Ask the Doctor: Starting at University

Hello there, “The Doctor’ here. I’m back to give you some further tips on various aspects of coping with academic life.

This week, as the A Level results have just been released and many of you will be thinking about embarking on what will be a new and exciting but challenging experience, i.e. university life, I thought I’d give you a few hints about starting out right.

Starting at university can be the most exciting time of your life but it can also be the most stressful. For many of us it is the first time we have been away from home and that brings with it the freedom and responsibility that can be as terrifying as it is invigorating.

So, take a deep breath, grab yourself a coffee and read on!

The First Days …

There is an old saying that you spend your second term at university dropping the friends you made in the first! This may sound harsh but it describes perfectly the anxiety with which many of us face the prospect of being alone and friendless which makes us latch onto anyone who seems in the same boat – which actually everyone is, of course!

The important thing to remember as you take those important first steps is that you will be at university for three or four years (at least) so don’t rush into anything. That doesn’t mean don’t get involved, it means choose carefully.

Every club and society will want you to join, which is great, but remember that once the work starts to roll in, you won’t have time for everything so be sure that you don’t cause yourself more stress by taking on more than you can handle!

Organizing your time …

One of the biggest changes you’ll notice is that when you are given work to do at university, unlike school, no-one will check to see if you are doing it or how much time you are spending in the libraries, attending lectures etc.

Now, this might sound good but what it actually means is that you are totally responsible for organizing your time properly.

You and no-one else.

There will therefore be no-one but you to blame if things go wrong so you have to ensure that you know what you’re doing.

Don’t worry, though, help is at hand! Here’s my checklist of things to do and things to avoid:

Dos …

  • Do ask for help – your tutors will always make time for you but don’t expect them to just drop everything if you leave it until the last minute – ask, plan, organize.
  • Do start work as soon as you have sorted out what you are supposed to do; again, don’t put it off, make a start right away.
  • Do leave yourself enough time to check your work, especially referencing which may be unfamiliar to you (see below for more on this).
  • Do check your university’s referencing requirements. Different disciplines use different forms of referencing so find out what yours is and ask if you’re unsure about anything.
  • Do make time for yourself – university should be fun, too!

Don’ts  …

  • Don’t panic – that’s easy to say and hard to do but try, as anxiety is counter-productive and will harm your work. The best way to stop your self from panicking is to be prepared and the way to be prepared is to follow the advice given above!
  • Don’t plagiarise! It is easily done accidentally and though you may feel certain that you haven’t, it’s as well to check: why not use the scanner? It will give you the vital reassurance you need that all’s well and if you don’t check, your university will!
  • Don’t feel foolish if you feel homesick, most people do and you have a life at home and people you love which it would be odd if you didn’t miss. It really helps to talk to someone if you’re feeling low so chat to a friend, a student counsellor, your tutor, anyone except those at home – hearing their voices will just make you more homesick!
  • Don’t give up! This is the biggest “don’t’ of all because you’ll get through, really you will, and you’ll be all the stronger for having made it!

I really hope this has helped those of you setting out on your academic career and I look forward to offering you a few more tips very soon. In the meantime, “good luck’ and have the time of your life because it really IS the time of your life!

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