“It’ll look good on your Uni application.” Five things teachers told you that would help that turned out to be nonsense

Throughout school, one frequent go-to phrase for teachers to get us to do something was ‘”It’ll look good on your Uni application.” This had variations of course, such as “it’ll look good on your CV” or “it will help you later in life.” Teachers were not always wrong of course, but what I found towards the end of school and in the first week of University is that a lot of ‘advice’ that teachers gave was unfortunately scare-mongering. Here are five things teachers told me (and many others) that would ‘help’ us that turned out to be pretty much false.

Neat, beautiful handwriting matters

I can already see my Mum reading this in horror! In Primary School we were taught neat, joint-up handwriting was the way forward – and anything other than this did not please the teacher. Of course, I completely agree that legible handwriting is important – but for me it stops there. Now, even if our handwriting isn’t legible we can type up exams – and many assignments at Uni, if not most of them, are typed up. Neat handwriting may look better of course, but I feel that the amount of emphasis and time spent on beautiful handwriting at school is increasingly becoming time wasted – plenty of people I know with bad handwriting (including myself) managed to get to University. Furthermore, there are many people with good handwriting that don’t join up their letters! If your handwriting is legible to some extent, then there is nothing to really worry about,

The Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award will help you with your application 

Ok, I’ve never sat with the people that decide who gets a place at University and seen whether they consider the Duke of Edinburgh award or not, but the amount of people I know who took the award so it would look good on their CV or Uni application is numerous (it played a significant part in my decision to do the award as well). I have no doubt that the award looks great on your application, but do it to learn some practical skills instead such as learning how to put up a tent, read a map or cook while camping (all of which I am still awful at, by the way). Otherwise, do something else that you would enjoy instead – don’t just do it to look good on your University application (it’s not worth the walk, seriously).

National 5’s (or GCSE’s) matter just as much as your Highers (or A-Levels) do

I don’t know if everyone was told this at school, but in fourth year some teachers did a fantastic job of scare-mongering people pupils when sitting our National 5 exams. That’s not to say they don’t matter at all – it helps to have done well at National 5 at Higher, and to develop a good work ethic. However in terms of your Uni application it is Highers that are looked at first and foremost. If you got 4As at Higher, you’re probably going to get in (unless it’s St Andrews or Oxbridge). Yet if you got straight As at National 5 but average grades at Higher, there’s no guarantee. I have heard some Universities consider National 5s, but all in all it really does not have equal significance to Highers. So if you’re sitting National 5s – or you’re doing Higher and are really worried about the grades you got last year – do not worry. Work hard on your Highers (or don’t if you’re just naturally really smart) and get the grades this year – even if that fails, you still have sixth year to make up for it!

Extra-curricular activities will make a huge difference on your application

Now I can see a lot of disapproving looks when parents and teachers read this; but hear me out. Extra-curricular definitely help in terms of giving you different skills, confidence and something else to focus on outwith your exams; however the amount of time teachers spent drilling this into us and seeing people who had essentially done nothing until sixth year get unconditional offers for University came as a surprise to some. This is relative of course; for subjects such as Medicine and Law this really does matter, as well as for most degrees at Oxbridge.  However for many degrees, it’s the grades that take precedence, then extra-curricular activities. I make this point mainly so that people realise they have it’s not vital to do 101 activities and find masses of time to study. Find one or two activities that you enjoy to do to take your time off things and if that’s enough for you, do not stress about doing any more.

And finally…University is the best way to go 

This is the biggest and most important one I think. Whilst I always knew that academically, University was the best for me, the idea that University is the best end point for every high school student is inane. There are numerous other options out there for pupils such as college, apprenticeships or simply straight into work. Whilst it is great that more students are going to University than ever before and is something to celebrate, it seems like getting more students into University is becoming a good statistic to show off on a school’s (and a government’s) record. If more pupils got more accurate guidance on what is good for them based on what they want and their academic record, less career advisors would get things wrong and more people would leave school happy rather than confused.

These things will have not been told to every single pupil of course – like with many of my other articles, I’m talking from my own experiences. However I feel like the points above are true not just for me but for many of my school mates. I’d also like to add, I had some fantastic teachers at school and not all of them were like the ones I describe above! However, I feel the day teachers try to be more honest with their students rather than try to tick a few boxes on a form or get a good statistic will be the day school – and the future – improves for school students.

