Student perspective: The art of embracing dispiriting feedback

Photo of Tala, the author of the blog postby Tala Youhana, Law student and Bristol Futures Advocate

You’ve put in the substantial cycles of work, you’re certainly no stranger to long hours and late nights at your designated study spot, and you’ve exhausted all the caffeine in your system in hopes of finally receiving spotless reassuring feedback from your tutors. Nonetheless, the threshold you’ve been working tirelessly to meet, still feels out of reach. If this is you, then here are some healthy reminders to help you cope with and defeat the initial discouragement.

1. Accepting the mark is the first checkpoint

Oftentimes, we attempt to rapidly locate the mark before anything else in the feedback form, because it feels like glowing comments are distorted without a glowing mark. In my first year, I had professors disclose their own experiences with disappointing marks and remind us that such marks are not the be all and end all. Marks only go as far as a submission goes, so don’t let that dissuade you from the fact that you’re at university, because you worked hard to be here. Therefore, accepting the mark as a fair reflection of that particular submission would be a promising first step to moving forward. Ultimately, the larger the improvement, the more to be proud of when you’re done!

2. Interrogating the comments objectively involves personal initiative

Now that you’ve accepted your mark as a fair and accurate reflection of your work, you will be well-equipped to objectively evaluate the feedback. If you identify any issues, you will be able to investigate them further by preparing some questions. After this, you can make use of the many helpful resources available to you such as booking office hours with your tutors, revisiting feedback lectures, and perhaps even swapping papers with a peer to identify key feedback patterns, and ultimately gain a holistic understanding of the feedback given. Asking for help where needed reflects strong personal initiative and is actively encouraged.

3. There’s always room for improvement

No matter how you previously performed, it is advisable to keep your targets at least as high as they were prior to the feedback, if not higher! After all, feedback is far from failure, it is as the playful saying goes, “the breakfast of champions”. By visualising your targets clearly, you are then able to create a solid and detailed plan to improve on any skill gaps which you have encountered. The key point to stress here is that asking for help where you feel any doubts, either by consulting with your tutors or by making use of Study Skills and University resources, is a very important step forward, and one which you should be proud of.

To conclude, kindly note that this method is merely a guide and certainly not the only way of embracing feedback effectively- it is just what has worked for me when I had been hesitant with feedback in the past. The silver lining here is that feedback is meant to be critical, but when used wisely, it’s a chance to start over and progress!

What to expect from an online Study Skills workshop

Photo of Tala, the author of the blog postby Tala Youhana, Law student and Bristol Futures Advocate

Whilst it is now second nature for groups to arrange meetings remotely, this has hardly been common practice for long. In fact, for many, these online venues can still feel like unfamiliar territory. “Is my mic switched on? Will my Wi-Fi hold?”, you probably resonate with these if you are no stranger to using Zoom, Teams, Collaborate etc.

Nonetheless, negative connotations aside, online workshops can have numerous plus-sides that shouldn’t be overlooked, and a good way of experiencing them first-hand is by attending an online study skills workshop. So, what exactly can you expect from an online study skills workshop?

  1. Guidance on using Collaborate

Firstly, the hosts will often assess whether anyone is having any issues with using the platform and are always happy to help if you are! These sessions are often held via Collaborate and login instructions would be provided beforehand.

  1. Unpacking of the intended learning outcomes

To ensure the most productive outcomes for the session, it is common for hosts to assess what participants’ want to achieve by attending the workshop. A slide will normally appear detailing the objective intended outcomes, but feel free to contribute your targets here, as even if the workshop may not wholly deal with them, your contribution would be considered by the team for a future session! 

  1. Lots of questions – no wrong answers

A workshop, unlike a talk or a lecture, is completed only insofar as the participants are responsive with the host- therefore, it is as much your contribution as it is the facilitator’s. Most importantly, it is an environment where you can expect no wrong answers- a safe space to exchange your personal experiences and ideas, because by doing so, it will yield optimum results for you and others in the session. These discussion-based skill-building exercises are unique because they result in a bank of resources and ideas, and it will be up to you to simply find out what works for you!

  1. Plenty of live engagement with the option of anonymity

The unique aspect of an online-based study skills workshop is that tools such as Mentimeter, Padlet, and polls truly shine in this environment. The ability to retain some anonymity throughout the session whilst still being fully engaged makes online study skills workshops unique in sharpening the skills you are looking for. For me, these tools really helped promote reflective and critical engagement with my study habits and routines.

  1. A welcoming environment

I think it’s crucial to reiterate what a friendly and welcoming environment you can expect from these workshops. They are open to all students and are designed in a way that is accessible to those who speak English as foreign language, have learning difficulties, or are still getting started on intensifying a particular skill.

