The last edition of FedPress was all about survival, so I imagine you’ve all read some fantastic articles about managing your time and mental resources effectively. As we all have access to the wealth of study guides, advice from other students and online productivity resources, there’s no reason for anyone to find themselves mashing at the keyboard at 4am, right? No reason at all for you to spend your dwindling mental resources wondering if just adding hot water to the jar of instant coffee and drinking the resultant sludge will give you superpowers or kill you [1].

So, if you can make notes and make all of that stuff work for you, congratulations! Your university (and probably your personal) life will be infinitely more fruitful and productive. For we mere mortals, however, there were a few things I wanted to add:

Intent and Outcome Are Rarely Coincident [2]
The non-comic book quote way of saying this is ‘the best laid schemes of mice and men/ go often askew’. When I sat down to write this article, my desk and mind were blank and ready for work to flow from me. Now it’s about ten minutes until midnight, my pants are covered in chip crumbs and there might just be rum in my drink bottle. The best of intentions don’t mean you’ll succeed. Know your triggers, know your distractions, and plan around them — read that twice if you’re an online student.

The best advice I was ever given about university work was that if you think you can do an assignment in a day, do it on the first day you get it, not the day before it’s due.

You Are Not Special
I mean, we’re all special, but we’re not the kind of special that gets you a letter from Hogwarts. Intrinsically, I think we all want to be recognised and uncovered for the secret genius we always thought we were. We want to be that janitor who turns out to be a genius, or to have our talent discovered sunbathing on a beach or in the post office, but it doesn’t work that way. Don’t let it get you down, but you have to accept reality.

The point I want to make is that if you’re only getting passes on your assessments, it’s probably not because you’re an undiscovered talent and people just don’t recognise your unique take on the world. Maybe you didn’t read the question properly, or maybe you shouldn’t have referenced your grandmother [3].

Don’t argue why you’re good enough as you are, strive to become better — look at the changes you can make, not the ones you think other people should make.

Show, Don’t Tell
If you have one, dig out your résumé and look at the personal attributes or skills that you’ve listed. Can you prove them? If you work great in a team, can you tell me some teams you work well in? Can you explain why you say you have a great eye for detail but you’ve spelled the suburb you live in incorrectly [4]? Talk is cheap. If you know that you need a skill to succeed in what you’re doing, make sure you can prove you can do it.

At the end of three years, you and your peers will graduate with exactly the same piece of paper — how will you set yourself apart?

Talent Isn’t Skill
First year at university? Did you do great at high school? Of course university will be a breeze, you finished your first assessment in an afternoon!  Being intrinsically good at something saves you a lot of groundwork, but a talent for something doesn’t mean you’re skilled at it. Sometimes, that talent means that you ignore the stuff that ‘you already know’, only to find yourself in third year, desperately searching through your old notes to finish an assignment. Don’t be that person who jumps to Week 10 of the Course Description and starts asking the lecturer questions about that topic… in Week 1… during the lecture. No one thinks you’re smart, they think you’re an arsehole.
There’s nothing worse than reaching the final year of your course and realising that your cockiness has made you ignore the foundations of your entire discipline. Weeks 1-9 (and first and second-year classes) exist for a reason.

Don’t build your house on the sand. You can coast for so long, but eventually you’re going to hit the ground and have to start running.

Know Thyself
Look, university is about getting to know yourself through the framework of your discipline, as well as the tertiary education system. You might know the coursework inside out, but not be able to get your time management on track. You might be able to study, but you can’t bring yourself to complete assessments on time. Listen to the excuses you make, and avoid using them again. Needed more time? Start earlier or ask for an extension. Didn’t understand the question? Ask for clarification — ask your peers, ask your tutor [5].

At the end of the day, you either pass or you don’t. You graduate or you don’t. All you can do is your best, your actual best. You can’t add hyperlinks or footnotes to your life [6], so pull your finger out and act in a way that doesn’t need excuses. Your achievements (or lack thereof) will speak for themselves.
[1] Spoiler: it will kill you

[2] Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: Volume 9, Part 11, p. 7

[3] Not even if she told you how to get rid of your freckles

[4] I seriously saw this happen in a job interview once

[5] But probably not your grandmother

[6] Shit…

 

 

By Rebecca Fletcher