 

Not getting lost, late night snacks and drunken walks home: what clubbing is really like

Growing up in the Scottish Borders, house parties were the main places I went to drink and have a good time – so moving to Edinburgh and discovering clubbing was a totally new experience!

Now, I had watched videos on what clubbing was really like and taken it into account, but I still imagined it mainly to be what it appeared to be; a time to dress up, get drunk and have a super good time with no stress whatsoever. How wrong I was (well, about the stress part anyway!) Note: I am in no way trying to claim to be an expert in clubs – I’m really quite new to it all – this is just my experience of them.

When you’re a student, you’re pretty much needing to budget all the time, so a night out means good pre-drinks (enough to get you at least tipsy) so you don’t have to spend loads on buying drinks at the club; deciding what club to go to; deciding whether it’s worth getting a taxi or walking to that club; and when you finally get there, in some cases, trying to get in before you have to pay for entry!

This is all before you actually get into the club. Once you’re there, you have to decide whether you’re going to pay to lock your stuff away (and whether you can actually afford it) what drinks you’re getting; when to get up and start dancing (personally I just sort of go for it because I have no social conscience) and make sure you know where all your friends are! You know the types; the ones who get lost, the one who always finds a guy (I’ll leave this for another article).

Of course, once you’re drunk enough and everything is sorted, you can start to dance and have a good time; you’re not free of problems just yet though. There’s still the chance of getting awful blisters on your feet from those heels, guys getting the wrong impression because you smiled at them, disappearing friends, making sure your friends don’t get too drunk that you don’t get kicked out; making sure you don’t get too drunk so that you don’t get kicked out…

(So far I’ve been a massive spoil sport about clubbing, but I should say at this point that I promise clubbing is fun for a lot of people and that you shouldn’t let this put you off!)

Once the clubs close, you may think the night is over…but not just yet. You may discover 3am as a potential new eating time as you head to your local chippy or kebab shop for a snack (or even a whole meal as I have seen). Getting drunk and then dancing for hours can make you very hungry so definitely be prepared to spend some money on some chips. After this you will either get a taxi home or have a fun drunken walk back, which can be surprisingly fun when your mates are just as smashed as you are.

When you’re home, there may be after drinks or if you’re easily tired like me, you’ll head to bed! If you’re lucky enough you could wake up with no hangover (I have a flatmate who has yet to have one) but for many of us, you wake up with a pain to your head, a dry throat and achy body…or all three. Time for lots of water, food and rest!

If you’re a club virgin and reading this, I’m sorry if I have scared you. This is meant to be a guide of what to expect more than anything else! Clubbing can be great fun with the right people, the right club and good budgeting; if you end up with none of those three, the worst is you’ll have a bad night and know better next time. Of course, clubbing isn’t for everyone and that’s ok to; there are plenty more ways to have fun at University.

 

Check out my last article on 5 quick energy boosts for University here.

 

 

Energy all-time lows: 5 quick energy boosts for Uni

Deadlines are fast approaching and you realise that you signed up for way too many societies; as a result, you feel drained of energy and you constantly want to sleep (except when you scroll through your newsfeed at half one in the morning). Here are six ways for quick energy boosts when you’re on the go at University:

Listen to an upbeat song

This might sound trivial, but for a quick energy boost this can really help. Sticking on a song that is upbeat and that makes you feel cheery can suddenly give you a jolt of energy that could keep you awake for just one more lecture. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend putting on a playlist of upbeat songs in place of a good night’s sleep (or any of these quick energy boosts at that) there’s nothing wrong with a good tune to get you going again. Everyone has different music tastes so it’s up to you what song you can choose; one personal favourite of mine is Sunshine by Tieks ft Dan Harkna.

Go out for some exercise 

Okay, this is very trivial (also I’m probably the last person to lecture anyone on exercise) but I’m going to make the definition of exercise very broad here; exercise can range from a good solid workout on the gym to a ten minute walk to the park. When I was studying for my exams last year at school, a quick ten minute walk would be enough to keep me going for two hours. Other exercises include some simple body stretches or a quick bicycle ride. A good dose of fresh air can make a world of difference, especially if you’ve been cooped up inside listening to lectures or studying.