You now, hopefully, have a better idea of what to expect from an online study skills workshop, but the best way to really get that insight, is probably to try it out yourself!

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!

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.

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!

Student perspective: Catching up on work when you’ve fallen behind

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

Falling behind is something that so many of us students struggle with. When I run study-skills workshops and drop-ins, I notice that this is very common, especially in the faculty of arts, when we are often given so much reading! I’ve compiled a list of things that help me when I feel I need to get more on top of my often-hectic university workload, that will hopefully be applicable, regardless of your academic discipline.

Don’t panic!

It’s important to acknowledge that falling behind is okay! Things crop up in life that can get in the way of your workload and I can almost guarantee that it has happened to every student, particularly during these uncertain times. All you can do at this point is acknowledge that you are behind and move forward, by trying not to dwell on those times when you could’ve worked ‘more’ or ‘harder’.

Acknowledge what you have done.

Reflect on those moments where you did go to seminars, do some reading or watch lectures. This doesn’t mean that you’re ignoring the fact that you need to catch up, but it creates a more positive mindset, which will be a huge motivation when getting back on top of things. It is also a reminder that you can do it!

Reach out to your peers and tutors, ask for extensions.

If you feel like you need some support, message some course mates or friends – if you’re feeling this way, others probably are too. Also, email your tutors for support or help with assessments – tell them how you’re feeling, and they can help you plan ahead and get on top of things. Tutor and peer advice can help immensely in your individual reassurance that you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. Remember, if you’re experiencing anything that you feel you need extra support in, you can always contact student wellbeing. You can also contact your school and ask for extensions if you feel like catching up in time for assessments will not be possible.

Make a list of things you need to do.

Making a to-do list of the things that you have missed and/or need to catch up on is possibly the best first step you can make. It’s important to write these tasks down in order to visualise what you need to do. It can be really overwhelming when you know you have things to do or catch up on, but not being sure exactly what they are. Therefore, try not to think of this list as ‘things you haven’t done’ but of ‘things you will do in the future’, which will allow for a more constructive outlook as you think about these tasks.

Evaluate what things you need to do.

Acknowledge that some things you may need to leave behind. Catching up on a 300-page book from three weeks ago, when you are still learning new content and catching up on other things, may not be realistic. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself; it’s also important to recognize that sometimes you can’t do everything; your mental and physical wellbeing must be prioritised. So, whilst you are trying to be proactive in getting on top of things, don’t see this as a time where you can’t relax and socialise because it is definitely a balance between the two.

Put the tasks on your to-do list in order of priority.

Each of the things that you need to do will have varying levels of urgency and will each take different lengths of time to complete. It is important to find a way of organising your list with these things in mind – that could be through colour coding, making sticky notes, scheduling tasks in you calendar etc. Different methods of organisation work for different people but try and find a method that works for you!

Take action.

Refer to your to-do list and hopefully you will feel confident in making a start with some of the tasks you need to do. Perhaps by making a schedule of your week, with realistic daily goals, will help you manage these tasks on top of your regular timetabled hours. All you can do is try your best and any step to move forward is advantageous and positive. The important thing is to try and not let the past inhibit how you go from here.

Think ahead!

This sounds daunting, especially if you’re currently behind, but there is no harm in looking ahead to see what is coming up in each unit. Additionally, look under the ‘assessment’ tab and make a note of the dates your essays, assignments and exams will be. This will allow you to have an idea of what is coming up, in order to stay on top of future work.

 

Thank you for reading this far into my blog post! I really hope these things will be beneficial. Don’t forget, there is support if you need it, and falling behind is okay and often out of your control. It’s been a really tough year, so be kind to yourself. If you have any methods of staying on top of your work, or catching up on past work, feel free to leave a comment!

Student perspective: How to make the most of your Reading Week

Photo of Tiegan, the author of this postby Tiegan Bingham-Roberts, Bristol Futures Advocate

If you are in the Faculty of Arts like me, it is likely that you have an upcoming Reading Week! For most Arts students this is Monday 1st – Friday 5th March, although some of you may have a different date range. I hope this blog will be useful ahead of Reading Week to inspire some activities you can do in order to stay productive and make the most of this time. So, here are my are my tips below:

 

(R)EADING: the clue is in the name, catch-up on reading!

If you didn’t quite manage to finish one or more of the texts you have studied so far in TB2, now is the time to set aside some time to finish them. Or, if you have an upcoming text that is quite long and will require a big chunk of time to read, you can use this week to get ahead and at least start reading that text. As a final year English student myself, there is usually always one ‘long’ text per Unit each term that is significantly longer than most of the others (remembering George Eliot’s Middlemarch from my second year here…) and Reading Week is a great time to tackle these head on.

