Letter to my undergraduate self: Therese Kelly – ‘It is okay to ask for help and to say you don’t understand something’

Inspired by the Big Issue’s regular feature Letter to My Younger Self, we’re asking staff to think back to their own experiences as a student and tell us what advice they would give to their undergraduate selves.

This month we’re introducing our newest Study Skills Tutor, Therese Kelly, who will be working with students in the Faculty of Social sciences.

Photo of Therese, the author of the blog post

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What and where did you study? 

I studied for a BA in the Anthropology of Religion at the University of Wales, Lampeter. Then 15 years later I went back to uni and did an MA in Social Anthropology, here at Bristol. I am now finishing a PhD in Social Anthropology through Manchester University.

Did you experience culture shock when you started university? 

That’s an interesting question. It was more the location that was a shock rather than the university itself. I grew up in London and then opted for a university deep in the Welsh countryside, in a very small farming community. This was partly because I was a young mother with a child, and I wanted to be somewhere less hectic. I was a mature student of 24 when I started my degree; I became a mother when I was 20 so waited until my son was old enough to go to school before going to university, and Lampeter seemed lovely. It was a wonderful place to study! It is a very small university, and it didn’t take long to become part of the student community.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it? 

My time management was awful when I was an undergraduate, especially during my first year. I always left it to the last minute to write an essay. One essay I handed in two weeks late and so it was marked down 20%. If I had submitted it in time, it would have got 70%, a first, so I was gutted! I learned pretty quickly after that to plan my writing time better.

What are you most proud of about your time at university? 

I was, and still am, a shy person, the difference is I have learned to manage it. When I was in the first year, I was part of a group giving a presentation about a Hindu temple we visited for one of our modules. I can still remember how I felt when it was my turn to speak. The blood rushed to my face, my heart was beating in my mouth, and I was so nervous I struggled to focus on the people in the room, I was terrified! I managed to get through it but thought, I must get over this fear. So, I signed myself up for presenting at as many seminars as possible and each time I did it, my ability to talk and present improved. I believe it was one of the bravest things I have done for myself.

What was the best bit of feedback you received? 

I didn’t think my work was any good most of the time as I had very low self-confidence. But after having completed an essay that I actually enjoyed writing, the lecturer said in the feedback that I had ‘clarity of expression’ and that the essay was ‘a joy to read’. I was so happy that my essay was not only readable but that someone got joy from it too!

What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?

I could say, PLAN YOUR WORK! I could have reduced so much stress and got a better mark if I had organised my writing better. Saying that, getting a 2:1 rather than a first is still a great achievement and I did really enjoy being an undergraduate. So, what I would say to my undergraduate self is that it is okay to ask for help and to say you don’t understand something, and enjoy the fresh air and the wonderful countryside!

How I make notes: The 5Rs

Photo of Molly, the author of this blog post By Molly Jackson, Translational Health Sciences student and Bristol Futures Advocate

The way we take notes is a big influence on how well we learn, and this differs greatly between individuals. As students we are often told to make notes throughout our lectures and use them to answer exam questions and provide essays with references to both literature written by experts in the field and our own opinions. This is often overwhelming, especially when we are provided with a high volume of information in a lecture and do not know where to start with how to record this information into notes.

After struggling in my first and second years of university with extensive pages of long notes piled on my desk never to be revisited, I began to wonder if there was a method out there to make use of notes as well as just making them. Following some extensive googling and asking fellow students on their approach to notetaking, I decided to try the Cornell method which breaks down notetaking into 5 easy stages…

An overview of the 5Rs of note taking, adapted from the Cornell Method (Pauk 2001). Record. Make note of the key facts you learn throughout your lecture. Reduce. Summarise key facts into short bullet points. Recite. Write out your short bullet points into a resource that can be revisited. Reflect. Use the bullet points as a starting point to develop your own opinions. How does it relate to other topics you’ve learned? How is this relevant to literature currently published in the field? How can you apply your critical thinking to this topic? Review. Regularly review the resources you develop in the lead up to exams or as part of essay preparation.
An overview of the 5 Rs of note taking, adapted from the Cornell method (Pauk 2001)