Tidy up 

Tidy-up? Why would you want to do that? Surely this would take up more energy? Until last year, I detested tidying up. However, I found that even tidying up my desk or doing my bed suddenly made me feel more energised – you don’t have to tidy up everything at once! I realise this will probably not work for everyone and instead bring up a lot of guilt about stuff you have accumulated over time, but if possible I highly recommend giving your desk a quick clean or even organising a shelf on your book shelf. Doing one thing productively can often lead to another productive task – and so the knock on effect begins!

Pause 

This is probably the most cliché point in the article, but hear me out. When you’re constantly typing up essays, summarising notes or listening in lectures, you probably find yourself zoning out and then reprimanding yourself by saying things like “I should be concentrating now!” For this I suggest giving yourself permission to set aside a time of day to just think about anything, to let yourself ponder. By doing so, you may find your mind less busy for doing things afterwards, hence increasing your productivity. Of course, this takes a lot of discipline and you probably shouldn’t start off with this if you’re a major procrastinator (I know plenty of people who would run away with this idea). However if you think you can manage it, I strongly recommend giving it a go.

Drink some water 

This may work better in the long run by drinking water throughout the day, but it’s amazing what one good glass of water can do. Dehydration can make you feel awfully tired, so any water you drink should help you feel less hydrated and thus less tired. I have a bottle with time markings that I try to stick to throughout the day and is a really effective way of getting your two litres. You can find it here.

Of course, these are all quick energy boosts and I should reiterate that these are not substitutes for a well-balanced diet and a good night’s sleep (though I know well enough both can go out the window when you’re at studying at university). However, these are great starting points to feeling better throughout the day and once you get the hang of it, you can find ways to make your energy longer lasting.

 

 

When you realise you actually have to start knuckling down: 5 ways to really help you study productively if you’re a fresher

Okay, I know what you are all thinking – yes, I’m only in year one and yes, it’s only the fourth week. Yet this can be the point where most fresher’s start to feel the toll and their high on student life takes a big dive to become a serious low. You realise that you worked so hard to get into university to do…well, more studying (or partying and some hard-core procrastination heavily assisted by Netflix).

Jokes aside, I have managed to come up with ways to help me study productively. I’ve not become the most conscientious student but I’ve definitely come up with some improvements to help me in the last few weeks. Here are five ways to help you study more productively at uni:

1. Break it down

It sounds easy to break your work up into chunks, but it’s definitely easier said than done. Most of us decide to settle for the ‘I’ll do it later’ or ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ excuses, but in most cases even doing an hour’s work can really help. As an English Literature student I have a lot of reading and rather than trying to read everything at once, I try to break it down into sections by looking for various themes or concepts. Of course, this is not applicable to everyone but in general doing a bit of work every day or every couple of days can really lighten the load. Of course, not everyone studies like this and some people just prefer just to do it all in one go – if I have a lot of time I sometimes do this too. It’s important to figure out what is best for you, whether it’s an hour’s work or a good few hours to knuckle down.

2. Have food on standby 

This probably calls for another article altogether (cooking and cooking at university are two entirely different experiences) yet this has definitely helped me study more. If possible, on the days you plan to study more, try to cook less – or not at all. Batch cooking is a great way to get around this; meals such as chilli con carne or chicken curry that can last for a couple of days are great and fill you up well so you’re not constantly snacking (as a proud snacker of biscuits, this doesn’t always work for me – I snack well whether I am studying or not). If you can cook some long-lasting meals on days you have a lot of free time, you can save a lot of time for studying on other days.

3. Work with people who work as hard or harder than you

Study groups can be amazing if you’re all actually studying. Unfortunately, many of us do fall into the trap of five minutes of reading and then a good gossip about the night before. Personally, I prefer to study alone but this is definitely an exception. You can learn a lot from peers doing the same course as you and if you can find people who have the same level of work ethic or have an even higher one, it may just motivate you to do more work. If you’re finding it hard to look for people to study with on your course, even just going with a friend to the library who you know you can work with side by side (silently) can help you study better. If all the people around you are working hard, something might just click in you to do the same.

4. Do the bits you hate first and the stuff you enjoy later 

Like most students, I have bits of my course that I love and bits that I definitely don’t love. However, when it comes to revising, I always do the bits I struggle with or simply dislike first. This helps in two ways: one, instead of wasting energy by dreading the boring work I’ll have to do afterwards, I’m focussing the energy on actually getting the work done; two, I actually have something to look forward to afterwards so I feel more motivated to complete the work. I understand this won’t work for everyone – alternatively, some people like to start with something they enjoy to help them get into the mood and then tackle the more difficult stuff later. Again, it’s whatever works for you.

