yourself all day for taking the time for a little self-care.
- Try hard to have realistic expectations: It’s really easy to idealise what you might be capable of if this and that thing lined up perfectly in your life. It’s really easy especially at the end of one semester and the beginning of another to think to yourself, “well, next semester I will be so onto it, I will do all of this stuff, I will be a perfect student all the time always”. Stop. Think about what you actually got done this semester. If you have other semesters to draw on, think about what happened in those ones too. Analyse that data. Think about how many of your readings you actually got done, think about how many lecture recordings you actually kept up with and how many you crammed in at the last possible minute, think about how many Facebook events you said you were interested in but never attended. That is probably what you are going to be capable of every semester unless you cut some things out of your life because you are amazing but you’re not Doctor Strange and you do not have the ability to control time. Bearing that in mind, think about what’s going to be a realistic goal for your exam study, think about what’s going to be a realistic goal for next semester. If you set goals that are not physically possible to achieve, you’re always going to feel disappointed and behind. If you set goals that match what you can actually get done in the time available, you’re more likely to succeed and feel better and be able to do better in the future.
- Plan when in the week you’re going to do each weekly task: Take a look at your timetable and plan which breaks in your timetable, or evenings at home (or whatever other time is good for you) you are going to use to do particular readings/weekly tasks each week. It would be astounding if you managed to stick to this every week of the semester, and if you’re as slow a reader as me, you probably won’t be able to finish a whole reading in a 1-3 hour break. However, laying out your week with time dedicated to tasks, even just an hour, will mean that you have enough time to know what the deal is and make a go at it. The hardest part of a lot of uni work is starting it, so making time to start things can make a big difference.
- Communicate with your lecturers: Some lecturers are terrifying. Some may seem terrifying but they’re actually nice people who come across as scary because of the situation. Some are genuinely scary people. Depending on where you’re at with various things it may or may not be terrifying to talk to lecturers, but regardless of how scary it is, you need to try your best to do it. Email if you know you won’t make it to your tutorial. Let them know if you always work the day of the class and so you have to do the class through lecture recordings. Put your hand up in class or talk to them afterwards about that thing they said very fast and you didn’t understand at all. And most importantly, ask for extensions if you need them. I have spent a lot of time not talking to lecturers because of a few lecturers in first year who made me feel stupid when I asked for help. People who do that are the problem, not you. You are fine and wonderful and when you succeed in pushing past that anxiety and communicating, everything will be so much easier. You might develop a rapport with your lecturer or you might not, but either way, keeping them informed if you’ve got shit going down will mean they’re aware of who you are and your situation, and are more helpful and more encouraging because they know what’s up. Ask. For. Help.
- Talk to someone: No matter what you talk about, putting in the time and making an appointment to prioritise your mental health is in itself a valuable act of self-care. If you’re dealing with normal stress and pressure, talk about it. If you’re dealing with more shit than usual, definitely talk about it. The uni health services have free counselling available for all students. They offer two free appointments per student per semester, a large number of free ongoing support groups with different focuses, and if you use up your appointments and could still benefit from/still need mental health services, they will get you in touch with other groups that you can contact. Google ‘UoA counselling’ or search ‘counselling’ on the uni website and you’ll find all of the information as well as the questionnaire you fill out in order to request a session.
- Bring a packed lunch as much as possible: Seriously, do it.
That’s it. That’s everything I know. I hope it helps.
Editor’s Note: This article was written last semester. Congratulations Rebecca for graduating!