Starting university can be a daunting time for everyone. Our trainee, Beth, gives her insight into dealing with the pressures of the course, managing workload with job applications and making new friends!
How did you meet new people at university?
Like a lot of first year students, I lived in halls and was randomly allocated a room. It quickly became apparent that I had different interests and priorities to that of my fellow flatmates. I recognised early on that I needed to meet other individuals that I had more in common with. Signing up to extracurricular activities and sports teams was how I met people who are now some of my closest friends. This is not only a great way do something that you enjoy outside of your studies , but allows you to meet new people who already share similar interests. Surrounding myself with likeminded people helped me to stay focused on my studies and applications.
How did you deal with the competition between some students regarding course grades and applications?
Being surrounded by students who were similar to me academically, and in some cases, working towards the same goals as me was overwhelming. However, I found that I produced better work and was overall a lot happier when I did not view other students as competition. There were topics that I understood better than my peers and equally, sometimes I would reach out and ask for help. I viewed university as a place where I wanted to achieve my goals and kept out of the competition between students. I created a support network with my peers by setting boundaries. I made it clear that I was happy to help and answer people’s questions, but I did not want to know what grades they achieved or share my own grades. I found that this made learning the course material more enjoyable too.
Building a support network is something that is evident amongst the trainees at NRF. Other people are a great resource of support and knowledge and treating them as competition will unlikely bring much benefit.
How did you manage your university work alongside applications?
Following on from my pervious point, overhearing other student discuss what Vacation Schemes they were applying to and how many applications they had sent off was overwhelming at times. To overcome this, I treated applications as an additional module. I made sure that I set time aside every week to go over applications so that I was able to meet my deadlines and ensure that the applications were not rushed. When I planned how I would spend my time during the week, the application process was manageable, as I ensured that I did not spend too much time on applications at the detriment of my university work or vice versa. I recognised the importance of not allowing applications to distract me from my university work and deadlines, especially when it sometimes felt that applications was the only topic anyone discussed.
I found that working on applications and carrying out research in the summer before term started was beneficial, as I could start the year knowing when some of my deadlines were. I had a calendar in my room where I recorded all of my deadlines and visually being able to see how long I had to complete a task helped me to stay motivated.
How did you switch off from work?
Personally, I liked to use my room as a place to relax so I tried to complete as much of my work in the library as possible. I used the walk to the library as my time to plan and think about what I wanted to achieve that day. This created a separation between work and relaxing, and helped me set boundaries for myself. It also meant that when I was in the library, friends knew to give me space. I found it was important for me to set boundaries so that I could work smart and have the down time that I needed. When I was not in the library, I liked to keep active and socialise with friends through sport.
Did you think about what you were eating at university?
From experience, it can be very easy to not look after yourself and go for the quicker, usually unhealthier, food option when trying to cook a meal around a busy schedule. I recognised early on in first year that what I eat can have an impact on my mood and ability to concentrate. My housemates and I therefore made group meals throughout the week. We would take it in turns to cook or do it together depending on what everyone’s schedules were. We had lasagne on a Wednesday, Fajita Fridays and a roast on Sunday. This benefitted us as it: saved some money, incorporated structure into the week, ensured that we all had a somewhat nutritious meal throughout the week, it gave us the opportunity to catch up on what everyone was up to, and we made some memories when the roast potatoes were dropped on the floor! We all look back at this now and recognise that we benefitted from the structure that it brought to our week. Having flag posts during the week helped me to reflect on whether I was having a productive week and gave me a chance to make any changes if I needed to.
How did you stay active whilst at University?
During my time at university, I was a member of a competitive sports team. This took up a lot of my time as we trained three times a week and had competitions on top of this. However, I find that when I am busy I am better at managing my time, as I am able to value my time and prioritise tasks. For me, exercise helps me keep a clear mind and produce better work. I find it difficult to stay motivated at the gym, so having set training times during the week suited me. I also used training sessions as a platform to meet new people and socialise with people who shared a common interest completely unrelated to my studies.
How did you manage your social life around your other commitments?
It was important for me to arrange time to see friends and family and have a personal life outside of my commitments. I found that scheduling in plans on my wall calendar allowed me to plan my time effectively, as I knew it would not be a good idea for me to have elaborate weekend plans when I had a deadline on Monday. Having plans to look forward to helped me stay motivated and would encourage me to work hard before I treated myself. I knew that after a week of hard work I could enjoy myself and not worry that I should be doing work, as I had planned my time accordingly.
Maintaining my social life helped me deal with university pressures, as I found that having a support network whilst living away from home was very important.
Now that I am a trainee, I still use most of the above strategies. Using University as a platform for testing out how best to manage your time and getting into good habits will continue to benefit you throughout your career.