5. Finally…if you’re not going to do it, you’re just not going to do it 

While it does sound a bit discouraging, I believe this is more realistic than anything. One difficult lesson I learnt that there are some days you will just not be in the mood to study – and that’s ok. Rather than wasting your energy and staying at home telling yourself that you’re going to study when you’re not, sometimes it’s better just to accept you won’t work that day. Once you do, you’ll immediately feel better and you can actually enjoy your day instead of constantly feeling guilty for not doing work. You can either use it to recharge your batteries or get some errands done (like the batch cooking I mentioned earlier). Procrastination may feel familiar and comfortable, but it can also seriously drain your energy levels which could be used more productively doing other things.

It’s important to remember that you’re not going to suddenly perform all these five ways to perfection and it will take time to improve your study routine. These ways are also subjective and will not work for everyone, so the bottom line is to try to find really works for you. I still find myself low on food on days I don’t need it, putting off work and trying to read all at once; yet improvements have been made and any improvement is something to be proud of. However, don’t let that make you get languid – if you think you’re capable of more, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t push yourself to the limit.

 

We can forgive, but we must not forget: Shashi Tharoor in Edinburgh

Shashi Tharoor

As I mentioned in my last article about confidence, I had the phenomenal opportunity of meeting Indian MP and bestselling author Shashi Tharoor. Students, teachers and visitors from outside the University all attended the lecture, based on Tharoor’s latest book ‘Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India.’ The politician went viral in 2015 after he gave a speech at the Oxford Union as to whether Britain owed her former colonies reparations. Tharoor, who believed they did (though he does not believe in reparations in the form of money as such, rather a simple acknowledgement of what happened) made a strong case and since then has been lauded as a hero by Indians across the globe. However, many of you will not know who Shashi Tharoor is – and why he’s so important.

Going to school, I hardly learnt anything about the British Empire. We did have a unit in Higher History called ‘Migration and Empire,’ though how little we learnt is astonishing. Hundreds of years of colonial history was boiled down to two columns titled ‘strengths and weaknesses,’ one of the weaknesses being ‘not getting on with the locals’ (if you want to call not getting on with the locals killing at least three million Indians in the Bengal famine – and many more in other famines the British decided to ignore – and a massacre in Amritsar that saw open fire to peaceful protesters.) Tharoor has ignited a debate in Britain, from whether it does owe reparations to her former colonies to the question of why it is being left out of the curriculum.

The fact is, my generation and many before me have little knowledge of the empire. Whether or not you believe it was a benefit is a different issue, but not to know about it at all is dangerous. Why does it matter that we know, you ask? The empire is a pretty significant reason as to why many countries, such as India, are in great poverty today. As Tharoor says, “India is not, as people keep calling it, an underdeveloped country, but rather, in the context of its history and cultural heritage, a highly developed one in an advanced state of decay.” Many people as a result (and no, not just ‘poor people’) have emigrated from their countries and come here because their own homeland cannot give them the good life many British people can have in their native country. In addition, much of these people are well-educated already, including my own Mum who is a Dentist. It is not far-fetched to say that the immigrants you see from post-colonial countries, in short, are here because the British – or whatever other European country colonised their country – were there.

Being of Indian heritage myself, I find it astounding and almost insulting that this country has left out a significant part of its history, a part of history that affected millions of people including relatives of my own family. Hearing questions like “does it really matter now” is downright ignorant. Just because Britain is no longer living a harsh post-colonial reality, doesn’t mean her former colonies are not.

Of course, many people will still disagree on whether it still matters – including Indians themselves here and in India (I can’t speak for all of them.) I’m not saying India hasn’t made her own mistakes, because she has. Yet, the state it was left in 1947 was a poor starting point and considering this, I’d say India is doing pretty well: it’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world and an emerging world power; though I think the latter is still far off. I’d urge those who think it no longer has any significance to at least think of the people still living the consequences of the empire in India, Africa and the countless other places that were colonised. So much of the wealth generated from the empire was invested in Britain and of course, can still be seen today in countless buildings and cities: including Dundee which boomed during the First World War because of Jute from India; Glasgow, which was said to be built on the empire’s wealth;  industries such as Tetley tea and Tata Steel (this may be a bad example, now that it is India-owned.) Britain is wealthy largely due to the empire she had.

