As written for Auckland university of technology
April 20, 2015
When I graduated with my bachelor’s degrees, I swore to myself I would never study again because it was hard - it was damn hard.
I wasn’t an especially slack student, although there was that one time I turned up to my poetry final still drunk after my dad’s book launch (aced it; how does one fail a poetry course?) and that other time I almost came to fisticuffs with my philosophy professor because, apparently, three weeks is too late to submit a final essay (I apologise for my youth, Sir Whose-Name-I-Have-Repressed).
And they still let me into master’s eight years later. So, clearly I am qualified to speak from the experience of graduating by the skin of my teeth. I’d like to say don’t do what I did, but since many of you will anyway, I want to offer a raincoat – spoilers for your undergraduate journey, in the hopes that if even one person benefits, those misadventures were worth the silver hair.
1) Stop asking “when will I ever use this?”
Sadly, Sunshine, unless you’re in a program that allows you to influence the content and form of your assessment, don’t nag with this question. For your own sanity and general wellbeing, assume that every lecture, tutorial and assessment piece is there for a good reason.
I cannot count the number of hours I wasted with classmates complaining about life, the price of coffee, and how this latest challenge to build a program with assembly language was the final straw. Five years after graduation, I found myself sitting in an IT project meeting when suddenly a light bulb came on because, “Wait, I remember that assignment!”
You are at university to learn. Let off some steam, rouse a little faith, and get back to work.
2) What even is ‘time management’?
It’s all fun and games until you notice that assignment was due two weeks ago.
In AUT’s postgraduate orientation, we were reminded that the leading factor in completing our studies – and finishing well - was not the number of hours invested or even our IQ, but how well we managed our time.
Maybe this is the first time you’ve had to manage your own schedule. Maybe you’re holding down a few jobs and industry projects on the side. It’s likely you’re also juggling family, friends, hobbies and some ghost of a social life.
So, you might want to get a watch. Look ahead to where you have to be, when things are due, the priority of each. Build time to study, work and play into your calendar. Set alarm reminders and adjust your system as you learn what works best for you. AUT has some great tools to help you with time management – as an AUT student you can get the latest Microsoft Office software completely free. With this you can sync your AUT email and Outlook calendar with up to five devices and keep track of classes, assignments and other appointments – even better, from Semester 2 this year all your classes will be automatically synced to your Outlook calendar. You can download the MS Office suite via your UniCentral homepage.
Most importantly, practice focus. When it’s time to study, don’t worry about what else on your to-do list needs attention. When it’s time for family or friends, don’t think on the study you aren’t doing in that moment. Be present because if you’re always distracted, you’ll struggle to make the most of any task.
3) Do you have ‘the smart’?
By consensus, when I spoke to graduates, they agreed that the most valuable take-away from university was how to think critically. They appreciated the foundation of disciplinary knowledge, they sort of figured out how to get themselves to appointments on time, but the one skill all employers sought when someone walked into a job interview was the ability to use critical analysis and exercise good judgement.
It is staggering the number of people who graduate without these skills. A piece of paper with your qualification might get you the interview, but will it get you the job? Did you really learn while you were nuzzling those pages or did you simply finesse the fine art of trumping assignments? Do you have an attitude that allows you to continue learning and share your lessons with others? Did you pay attention to group dynamics to understand how to work in a team? Do you know when to cut that Youtube break and get back to work?
So, why was my undergraduate journey so difficult?
Life does not wait for you to be ready. It does not settle into a predictable stream of manageable events. Money needs to be earned. Family requires your time. And people pass from our lives, sometimes in sudden and traumatic ways. It has been said that the only constant is change.
University might initially trickle like a laughing brook but, by the end, it may dump on you like a torrential force of fury.
You can’t do much about life’s backhands, but you can take deep breaths and confront one task at a time. Build a schedule, make it work for you. Reflect on your lessons, don’t just drift with the tide.
And if you ever get to that point where you want to quit, when you feel (or you know) that you’re failing or falling behind – that’s just part of learning. It does not qualify your value as a person or a student. As one exceptional instructor, Aileen Kennedy, Associate Lecturer from the University of New England’s School of Law, recently told her students, “Everyone has had the experience of getting behind on an obligation. This happens to be one of those times for you. It is not the end of the world.”
Give yourself permission to learn and remember that you are more than your grades. Life will go on after this semester, after university, so please just keep going: future you is counting on you.
Keep going, keep going, keep going.