I found that using this approach breaks down complicated topics into bitesize pieces that can be used to build back into a bigger picture with wider reading and your own opinions. The best thing about using this method is that, as we all learn in different ways, this approach can be tailored to the individual and gives you a chance to be creative. For example, for the visual learners, the recite and review stage could be carried out in the form of a diagram or mind map, and for auditory learners, in the form of a song. It has also been scientifically proven that this technique is highly effective in a range of disciplines!*

Page split into 5 sections titled record, reduce/ recite, review, reflect - relevant literature, and reflect - own opinion. There are notes in each section on the subject of Parkinson's Disease.
Notes for a final year essay

The only question left to ask is what is what kind of learner are you and how can you build this into the 5Rs approach to develop achieve note taking success?

 

*Some examples of the evidence:
  • Evans B and Shively C. Using the Cornell Note-Taking System Can Help Eighth Grade Students Alleviate the Impact of Interruptions While Reading at Home. Journal of Inquiry and Action in Education. 2019;10:1-35.
  • Donohoo J. Learning How to Learn: Cornell Notes as an Example. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 2010;54:224-227.
  • Hayati A and Jalilifar A. The Impact of Note-taking Strategies on Listening Comprehension of EFL Learners. English Language Teaching. 2009;2.
  • Quintus L, Borr M, Duffield S, Napoleon L and Welch A. The impact of the Cornell note-taking method on students’ performance in a high school family and consumer sciences class. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal. 2012;30:27-38.

Student Advocate tips for… starting uni

Student wearing bright orange hoodie that reads: here to help

Our Bristol Futures Student Advocates come from every faculty in the university, and are here to support you to grow your skills and become an even better student.

With a few years’ experience under their belts, we asked them to share their top tips for starting uni. Here’s what they said…

Get organised

Check your emails regularly, they often have opportunities and helpful information that is easy to miss. It’s a great way to find out what is going on at the university and to stay in the loop. Natasha, 2nd year History

It is quite daunting to have so many course materials at the start of the term, one thing that I usually do is to download all of the lecture notes, slides, homework, and other important document to the university OneDrive, and then organize it. That way, when you are starting to work on a project / homework, you will have the required material at the tip of your hands! Ryan, 2nd Year Mathematics

Find what works for you

Try and find out what time of the day you have the most energy and motivation to do your work. For example, I know I am most productive in the morning and I am awful at working past 8pm, so I make sure to get up early in the morning to get started on work so I can have my evening off. Others however prefer to work later in the evening and get a rush of energy. Find out what works for you and use it! Breanna, 3rd year Psychology 

When starting uni, especially first year, it’s a great time to experiment with different organization and note-taking methods, different ways to approach your learning. It’s a time to try new things and then picking what you like best. This way you’ll build habits that suit you that will stick with you throughout your studies.  Martina, 2nd year Biochemistry with Medical Biochemistry

Get to grips with reading and taking notes

When tackling readings, don’t expect to immediately understand it after skim reading it. I’d recommend waiting a while and then writing out the key points you remember the most to find out what stood out to you.

Don’t expect to be able to remember everything from lectures or even understand. Reading around the subject (just bits you don’t know) is normal and don’t spend millions of hours doing.
Give yourself a few weeks (& different methods) of taking lectures/seminars information! But remember different lecturers give information in different ways. I would highly recommend a tablet to take notes on- lighter in weight and I was forever losing notes!

Look after yourself

Eat well, try to get enough sleep, make sure you schedule in time for rest and maybe even exercise. You will be better off for it later in the term! Emily, 3rd year Biomedical Sciences 

Whether it is a night out, or watching a film with a friend, make you sure you treat yourself at least once a day by doing something that makes you excited for the next day. Emma, 4th year Veterinary Science

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, whether it’s about your wellbeing or academics (your Study Skills peers and tutors!) are always there to help. Remember, you are not alone. There are a lot of resources available waiting for you to explore. Anaya, 2nd year Law 

Try new things… and have fun!

