Netflix and…study? Getting back into Semester 2

Though I still can’t get my head around that it’s halfway through my first year at University, things are already moving fast in Semester 2. I have already had deadlines, a hangover, and 3 new spots on my face. Thankfully, I have my second thirty day free trial on Netflix (thank god for University email-addresses) to keep my mind off things!

Nevertheless, I’ve found it a bit hard to get back into the swing of things at Uni; not everything has been hard though. I love being able to choose what to eat, when to go to bed – and basically all the other great things about having freedom as a student that I have re-discovered this semester.

On the other hand, getting back into a study routine – in fact, just a general routine – is harder. As a bit of a square (a complete understatement by the way) I do actually enjoy studying, but when what you’re studying at the moment is really not enjoyable, even on a course you love, it can be hard to find motivation. On top of that, I’ve decided to start exercising (this does not come as naturally to me as studying does) which has been hard to incorporate into my routine too!

One thing which I found had helped was getting up just a bit earlier in the morning, even just an hour – this helped me significantly to get more things throughout the day. The quicker I started my day, the quicker I finished and I had more time to unwind at the end of the day. Another thing I’ve done is resumed making daily lists or goals. They can contain stuff like ‘shopping’ to things as trivial as ‘write anything today.’ Writing down even the littlest of things to do can really help. Making bigger weekly lists help too.

Some people like to throw themselves back into their routine; others like me prefer to ease into it. Either way it can be quite difficult. Many people feel coming back is great – you’re once again on a high similar to the beginning of Uni, and new tutorial groups can mean you meet new people. Yet it can also be a shock to the system, with some feeling homesick or overwhelmed. I was both – on a high since coming back, then a bit homesick. Now, thankfully, I’m fine again.

One of the most important things is just to keep doing the stuff you like – be it working out, going to interesting lectures, getting wasted (maybe not the last one too much)… it’s the stuff and hobbies that you like that keep you going and takes your mind off stuff that gets you down. If you’re just going on a circle of doing errands and studying with no fun in between, inevitably you will get down. Balance is important – I don’t always get it right, but I try definitely try my best too.

Uni is ridiculously stressful but also one of the best times of your life; making the most of it will be one of the best things you ever do.

8 weeks and counting: a reflection of my first two months at University

Eight weeks yesterday I had moved out of my childhood home of eleven years and embarked upon a new life in Edinburgh. I was excited but also immensely terrified; I had worked very hard to get into Edinburgh University. What if it wasn’t what I expected? What if my flatmates hated me? What if I wasn’t good enough for the course after all? Questions flooded my ahead and the answers were not immediate; two months later, I’m almost a changed person.

But it’s only been two months! That’s what many of you will think, and that’s why I say I’m almost a changed person. I do miss home in some ways, of course, but I couldn’t have been more lucky since moving to Edinburgh; my flatmates are incredible (more on them soon), my course has been great, I’ve made loads of new friends and couldn’t have settled into Edinburgh life better. In Fresher’s week alone I found myself doing things I never would have otherwise; I’ve pushed boundaries since too.

Yet, it’s not all been amazing. Needless to say I have been a lot more lucky than some other people I know, who have been finding themselves incredibly homesick, stuck with a bunch of uncooperative flatmates or on a course they hated. Nevertheless, a couple of weeks ago, I myself started to really miss home all of a sudden. It wasn’t like I was constantly sad, but I did start to feel more down than usual.

I soon came to realise that many students that are initially on a high from the start of University suddenly get down about halfway through semester one; deadlines are looming and you’re suddenly not going everywhere meeting new people all the time like at Fresher’s.

So what did I do? I got up every morning and kept going. I tried to meet up with new friends to solidify friendships; I met with old friends to remind myself home was not too far away; I worked hard on my coursework – in short, I kept myself busy. This served me well and I’m already feeling better.

In terms of living in self-catered halls, this has proved an altogether different education. What you thought was ‘cheap’ before when spending your birthday or Christmas money is suddenly really expensive  (or, if you get to the point of absolutely denial of how broke you are, you go all out and into your overdraft. Thankfully this hasn’t happened to me). Anywhere with free food is a must go – and balancing your work, social life and making sure you actually feed yourself can be a great challenge. I suddenly woke up and thought one day how much my parents do every single day, as well as dealing with us teenagers and kids. Realising how much you take for granted, you suddenly become a lot more grateful (before you go back to living off your parents money and buying that extra coffee you know you shouldn’t have).

