End of First Semester: Advice to Myself!

Thursday 6 December 2018, First year

by Chloe Brewster

End of First Semester: Advice to Myself!

Chloe Brewster
Let’s face it, we generally feel somewhat transformed by the time that we reach a particular moment in a new milestone, although it is not until you actually sit down and start to think about it (for me, on a rainy Wednesday evening with little company other than a yet-to-be-eaten bar of Reese’s peanut butter cups!) that you realise how far you have come. Yes, there have been – and certainly will continue to be – some stressful times (let’s not think about those upcoming deadlines for essays!), but you feel stronger for having survived the worst of it. In fact, no student should feel as though they have committed a crime on a par with not cleaning their used dishes (or blocking the sink as I’ve heard from some friends!) if their first semester at university has not been ‘interesting’ enough to be uploaded as a story on Instagram. Ultimately, there is no universal (no pun intended!) experience of university life for anyone, hence why I believe that all students (myself included) could benefit from being a bit kinder towards themselves. After all, Christmas is the season of goodwill, so why not express this feel-good attitude towards yourself?

Within a few months, I have acquired some extra knowledge – asides from realising that I cannot stand reading Charles Dickens’ novels any more than I did three months ago! – which I would like to share as my sort of ‘Christmas present’ for you. At the end of the day, it’s the thought that counts and it will probably be more useful than a pair of socks!

Stand your ground

This is an essential skill that you will need for life beyond university – and it is never too early to start getting your voice heard! If issues arise at university, stand up for yourself because, ultimately, you are not only a student but a customer; all universities have an obligation to serve your needs in the most efficient way possible. Therefore, universities have no right to make mistakes or create unnecessary problems for you, so let them know that you will not allow yourself to be pushed around! 

And this is also applicable for living with flatmates who might be creating problems for you, e.g. not doing their equal share of cleaning/cooking. Although ‘standing your ground’ should not be seen as an excuse to kickstart an argument more explosive than a dragon’s fiery roar (even if it is tempting to do so!), you should try to resolve the problem as calmly but firmly as possible. I know that these things are better said than done and, at times, it may be literally impossible to reason with certain people, but it is better to try than not at all, if just for the sake of boosting your self-confidence!

Reference properly!

For the sake of your happiness (and ability to go on Netflix without being disturbed by a panic over whether you followed the correct referencing system in your essay), just reference properly! Each university follows a different referencing system, even within departments, so you honestly do not want to be in a situation where you use the wrong system, despite being correct if used in another higher educational institution. 

And, on the subject of referencing, please save yourself the time of researching previously studied academic journals because you forgot to list the page number in your notes, unless you enjoy living your life as though it is Groundhog Day!

Read, read, read!

Whether it is on the syllabus or not, devoting some of your time to reading texts will improve your analytical and critical thinking skills (what intelligent expressions to use!) as well as making you familiar with the language and writing style of critical essays and academic journals. Obviously, the amount of reading differs in each degree and, as an English student, I realise that I am expected to read significantly more – hence my amusement when I hear people moaning about the quantity of books they have to read in an English degree (like, what did you expect?) – but I think that you would have to fly to Mars to avoid reading a book of sorts at university. So making an effort to read (and I don’t mean staring at a random word on a page whilst singing along to your Spotify playlist at the same time!) is worthwhile, if not just for your own pleasure. 

I often borrow poetry anthologies from the library so that I can read something on my bus to and from university, which has not only killed some time (as well as distracting me from the bus driver’s manic and rather petrifying driving ‘abilities’!) but has introduced me to a variety of different poetic styles that have improved my confidence in analysing poems. Well, every little helps…

Resist the shops!

It doesn’t exactly help that H&M is a ten minute walk away from my university, so I can’t be held entirely accountable for wandering inside and hankering for their latest collection of cosy jumpers, but I have learnt that I must resist the urge to bestow my contactless debit card (at least not every time I enter H&M). 

Initially, this is quite difficult at the beginning of semester because, for most students, receiving a maintenance loan is the first major payment that you have ever had in your life. Therefore, you probably won’t feel a flicker of guilt when you spend several pounds on a slice of cheesecake from Patisserie Valerie (well, I did justify it by saying it was the only soft food I could eat with my new braces!) but, believe me, the day will come when you open your bank statement and literally feel your heart skip a beat with horror. Who knew that all of those chicken salad sandwiches for lunch would add up so quickly?

At the end of the day, it would be impossible to not treat yourself every now and then, but keep an eye on your bank balance, especially in between waits for the next payment of your maintenance loan. 

And if you truly cannot resist the shops, support yourself by finding a part-time job, which will not only prove advantageous on your CV (ideal for anyone seeking to sign up to LinkedIn and attract potential employers post-uni) but it would be a constructive use of your time aside from studying. If anything, having a job (albeit one with a sensible number of hours, e.g. during a Saturday) would provide you with a break from your studies, which you obviously shouldn’t be doing 24/7 just for the sake of resting your intellectualised brain!

Above all, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year which will hopefully not have too many deadlines to complete… Ah, the joys of university life!