Try getting involved with as much stuff as possible, whether that is societies, sports, extracurricular classes – say yes to as much as possible and make the most of the opportunities on offer! Jago, 3rd year Maths and Computer Science

Feeling pressured to do well and get good grades come hand-in-hand with starting university for a lot of people, but I can promise you that studying isn’t everything. University is all about learning and experiencing new things, and of course, studying is still important – there’s a lot to learn from books! But lift your head out of those books from time to time, there’s so much more you can learn when you explore and try new things outside of the classroom. Become a volunteer to teach young students, try out that new salsa dancing class, go cycling by the harbourside, these experiences will stay with you for a lifetime so don’t let them go to waste. Since university is all about learning, learn to have fun too! Sabrina, 3rd year Biochemistry

The student experience goes way beyond what is taught in the classroom and in your textbooks, and whilst that should/could be a priority, make sure you are taking advantage of everything else the student life has got to offer whether it’s volunteering, working part-time, joining a society, or a mixed combination of things. There are so many resources at your service, that you can use much or as little as you choose to. That being said, make sure you take plenty of time to rest and look after yourself when needed. Tala, 2nd year Law

 

Bristol Futures Student Advocates run peer support sessions for students in their faculty. Check out the Study Skills Blackboard page to see what’s coming up.

 

 

Student Perspective: A Bristol Futures Advocate’s Tale

Photo of Iskandar, the author of the postWe asked Iskandar Bin Suhaimi to reflect on his time as a Bristol Futures Student Advocate, promoting Bristol Futures and running peer-led workshops and drop-ins for Study Skills and Personal Development Planning (PDP). 

One of the best things about being a Bristol Futures Advocate? Feeling like you are truly a part of the University community. Having been in the role for more than two years now (83% of my being a student!), I can confidently say that university was made much better because of this ‘part-time job’. Here are my reflections.

Community

Sitting restlessly with your partner-in-crime hoping for students to attend your drop-ins, trying your best to dispel the awkward silences during workshops, or even talking about your cats during monthly trainings. The little things I went through as an Advocate created experiences only the Bristol Futures team understood.

It also always excited me how closely I was working with university staff, especially the Study Skills team. Primarily, it helped me make sense of my student experience. The university was suddenly not just a bureaucratic entity you complain about on Bristruths, it’s filled with real, genuine people, working as hard at their job as me and you.

As an international student, being a part of such an inspiring and supportive team was truly invaluable. Being in a new country with a vastly different culture, developing camaraderie with the diverse team at Bristol Futures really provided me with the familiarity I needed to feel included and welcomed at Bristol. I felt, happily, part of the community.

Opportunities

One of the most memorable Advocate experiences was when Simon [Gamble, Head of Academic Study Skills] drove me and two other Advocates to a little farm in Chew Valley for a workshop presentation. Free cakes and coffee aside, the experience was particularly enjoyable because we got to engage with the wider community and appreciate the extent of our impact

I also particularly enjoyed manning the Bristol Futures booth at the Staff Welcome Fair. Instead of pitching our services to students, we were promoting it to new staff instead. Did I feel like an adult? You bet.

If there was one thing these opportunities taught me, it was definitely the importance of versatility in communication. Fun as they were, these experiences taught me how to adapt my conversations to different groups of people – and my confidence is all the better for it.

Purpose

Perhaps the main thing that drove me as an Advocate was the fulfilment I got from helping other students. Being an Advocate truly meant understanding and empathising with students’ concerns, and doing our best to help them. No matter what school, degree, or study level, if we could provide assistance, we would.

Consequently, I did not only grow as an employee, I also grew as a person. I think my fellow Advocates can attest to the satisfaction of making things just a bit easier for students. It’s the reason why I joined Bristol Futures, and it’s the reason why I stayed.

Student perspective: How to use your summer productively

Photo of Claudia, the author of the postby Claudia Raymond-Hayling, Second year Theatre and English (BA) student and Bristol Futures Advocate.

For many of us, this year was difficult and not what we were expecting. However, it is important to be proud of what you have achieved. With that in mind, I have been thinking about how summer can be a productive time in many ways, some of which I thought may be useful to some of you. Whatever you’re doing, whether you’re finishing first or final year, your day-to-day will shift as the teaching block comes to a close.

