How to get the best student experience

SPS MPhys student Anthony Quinlan is now entering Stage 4 at the University of Kent. In this post, Anthony shares his top tips on how to survive first year at university.

Although it has been a few years since I was in your position as a fresher, I can assure you that the vast majority of thoughts running through your mind at this moment, ran through mine and countless others before you. To help set your mind at ease there are a few tips for starting your first year of university here at Kent.

Welcome Week

Freshers’ week, probably the week you’ve been most anticipating over the summer. The week in which you’ll attend crazy events, make new friends and create life-long memories if you can remember any of it.

It can be quite nerve-racking starting university surrounded by new people, living in a new room and starting a completely new daily routine, to then have to pluck up the courage to talk to people in an attempt to make friends, it can make such an exciting time very stressful indeed. Fortunately, everyone else is in the same boat and the university does try its best to make it easier on you. At SPS we have a Icebreaker Sessions at the beginning of term and in Welcome Week. These are a chance for you to awkwardly penguin shuffle to another person in your course and get chatting with the usual remarks that you’ll soon become tired of hearing; “where are you from, how are your housemates, what did you think of that talk?”

Events like this I would strongly recommend attending, making friends with people on your course is so important. Throughout university, you’ll; bounce ideas off them, discuss problems, talk about strange-abstract topics and rely on them to keep you sane. They’re also the people you’ll probably sit next to for the next 3 years. However, it is not the ‘be-all and end-all’ if you don’t “click” with anyone straight away on your course. There are plenty of opportunities through academic societies and when your first assignment comes around to meet your course mates.

On Thursday and Friday of Welcome Week, we have the Welcome Fair. A great chance to explore what societies the university has to offer and bag a load of free stuff (mainly pens and pencils). The fair is rather chaotic and you may not get a chance to see every society but you can look at all of them on the Kent Union website.

Study

Surprisingly, attending an institute of higher education does involve quite a bit of studying. A question that regularly comes up regarding university like, is “what are lectures like?”. Well, they are in general a talk or presentation given by an academic. It is up to the lecturer if it will be interactive; if they will use slides or the whiteboard and it does vary so you’ll have to get used to how a particular lecturer presents. The most important piece of advice seems rather redundant to state but attend all lectures and at some point, make notes on the module. This may be during or after the lecture but when exams come around, you’ll be glad you have some ridiculous derivation written down in your hand- trust me on that.

On the topic of exams, university exams are just like exams at school (with the occasional one on a Saturday). You get given a timetable, a seat allocation in a large room and you sit at a horrible wobbly desk. Assignments at university are almost exactly like school homework, you’re given a task to complete or set of questions to solve, you hand it in a week or so later and just like at school you can approach your teacher/ lecturer for help on the assignment. Lecturers have office hours which is a set time each week they are free to help students but often if you drop them an email you can arrange another time to see them or resolve the problem through email. You are encouraged to discuss problems with your course mates (but not copy) and they can be easier to get hold of when stuck on a question. We also have a peer mentoring scheme here at Kent, so if you are struggling with a topic you can ask a student from the years above. Sometimes they can explain a topic in a manner more suited for students.

Keeping up with the workload is important and people have different ways to handle it. I found with first-year physics, the best way to do this was reading and attempting problems as soon as they are released, attending lectures then asking for help if needed, and having the assignment completed before the workshop at the end of the week. Employing this method allowed me to have a lot of free time in the evenings and meant I was nowhere nearly as stressed out at workshops struggling to get questions completed like some classmates. There are occasions when it can all get a bit too much and personal circumstances may get in the way of completing work. The university does understand this and you can contact SPS Support by emailing spssupport@kent.ac.uk to talk and receive guidance.

Societies and Sports

I’m sure by now you’ve heard of a whole host of societies the university has to offer, especially if you’re reading this after the welcome fair. These are an excellent place to meet people and take part in wacky- wonderful events that help to make your time at university enjoyable and help to reduce stress. For the first year, I would suggest attending at least one or two of your academic society meetings. Your academic society will be free for you to join and you’ll bump into like-minded individuals (you certainly will if you all follow this piece of advice) but also sign up for a bunch of others as well. Your inbox will be crammed with reminders of events and meetings but trying a large variety at the beginning can help you find the society that you feel most comfortable in.

As well as academic and countless other societies, we have sporting societies. At Kent, we have around 60 sports-related societies, which run like normal societies just with some physical exercise thrown in. Exercise at university can be really good for your mental health as well as your physical health. In SPS and other science courses, the number of lectures is high and sometimes it’s just refreshing to move around and run about while still having a laugh with your mates.

Drinking

When you see university life in Hollywood films it’s often a scene of drunken debauchery and sometimes it is if you want it to be. It is entirely your choice to consume alcohol at any time in your life and university is no exception. Despite the reputation Freshers Week has, I assure you that there will be others here at Kent that want to have a good time but not get drunk as a skunk or consume any alcohol, and trying to find these people may seem difficult but fear not because at Kent we have a society named “Are You Not Drinking Much?”. This society puts on weekly events that do not revolve around alcohol, that is not to say all other societies do so, most will have several events with nothing to do with it but sometimes you can be put off by the first few sessions which do. Just know there is an alternative and a large community out there who can have a great time without drinking.

To summarise my long ramble, you may or may not have just read through, here are some tips/ guidance on making it through first year…. And the first week.

Five Things To Do Before Week 1

  1. Attend all timetabled events for week 0 (including the library one), an excellent way to meet your classmates.
  2. Look at your timetable and work out where the rooms are on campus. Take some of your course mates with you or suggest it as an activity.
  3. Don’t go mad, freshers is meant to be fun and crazy but pace yourself you don’t want to start off by missing your first lecture because you’re in hospital.
  4. Go to the Welcome Fair, sign up to things, attend societies and parties you’re invited to and if it isn’t for you, then you know and can try something else.
  5. Give it a chance. Not every week is like freshers and you can’t truly make a well-informed decision if university is right for you until you’ve started.

Five Tips For The Year

  1. Check your emails daily.
  2. Attend all timetabled events.
  3. Have a method you feel comfortable with to record lecture notes and keep on top of assignments with.
  4. If you need help (academically or personally) ask.
  5. Get involved, whether it is with the student union, societies, being a student rep or anything to help take your mind off studying but give you lots to write about on your CV.
  6. (Okay I lied) Have Fun, if it stops being fun, stop (oh goodness I sound like a gambling advert now).

I wish you all the very best as you start off your time at university and hope that you have found any of this in someway helpful.