Tuesday, 9 March 2010

When Academic Life is Not as it Seems...

Image thanks to Klaireebearr 
This is a guest post by Martin from TheUniversityBlog. Enjoy!

Studying is just one aspect of many in the university experience and, like it or not, it's an important one.

As highlighted here on Charade, students think about all sorts. There's fashion, thrifty living, friendship, future plans, fun... and that's not even considering the sudden challenges and boring admin tasks you receive in everyday life. No wonder it's hard to make sense of everything!

Study is often one of our most important concerns, but with so much other stuff to juggle, it's easy to lose your way and start believing things that aren't really the case. For example, if you've heard some of the following comments, or even said them yourself, make sure you look at the situation a bit more closely:

"I managed it once, I'll manage it again."

Don't be so sure of yourself. It'll be the making of your downfall. Returning to bad habits is a lot easier than you'd think.

"I can't do this. What's the point?"

The point is you don't know how well you'll do until you do it. Take your past successes in difficult circumstances and consider how you acted then. Acknowledge the blocks in your mind and force yourself to try without relying on excuses. It is only after you seriously attempt something that you can get feedback and move forward. Time to craft the life you want!

"The best way to learn is to get the right information in my head before I start making mistakes."

Actually, you do better when you try dishing out information yourself, before knowing the answers. You may not even know the answer, but to try and fail first helps the learning process.

"I don't get it. We didn't even cover this in the lectures."

Before you panic, focus on the specific question or task at hand. What aspects are you confused about? What else could it mean? Is it challenging you to disagree or set an entirely different argument? In exam situations, keep trying. Giving up is the last thing you want to think about at this point. In coursework situations, speak to the tutor if you still can’t figure it out. Go through what you’re uncertain about so they can point you in the right direction.

"This isn't what I came to study for. This is ridiculous!

Back at uni, I remember a group of Performing Arts students returning to halls from a group session. They were absolutely livid. How dare the tutors waste their time asking everyone to perform on stage alone with a shoe. A SHOE!

Taking a step back, the seemingly ridiculous concept makes a lot of sense. By performing alone, with a single inanimate object on stage with you, the entire focus is on the actor. Far from ridiculous, this is an opportunity both to shine and to explore weaknesses in your performance. Sometimes you need to change your perspective in order to know why something is important.

"I've revised every possible thing that could be in this exam. It'll be fine."

You're not at school any more. The time for rote learning is long gone. You may be aware of most concepts that will be mentioned in an exam, but you won't know it all. NOBODY knows it all. A cock-sure confidence is dangerous. By all means feel enthusiastic that you've practiced hard, but don't be so certain that a top grade is a foregone conclusion.

"I haven't got time for this. Why do they set so much work?"

As I've said, our attention is pushed in every direction with the sheer number of considerations we face each day. However, you have to accept the need to drop an activity or change your priorities. Unless everyone on your course is up in arms at the unreasonable workload, the focus needs to shift to you. You may not like doing it, but you have to find a way to manage your time differently.

"I got scored low because the tutor doesn't like me. What is their problem?"

Okay, we don't all see eye to eye, but you'll be hard pressed to find a tutor that bases marks on how much they like you. Similarly, you won't get a low grade because the marker disagrees with a well-formed argument. It is hard to substantially prove these things (perhaps this is one case in favour of anonymous marking...), but with second markers, external examiners, and so on, it's highly unlikely you'll get anything other than a roughly accurate grade.

"They've given me a low mark but they've totally misunderstood my argument. What an idiot."

When part of your coursework is not marked as highly as you would expect, it's easy to be angry at anyone other than yourself. However, carefully read feedback and work out why the result isn't as good as you'd hoped. If feedback isn't detailed enough or you truly, truly cannot see how your point could be viewed any other way, seek further clarification from the tutor as soon as possible. Go in with an open mind, not a heavy hand!

So, is academic work one of the most important things about your student experience? Or is it just one aspect of many in a topsy-turvy life? Either way, I wish you every success!


Martin Hughes writes at TheUniversityBlog on student affairs and achieving a full, entertaining, productive, and successful university experience. Go show him some ♥


Aury said...

This is such a wonderfully informative and well written post! I learnt a lot of things about myself while reading and noticed some mistakes that I've made in the past. Wonderful post Martin and Great idea Megan!

Marthe said...

I know studying should be my top priority. But at the moment, I spend too much time working and volunteering.

I've slowly come to realize this, and I have decided to quit my job. I needed this wake-up call!

Great post!

Maria K. said...

I think the most intense academic period for me was the last year of the Bachelor's program and the following two years of Master's. During the last year of Bachelor's not only was I still a student myself, but I also tutored others in Numerical Analysis. I would recommend tutoring to anyone who has a subject he or she is particularly good at - that way you get to experience "the other side".

Martin - TheUniversityBlog said...

Aury, thank you! Mistakes are good so long as we can recognise them and learn from them. Best of luck with the study.

Marthe, study is a priority, although it shouldn't get in the way of a full life and other positive experiences. I hope you still find time to take part in many quality activities.

Maria, you make a good point here. The 'other side' can help you get a bit closer to what you need and how to craft your own work. I'm glad it helped you. The postgrad experience in your Master's degree must have also opened your eyes in different ways to the Bachelor's degree.

Vanessa said...

Academics are important to my college experience and always have to come first. I go to a $42,000/year university, most of which is covered by scholarships I've yearned because of my grades; I can't afford (literally) to let my school work be on the back burner. The other most important part of my education has been meeting my current boyfriend, who I've been with since Freshman year, over two years ago. They say a lot of people meet their spouses in college, and we hope we can say the same for ourselves.

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