Relax!

This year has required huge adjustments for many of us. For some, taking a break could not come soon enough, and for others switching off will seem quite hard! Whatever you’re feeling, using this time for a bit of a pause is a great reward to yourself for finishing the year.

Dedicate some time to hobbies

Hobbies are easy to neglect amidst university work, but they are so important to keep up! Hobbies allow you to productively focus your spare time on something that you really enjoy, whilst giving you an opportunity to learn new skills that will be transferrable throughout your life. An increased time spent on hobbies can also be really beneficial for your mental wellbeing, so dedicating even just one hour a week on something you love can make a massive impact. I know that I’m unbelievably excited to regularly go to the theatre, which I haven’t been able to do properly in such a long time due to the pandemic. If you’re not sure what hobbies you specifically enjoy, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up something new!

Go outside!

Revision and work often requires a lot of time spent indoors, so spending some time outside will be a nice change as the weather (hopefully) improves. Go for a walk with a friend or go for a nice day out. Whatever you’re doing, the outdoors can be a really nice change of scene.

Socialise

Meeting up with friends and family has been a long time coming and with restrictions easing, it has never been more important. Making time to meet up with people is a great way to spend your free time.

Think about the future

The end of the year is an important time to think about where you will be headed. Maybe you’re thinking about getting ahead for the next academic year, or you’re thinking about internships or jobs you’d be interested in. Whatever your future plans are, it’s important to be aware of them. If you don’t know what you want to do, now is the time to have a think about it! There are some great contacts through the Careers Service who will be available over the summer if you need some help with internship/job opportunities or even long-term career planning.

Even if you don’t end up doing any of these things, it is important to think about what you want to get out of this time. Although I think these are useful, do what works for you! Ultimately, be proud of finishing this year of university, during a very difficult time. It would be great to hear how you are using your summer productively in the comments and, on that note, have a great summer!

Letter to my undergraduate self: Beth Luxton – ‘Take risks and don’t be afraid to experiment’

Inspired by the Big Issue’s regular feature Letter to My Younger Self, we’re asking staff to think back to their own experiences as a student and tell us what advice they would give to their undergraduate selves.

This month we’re introducing Beth Luxton, Administrative Assistant in Library Services.

Photo of Beth, the author of the blog post

What and where did you study?

I studied a Fine Art (BA) at University of Leeds. This was straight out of sixth form so I didn’t do a arts foundation course but miraculously got in. I was actually pretty keen on going to Scotland but settled for as far north as Leeds.

Did you experience culture shock when you started university?

Definitely! I’m from a small village in East Devon and went to a small school/sixth form so found it pretty overwhelming being surrounded by so many people from all sorts of backgrounds. Especially doing an arts course – everyone looked so cool – it was quite intimidating but I quickly came to see beyond that. Also suddenly there was a choice of going to a club that played specific music, unheard of where I was from. Going to gigs, art exhibitions and all sorts of other events was really exciting.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

I flopped in my second year, which came back to bite me and brought my entire grade down despite getting a first in my last year. I’ll admit there was some commitment lacking (the idea of going to a lecture at 9am seemed unfathomable to me then!) but I also didn’t seek out guidance from my tutors. It can feel isolating if you don’t reach out for help; I think I just thought, if I work harder I’ll get better. But actually I needed input and feedback, which you can and should ask for as a student.

What are you most proud of about your time at university?

My dissertation and surviving a year abroad.

I was pretty terrified doing a year in Portugal where I didn’t speak the language (not recommended!) and didn’t know anyone but it was and still is one of the best years of my life. Being thrown into a different environment and having the space and freedom to produce work with no real worries about marks (the year only required a pass) was amazing (the beaches and sangria also helped). I would really recommend it to anyone given the opportunity.

I found doing my dissertation really stressful. I actually remember thinking at the time all I wanted was a job and not to be a student – that’s how much I hated it! But it was so rewarding getting to the end. As part of the course I had to design and create a bound book of my dissertation which I still have and am genuinely proud of. Persevering with something for so long and having something completely your own at the end is a great feeling.

