(Continued from part 1.)
Note to overseas readers: what we call ‘first year’ is known by various names around the world like ‘freshman’ and ‘fresher’ year. When I say ‘lectures’, I mean a big hall filled with people who have minimal or no interaction with the lecturer. A ‘tutorial’ or ‘tute’ is a much smaller class with interaction between the teacher (who can be anyone from a professor to a PhD candidate or TA) and students. ‘Tutes’ are also referred to as a ‘discussion sections’ or ‘labs’ in other countries. ‘University’ or ‘uni’ is our name for what is known as ‘college’ in the US.
Don’t get into stupid crapfights in tutes. I can also guarantee that someone will occasionally say something so wilfully ignorant that it will make you involuntarily murder them in your head, but you can disagree with an opinion and still keep it classy. Think Mad Men.
Network with switched-on classmates and maybe even form a group which catches up for coffee once a week or so to talk school. They’ll help you spot things you’ll miss otherwise.
Don’t be an arse during group assignments. Yes, they suck, but they teach you a valuable lesson about working with people (some of who also suck). Deal with it. If, unfortunately, you ever find yourself on a committee of any description, you will look back on your group assignment days fondly.
On the other hand, if you’re teamed with a collection of the irredeemably hopeless, take charge. Be ‘that’ person. Do all your correspondence by email, so if it really hits the fan and the assignment looks titanically screwed, you can forward everything to your teacher and let them sort it out. 98% of the time this won’t happen, though, so relax. Google Docs is your friend for group assignments.
Dropbox or Google Drive is your friend for everything else. Don’t bother to run crying to faculty because your laptop ate all your work. Hard drives fail. Backup drives get lost and stolen, too. I once worked at an institution where someone lost six months of work on a PhD because there was fire in the server room and IT hadn’t done an offsite backup in forever. Two minutes to drop everything into cloud storage would have saved the day.
There are good social uni buddies and good study uni buddies and sometimes they are not the same people.
Check out scholarships, grants and prizes well before the due dates. Like, spend a day before semester starts and apply, even if you don’t think you’re quite ‘right’ for it. I won two that I almost didn’t bother applying for. They also look good on a resume.
Get an expandable file and file all your study materials. Then get another one for all your life paperwork. There is nothing that kills the ability to get things done like having to search for an hour for the right bit of paper before you can begin. Filing your passport in your atlas may seem elementary logic when you’ve been drinking, but wait until you have to find it six months later.
Do not ever crack up at the admin staff of your department. Ever. Even if you think it’s their fault. They will save your life at one point during the years you are at uni, guaranteed. When you’re nice to them, they’re nice to you. Get them to check over your plan of chosen subjects and tell you whether you’re fulfilling all the requirements of the course. Nothing sucks more than taking (and paying for) an extra semester because you muffed your graduation prerequisites.
Sort out your work/life/study balance. Don’t do all three full time and half-arsed, if you can help it. Uni is more important than some hoverjob. If you can’t afford to live and study full time, make the call early and study part time.
Pick out the important things that you can volunteer for, and, once you have the work/life/study balance sweet, volunteer for it. Most of the time, these extracurricular projects really struggle for good people, and they’ll get you known in the faculty as a hard worker. See also: resume.
Make sure you’re going to a uni for the right reasons, not because of some prestige baloney or the party scene or because your parents want you to be an anthropologist like your Uncle Bernard. If you set yourself up early, you get so much more time to party in your 20s and 30s (and beyond, why not) than someone who is just scraping by. Trust me.
You should feel like you’re working hard, but at a sustainable pace. You should also feel like you’re enjoying yourself, i.e. definitely cutting loose a couple of times a week. No point in suffering. Have fun, meet people, do dumb things you can laugh about for the rest of your life.
If you travel a lot during semester, work out how you can best use the time spent travelling. Can you listen to downloadable lectures, read or even annotate readings on public transport?
Get enough sleep. Eat right. Exercise. It’s not always easy, but if you make good habits, it becomes easier. This can be as simple as a decent breakfast and a secondhand commuter bicycle.
People can offer you all the advice in the world and you still need to go out there, get it wrong, and get your nose bloodied. That’s the way it works. Everyone makes horrible mistakes, so don’t cut yourself to ribbons with hindsight when you make your own. “If you learn from your mistakes, they’re not mistakes, they’re experience” may be a cliche, but it’s a cliche because it’s true.
Proceed to ‘Five thoughts about writing horror stories’, or return to Re: writing.
If you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.