So what can we do about what Tharoor calls the ‘historical amnesia’ in Britain? Education is pivotal and a great starting point. Teaching children about British colonialism should be just as important as teaching them about World War, World War Two and the Romans is. In Germany, pupils are taught about the country’s ugly history with Nazi rule and the Holocaust. America teaches its children about the slave trade and disgusting treatment of black people. Why should Britain be any different?

Whatever people think of the Empire, one thing is clear; generally, people do not have enough knowledge to make an informed opinion. However much I may be against it myself, I know why I am. As Shashi Tharoor says; we can forgive, but we must never forget.

 

Are You Confident? The Answer May Not Be As Simple As You Think

A couple of days ago, I had the most amazing opportunity (understatement of the century) to see Indian politician and bestselling author Shashi Tharoor speak at the University of Edinburgh at the magnificent McEwan hall. As he entered after a lengthy introduction, I noted that he walked in as if he were another student seeing the hall for the first time; his eyes drifted around as if no one were there, in awe of the high ceilings and paintings that decorated the walls. However, what struck me most came next; as Dr Tharoor sat down at the front, a couple of feet behind the podium where another speaker was still reeling on about the achievements of the politician, he fished out his phone and began to take photos; he took no notice of the audience in front of him, nor did he look like he was about to speak about the British Raj in India. It was then the question struck; what did it take to be that confident?

Many of you will probably answer money and fame – both of which Dr Tharoor does have. However, before Shashi Tharoor became viral in 2015 with his speech at the Oxford Union, where he argued that Britain did owe reparations to the countries she colonised (we’ll leave this debate for another article), he was only really known in India as an MP. Coming to Oxford and giving that speech must have taken some guts – that too in the heart of Britain!

People often answer “Yes” or “No” to the question of confidence and self-esteem, yet I feel that actually we’re not answering the question properly and furthermore, we’re not asking the right question. Confident in what? Cooking, singing, acting, driving, playing an instrument – surely, the question is too broad?

I believe that confidence is relative – even self-confidence. We all have confidence in ourselves, just not for everything. Very few people are confident in everything. I myself am very relative when it comes to confidence, and it’s an issue I struggle with even today. I can talk the ears off my own parents and close friends about an issue, or in our small tutorial groups make points about a piece of literature at University – yet, I would never dare to put my hand up in a lecture or go beyond 30 mph in a car (my driving instructor actually told me I was dangerously slow. Dangerously slow!) Yet, for years I had convinced myself I just wasn’t confident in anything and thus, was absolutely useless. I did have self-confidence – in playing the piano or having a debate with my friends; I just hadn’t recognised it in the areas it existed in. Therefore, my whole self-esteem suffered as a result.

Well, how does this help anyone improve their self-confidence? I believe that perspective can change a great deal about how you look at yourself and life, thus I think a shift of perspective is key here. By realising that you do actually have confidence in some areas of your life, you are already changing your answer from “No I’m not confident” to “I am confident in these areas,” depending on how you answer the question. This recognition already makes you someone with more self-esteem than before, and can enable you to make those changes to other aspects where you lack this esteem.

Once you make this change, you can start channelling the confidence you have into the areas you lack it; of course, it’s not as simple as that (pushing the pedal down on the piano is not the same as clutch control.) But you can begin to dissect further; what is it I do when learning the piano that I don’t do when I learn to drive? Do I enter with a more closed mind-set before I even begin? Do I hesitate to ask my instructor questions that I don’t hesitate to ask in my piano lessons? By asking these questions, you can find answers as how to improve your outlook – and thus build your esteem – in those areas. Keep your eyes open for an article on ways you could do this (I’m still figuring it all out myself, don’t worry!)

In summary, don’t tell yourself you have a lack of confidence because it implies you lack it in everything, which is simply not true in most cases. Work out what you do have confidence in and go from there. I realise this is vague, but I believe it’s better than nothing. So many self-help guides and articles give you countless ways to be more confident in an x amount of time, without even acknowledging that everyone has different levels of self-esteem in different areas and different ways to tackle it. A list of ways can be overwhelming to apply all at once; this way, you just get a foundation to build on. Don’t expect immediate results – confidence will take time to build, and it deserves all the time and attention it gets if it means you live a happier, more positive life.