What was the best bit of feedback you received?

To take risks and don’t be afraid to experiment. This is quite relevant to an arts degree but can be applied elsewhere. It really is in the mistakes that the most progress is made, nothing can be considered a failure when its promoting growth. So just keep going and take things day by day.

What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?

Work hard, find balance and look after yourself.

Student perspective: Sleepless in Bristol…memory challenged!

Photo of Tracy, the author of the blog postby Tracy Ohis, Bristol Futures Advocate

I know we do not know each other very well but I have a personal question to ask… How well have you been sleeping lately?

This blog aims to help you consider the importance of sleeping as you approach the final hurdle of summer term examinations. Previously, some friends seem to hold a badge of honour for “pulling an all-nighter” of studying, encouraged by the wings of a famous drink or two that is highly caffeine loaded, enough to probably sink the titanic all over again. Yet there are many other reasons why people are not getting enough ZZ’s at night as COVID19 and somewhat beyond has taxed our general mental capacity. Even though we may have enjoyed the novelty of taking Zoom meetings with lecturers in PJs (not guilty!), this may have led to a complacent attitude when compared to the academic vibe surroundings of the university’s esteemed walls.

Lack of sleep vs Memory recall

As we continue to navigate the discovery channel of new information, our memory may find it problematic to retain at least half a day’s worth of study material before a test with a limited supply of sleep. The medical advice states to aim for 7-8 hours of sleep and I must admit this was a struggle at times even before starting my academic journey. The physical long-distance study amongst other things triggered a spiral that I needed to address and with some help from the university Wellbeing department and smarter planning of my time, I was able to develop a solution that has been useful most of the time to suit my needs. I hastily add that any plans you create will be unique to fit into your lifestyle and adjusted with some measure of flexibility. Ideally, accounting for unfortunate circumstances beyond our control forbiddingly other lockdowns per se ‘throws a spanner in the works’. If you would like to know more on how you can incorporate planning into your routine, you could meet with a tutor from Study Skills to discuss and even attend a workshop.

The experts say

Scientifically, a view taken that academic performance based on the early to rise approach resulted in higher achievers as opposed to the total hours of sleep and other factors (Eliasson 2010). Whilst another investigation of 61 undergraduates were focused on those from 2nd year and onwards, used a diary and mathematical science to conclude that irregular sleep patterns affected academic performance negatively (Phillips 2017). Indeed, a further point is that lack of sleep if left long term could potentially develop into insomnia and other health issues, so seeking help from your GP or nurse is a thought worth some consideration. A takeaway message is to remember you are not alone and it is good to have this conversation even with a friend, you might find that there are likeminded colleagues who will be keen to develop a community to support each other as mentors as suggested by this article (Cort-Blackson 2018).

Getting back on track

In identifying a problem exists and deciding that you want to make those baby steps towards changing behaviour is indeed a feat to be encouraged. Take time to view some YouTube videos or Google on how to improve your sleep could be a good investment of your academic performance. Some suggestions that could be helpful:

  • Turning your phone or other electronics off 2 hours before bed.
  • Making your bedroom space clutter free.
  • Doing some form of exercise (aerobic or yoga) during the day.

Which one of these will you try? Do let us know. All the best in your exams and I hope this blog has been useful to you.

Student perspective: Learning from your mistakes

Photo of Gloria, the author of this blog postby Gloria Bosi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Hello everyone, my name is Gloria, and I am back with another post (see Even STEM students need a creative outlet). This time, I wanted to discuss the importance of learning from our mistakes, both big and small.

One of the most difficult aspects of attending university is embracing the process of continuous change and growth. As we study to become professionals in our fields, we must be quick to accept our mistakes, adapt, and learn from them. When we are lucky, this requires little adjustment in our way of thinking. Other times, we may find that we have spent months consolidating our knowledge of a wrong idea or concept. We may learn something so significant, that it requires a profound change in the way we approach a problem or perceive a reality. Although this can be difficult, we must appreciate that it is part of the fun.

