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At university, the quantity and quality of the work demanded from you is very high. Whether you’re just starting, or returning for the next year of your degree, the workload will undoubtedly increase from what you have been used to previously. The seemingly never-ending pressure that comes from doing a university degree is, at times, tough to manage, and even harder to juggle with our real-world commitments (such as spending time with loved ones, illness, or part-time work). As a final-year student, I hope to be able to share some of the wisdom I have acquired with you in this article, intending to make sure you don’t fall behind this year!
As I can be quite a forgetful person sometimes, I have to take active measures to ensure I don’t miss or forget any important information coming my way – no matter the circumstance. Almost always, such ‘active measures’ come in the form of my first top tip for this article: writing things down.
For me, even the process of taking pen to paper (or thumbs to phone screen) helps to cement things in my mind. Whether this is by keeping an up-to-date diary (or, in my case, keeping my iPhone calendar updated with what I’m up to), jotting things down in a notebook or even texting messages to yourself, one crucial way to keep on top of things at university is by making sure you don’t miss anything you need to know in the first place! After all, you don’t want to be one of those students about whom professors complain after having to send the fifth blanket-response email of ‘check the handbook’…
In this regard, I have a special tip for Lancaster students with an iPhone! If you would like to use your iPhone calendar to keep on top of your university commitments, you can download a special Lancaster University iCalendar link online, and all of your lectures, deadlines and exams will automatically appear on your phone!
Just Google ‘Lancaster University iCalendar’, click the first link for the ‘Calendar’ webpage on the ‘Timetabling and Room Booking’ section of the website, follow the ‘Personal iCalendar Feed’ link on that page and it should be clear from there! Once completed, all your university commitments will appear in your iPhone Calendar, and will regularly update if there are changes!
Every year, you always hear academic staff complaining about the lack of attendance to their office hours. As departmentally-mandated times during which module teaching staff must keep their door open to answer any questions their students might have, they are really helpful ways of getting ahead. Not only can you ask questions and pick the brains of world-leading academics, but you can also develop a genuine, working relationship with a tutor.
What’s more, this establishment of a relationship will soon become very important, as a need for referees on applications rises towards the end of your university career. So, do attend office hours, and don’t be one of the people who avoid exploiting this truly beneficial opportunity.
One very generic and entirely predictable piece of advice I could give you is one you hear all the time: start essays early. It’s generic for a reason too! It does help to start planning and reading and mulling over ideas for a paper weeks before the deadline comes around. It makes the whole essay-writing experience much less stressful and, if you’re into that sort of thing, even quite enjoyable. There’s something about writing an essay well that allows you to get your teeth into a topic, make it understandable, and learn from it.
However, there will be plenty of you for whom this advice is not helpful in the slightest. For whatever reason, be it under your control or not, you don’t tend to start working on essays early, and, instead, prefer to leave things right to the last minute. As a sort of academic kamikaze, I have a lot of respect for people who can pull this off. So as not to exclude this sort of person, I also have some tips for the best ways to leave things late!
First, prioritise time well. Typically, this should involve the delegation of time to both the research and writing of an essay. My advice in this regard is that you should probably an equal amount of time on each.
Second, use the internet effectively. If you’ve gone through all the recommended reading for your module to no avail (which probably won’t be the case anyway), you can find great places to look for essay inspiration online everywhere: Google Scholar, Academia.edu, JSTOR, and Google Books immediately come to mind.
Going even further, look through the reference lists of papers you’re reading to find more inspiration – the chances are you’ll stumble across something useful (given the researcher writing that paper will probably know and have cited what’s vital in the area in question). The reference lists on Wikipedia articles for key topics can also be quite useful for inspiration.
Third, get friends to help. When you’re scrambling around last minute to finish off an essay (as we all have at some point), the whole ordeal becomes a whole lot easier if you have someone with you. Not only can you check through one another’s essay for typos or the like, but you also have somebody to whom you can moan and stress to get through it all.
On a slightly more serious note, there is one final tip I wish to share; one I learnt the hard way. You must make sure you remember to take care of yourself. It’s essential and, when you’re under pressure, easy to disregard or forget.
If you think of the human body like a machine, top performance requires regular and thorough maintenance. Just like a car needs oil to be changed and tires to be pumped, so too do humans need frequent exercise, a healthy diet and regular social interaction. These things seem simple, and they’re not difficult to do, but surprisingly they’re very easy to forget. When my performance starts to dip, I ask myself whether I’ve been doing these things – most times, I have not. University is supposed to be challenging. If you’re falling behind or struggling, it might just be because what you’re doing is quite tough. That’s not to say there’s nothing you can do about that, and so I hope the tips I provide in this article go some way to helping whoever they can.