If you’re from a quiet not so heterogeneous place like me, you also realise how much more of a world there is outside your home. My flat alone has eight different nationalities including my own. I’ve met people from all over the world and learnt about different cultures within a matter of days, never mind months. I found a society for pretty much every single culture or country, which was a refreshing experience for me coming from the Scottish Borders.

However, the thing that struck me most about University was that – unlike high school – people just don’t seem to care who you are or where you’re from. Though certain groups do form after some time and circles of friends are established, the social hierarchy is not as it is in high school. There are no ‘popular kids,’ no ‘uncool’, no ‘don’t talk to me.’ There are no horrible cliques or them and us. That’s not to say University is free of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination – it’s far from perfect. Yet, you can go and talk to anyone or attempt to be friends with anyone you like. The worst that’ll happen is that the feeling is not mutual and even then, you have literally thousands of other people to choose from.

University, I have found, is not always perfect; at times it can be far from it. But it’s the time for you to find out who you really are, without being judged (too much) for it. That, for me anyway, is a wonderful thing.

Check out my last article on looks and beauty here.

“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.

 

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.

 

5 tips for fresher’s week from a fresher

I had my fresher’s week almost three weeks ago now and had an absolute blast! Though I definitely have some introverted tendencies, I loved meeting new people – and having some old high school friends while out partying definitely helped! Here are some tips on how to enjoy fresher’s the best way possible:

1. Know your own tolerance of alcohol

Many of us like to get wasted at fresher’s – I certainly did a few times. I knew roughly what my tolerance of alcohol was (not very much) but I thought I was handling everything absolutely fine until I woke up the day after fresher’s with a horrendous cold, which turned out to be a flu (I’m still not 100% now!) My throat was killing me, I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and I felt incredibly dilapidated; it was not a good way to start university. My advice is, try to know your own tolerance as best as possible and drink plenty of water afterwards. Also, alcohol isn’t the only way you can have fun, which leads me to my next point…

2. Widen your experiences as much as possible 

As quite an anxious person, I know how stomach churning going to certain events could be – the amount of times I was analysing every possible outcome and regretting going before I even got there was numerous! However, once I arrived it turned out everything was fine! There are people just as nervous (if not even more nervous) than you are. It turns out a simple starting sentence like “there are loads of people here” or “I have no idea what I’m doing” can lead to friendship! There is so much to do on fresher’s week other than partying, go and try something new – film making, writing workshops, escape rooms, taster dance classes etc. Even if you do one thing outside your comfort zone on fresher’s, you’ve done a lot better than most people!

3. Don’t feel like you have to go to everything – or much at all

Okay, okay. I know this sort of contradicts my last point, but hear me out. I said widen your experiences as much as possible, but this might range might vary from person to person, and that’s ok! If the whole process of simply being away from home is overwhelming for you, or if the whole week is proving stressful,  slow down and take time to settle in. I read a brilliant article in The Student (Edinburgh University’s student newspaper) about whether fresher’s was for the “extroverted few”- though I think Edinburgh had a wide range of options, I agreed it was still quite extrovert orientated. If you feel like it is all a bit much for you, start slowly – you have years to make loads of new friends and try different things; fresher’s week is just a starting point.

4. Make use of the free shops and freebies fair 

At Edinburgh we had plenty of free shops and a Fresher’s Expo – both of which I benefitted from (I am literally wearing a jumper I picked up for free right now.) There will be absolutely loads of stuff to pick up, from discounts to free crockery and cutlery you might need, as well as second-hand textbooks. By investing some time at these fairs you could pick up vouchers that could be saving you money for those first vital weeks at university.

5. Get your miscellaneous errands done 

Whether it’s registering with your local GP, completing your University’s matriculation process or meeting with your personal tutor – get as much done as you need to in fresher’s week, particularly the first one. I woke up with a funny cornea on my first day of University and going to the GP and having to wait with a sore eye was not fun. Don’t leave everything last-minute!

6. And finally…enjoy it

As cliché as it sounds, try to enjoy Fresher’s – but as much as YOU can. There is a ridiculous amount of pressure to have loads and loads of fun when in actual fact everyone is stressing out all the time about where to go and who to be with. However, if you just decide to accept you’re not going to enjoy absolutely every moment and that you possibly won’t make it everywhere you want to go, it becomes so much easier. Be present and be in the moment; that advice applies beyond fresher’s week too.