Having a strategy for learning from these mistakes can be quite useful. To help you with this, I wanted to share my process for ensuring that I do not keep falling for the same tricks. This can be summarized by the following steps:

1. Keeping a record for reference
I like to think of this as a sort of “diary of doom”, where I keep track of my most frequent mistakes. In reality, it is as simple as a bulleted list in the Notes app of my computer. This can be done in various other apps or websites, such as Quizlet. This list tends to grow when I am solving a problem sheet, for example. It this case, it is not sufficient to write down the number of the question I got wrong, but I must also supply a brief explanation as to why.

2. Identifying the source of the misunderstanding
Once you are able to look at the collection of your errors, you can try to identify some trends. Ask yourself:

  • Do these points have something in common?
  • Can they be traced back to a fundamental concept or idea that I missed

Pinpointing the source of the mistake can be time-consuming, but it is essential to stop it from recurring. To make this easier, you may need to scavenge through some of your old notes or resources.

3. Investing time to unlearn
After identifying the wrong idea that has been cementing itself in your brain, you want to get rid of it once and for all. Indeed, you must unlearn it. I find that this can be done in two steps:

i. Dissecting your mistake and breaking down all the reasons it was wrong. Convince yourself to reject the idea from this point forward.

ii. Recalling your mistake frequently as you study the subject. In fact, I find that reviewing my mistakes is almost as important as studying the subject itself. This is why keeping a record is so useful.

4. Linking back to the bigger picture
After unlearning the erroneous idea, it is time accept the correct one. Ask yourself:

  • How does this new idea fit within the rest of my existing knowledge?
  • In what ways has my understanding improved by rejecting my old idea?

In reality, this process is a lot less involved than it sounds. Most of the time, it is fairly easy to identify where we have gone wrong. The important thing, however, is what we do with this information. Every learner is different, so you should feel free to take this process and change it in whatever way suits you best. I hope it helps!

Thank you for reading! Leave a comment to let us know your strategy for learning from your mistakes.

Letter to my undergraduate self: Alison Marshall – ‘Freewriting is liberating for people with perfectionist tendencies like me’

Inspired by the Big Issue’s regular feature Letter to My Younger Self, we’re asking staff to think back to their own experiences as a student and tell us what advice they would give to their undergraduate selves.

Next up from the Study Skills team is Alison Marshall, Study Skills Tutor.

Photo of Alison, the author of this blog post

What and where did you study?

I went to Exeter and did a BA in Ancient History and Archaeology (largely because I liked watching Time Team on the telly and thought archaeology looked like fun). After that I did an MA in Medieval Studies and a PhD in Medieval History at the University of Bristol.

Did you experience culture shock when you started university?

Various family members went to university before me, so I had the advantage of being able to visit them and experience a bit of the culture. The biggest shock for me was going from a full timetable at college to having only a handful of contact hours per week at university. I’ve always struggled with self-discipline, so I slept late a lot and watched loads of rubbish daytime telly. At the time I thought it was brilliant, but in retrospect I think I’d have been a lot happier if I’d created a routine for myself and spent some of that ‘free’ time a bit more productively.

The other thing I found difficult to adjust to was suddenly being surrounded by lots and lots of people I didn’t know. Obviously I knew that was part and parcel of going to university, but I was excruciatingly shy and the thought of not knowing anyone was really daunting, so I buried my head in the sand. I wish I’d spent some time thinking about how I was going to make friends and settle in before I started – joining a few more societies (and actually going along to them) would have been a really good idea.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?

My biggest failure happened just before I started university: I messed up my A-levels and missed out on my first-choice university due to an unfortunate combination of laziness, stupidity and bad luck. I tend not to let go of things quickly, so I beat myself up about it for a good few years afterwards. With the benefit of hindsight, though, I can see it all worked out for the best. I mean, what’s so good about Oxford anyway? I’d have had to work really hard, and knowing me that probably wouldn’t have gone very well! I ended up having a great time at Exeter and I loved my degree course. I also met my husband there – we’ve been together for 22 years and have three beautiful children – so you could argue that messing up my A-levels was the best thing I ever did. In essence, what I learnt is that every cloud has a silver lining: you might not see it for a while or sometimes you might have to look really hard, but it’s there.

What are you most proud of about your time at university?

Well, I survived an archaeological dig which involved camping on a wet and muddy hillside in Wales for four weeks. There was a copious amount of rain, boozing, late nights, early mornings and digging very big trenches with a mattock whilst still hungover. I fell down the spoil heap several times, accompanied by the wheelbarrow. It was character-building, but the word ‘camping’ brings me out in a cold sweat even now.

Ultimately, though, I’m most proud that I came away from university with a First. I wish I could say that I’d learnt from my A-levels and put in a huge amount of hard work, but that would be a lie. I left every essay until the last minute and had some horrible cramming sessions before exams. I made it much more difficult for myself than it needed to be! Thankfully, luck was on my side when it came to my final exams. I’m really proud of my degree result (if not, perhaps, the way I went about achieving it) and it helped put a few demons to rest.

What was the best bit of feedback you received?

I ashamed to say that I can’t remember. I liked getting positive feedback because it made me feel pleasantly smug for a while. But most of the time I don’t think I really understood the feedback I was getting, and I was too shy to ask the lecturers to explain it to me. We didn’t have a study skills team to talk things through with, so I mostly just forgot about it.

What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?

It would be tempting to go all mumsy and give myself a lecture about boys and booze, but nobody appreciates that sort of advice, so instead I’d probably tell myself to look into something called freewriting. I used to find academic writing completely agonising because I’d put pressure on myself to get every sentence perfect straight away. As a consequence I’d procrastinate, which led to lots of stressful last-minute essays. With freewriting you just splurge out a very rough first draft, then spend lots of time editing later on. It’s really liberating for people with perfectionist tendencies like me!

 

Student perspective: Keeping up motivation over the Easter break

Photo of Josie, the author of the blog postby Josie Rahman, Bristol Futures Advocate

Maintaining motivation over semester breaks can be difficult at the best of times – throwing in the challenge of online learning only makes it more of a struggle! Through running a peer-led workshop surrounding motivation and how we can cultivate it, it has became even more apparent just how universal this worry is for students. I hope that this blog can offer a few tips and tricks on how to keep on going with important assignments throughout the Easter break, whether that is spent at university or elsewhere.

Score a goal!

It is more important than ever when you are free from synchronous teaching over the Easter period to ensure that you have a plan and goals set for the time off. It goes without saying that you need a rest, so make sure to allocate time off in the week to catch up with friends (socially distanced!), fit in some exercise and make sure you’re getting plenty of rest to look after yourself. However, I find my motivation is at its best when I set really focused goals – I use the SMART goals acronym for this so give it a google! Check in with yourself at the start and end of each day – have you achieved the goals you set out to do? If not – were your goals too ambitious or were there other obstacles that got in the way of your studies?

What is your WHY?

To keep yourself going without the help of scheduled time with tutors over the Easter period, it can be really helpful to ensure you know WHY you are studying – what are the factors that motivate you? Motivation is split into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is where motivation arises within yourself – you are doing something that personally feels rewarding – whereas extrinsic motivation involves wanting to do something in order to achieve a reward or avoid a negative consequence (e.g. exam deadlines!). Understanding what factors may contribute to both of these can help sustain motivation. For example, I study medicine and am lucky enough to be genuinely passionate about certain aspects of my course, such as learning more about the signs and symptoms of interesting diseases, which is my intrinsic motivation. My extrinsic motivation is the fact that if I complete my degree, I will go on to become a doctor, an external long term reward! Remember to give yourself little external rewards too – a nice meal or a walk outside after work towards an assignment can be very gratifying.

The end is in sight!

Whilst exam season and deadlines loom after Easter, Easter break is a great chance to safely catch up with friends and family, and the balance of this is paramount for motivation. After deadlines are over, Summer is waiting ahead – and fingers crossed it’ll be a Covid-free one. Making plans for after deadlines and exams to look forward to is one thing that hugely motivates me during the breaks – the light at the end of the tunnel!

 

Bringing this all together, it’s great to consider what will motivate YOU over the Easter break? Let me know in the comments!