(E)NHANCE: enhance your Study Skills by attending sessions and creating a study schedule

Now that you will be aware of roughly how much time it takes you to prepare for all your TB2 Unit seminars each week, how long it takes you to watch the pre-recorded lecture materials (be realistic – with pausing to take notes or skipping back to hear something you weren’t paying attention to for a few seconds – can make a 30 minute recording take 45 minutes!), and how long it takes you to do your readings for each week, you can set aside some time to create a study schedule. I personally find that writing into my diary/calendar a specific day and time to watch lectures, as if they were live sessions, to be really helpful. I also write into my diary/calendar when I am going to complete the preparation for all of my seminars, by paying attention to my usual working patterns and when I am at my most productive and energised to study. If you would like any advice on creating a study schedule that will set you up for success in the latter half of TB2, you can book into a 1-1 tutorial or drop-in session with the Study Skills team here.

 (A)NALYSE: analyse your feedback from TB1 assessments to spot common areas to improve on for TB2 assessments

You are likely to have received some if not all of your feedback from TB1 assessments by the start of your Reading Week, so it is a great time to look over that feedback again in an impartial way now that you have had time to digest the grade itself. This is a task that you often do not have time for when in the throws of writing a piece of academic writing or doing academic research – it feels like a waste of time to look back to past essays when you have so many future deadlines! However, Reading Week gives you the time to do this, and it can seriously improve your prospects of getting higher grades in TB2 because you can make specific changes and improvements. My other blog post, about using feedback effectively and building academic resilience, can be found here if you are interested to read more about this.

(D)ECIDE: get ahead on TB2 assessments by deciding on your interest areas

Check the ‘’assessment information’’ tab on the Blackboard pages for your TB2 units, to see whether your tutor has uploaded their essay questions document. They will probably have done this by Reading Week, because deciding on an essay avenue to explore in the latter half of the term is quite a common task for students to undertake during Reading Week. Even if you are not sure on the text, concept, event, framework, or author/scholar you want to write on, perhaps you haven’t studied the one that looks the most interesting to you yet, you will have a vague idea about what interests you and excites you when looking at the reading list. It’s also a good time to start thinking whether any of the tutors’ questions sound interesting to you or whether you want to devise your own question.

(I)NVITE: send some Zoom social invitations to your friends or coursemates

Now we move on to the personal side of Reading Week rather than all of the academic things. It is important to use this break productively, of course, but it is just as important to enjoy yourselves and do things that you don’t manage to find the time for whilst participating in normal teaching weeks. One of these things might be to catch-up with your friends or coursemates. At the moment in Bristol, with national lockdown restrictions, it is difficult to meet up in-person due to the rules apart from if you have a support bubble or are meeting one person for socially distanced exercise. Considering this, Zoom meetings (or similar platforms) may be the most practical way of catching up. You could organise a quiz (throwback to lockdown number one…), have a dinner date, have an afternoon tea meeting, have a cooking/baking session, host a watch party, and more!

(N)OTHING: set aside time to do nothing, to rest and relax!

All of the above activities are useful and involve actively doing something – but please so set aside time to do nothing. It can feel aimless to think of doing ‘nothing’, so you can make this more distinct by choosing a specific day of the Reading Week which you will spend doing whatever you like, whether it is sleeping in all day, watching Netflix, having a pamper session, going for a long walk to a place you want to explore, having a killer workout session, listening to loud music, doing some online shopping, etc.  Reading Weeks are designed to offer extra time for being productive as well as resting, relaxing, and rejuvenating. Letting yourself get burned out is never fun, so do something that will help to prevent this and allow you have consistent energy levels in the latter half of TB2.

(G)ET ORGANISED: clean and tidy your bedroom and organise your notes

Tidy space = tidy mind. During the chaos of the teaching weeks and the exhaustion of getting back into the swing of things since Winter Break, especially since TB2 started so soon after January assessments for many of us, you may not have spent much time on cleaning, tidying, and organising. Personally, I find having a clean house (albeit difficult to maintain in student accommodation!) makes me feel a lot more comfortable to work in productively. I also find that organising all of the random pieces of paper, receipts, letters, returns labels, that I have somehow accumulated over a month or so to help clear my mind. When you know that your room is tidy and contains nothing that doesn’t belong in there, it is usually a more attractive space to use. Reading Week is not only about replenishing your mind, you can also replenish the physical area around you.

Finally, thank you for reading, and have a great week! Do you have any other suggestions for How to Make the Most of your Reading Week? Feel free to share them in the comments section.

Student perspective: Even STEM students need a creative outlet

Photo of Gloria, the author of the post, holding paper and paintbrushesby Gloria Bosi, Bristol Futures Advocate

Hello everyone, my name is Gloria, and I am a 2nd year mechanical engineering student. After picking up painting as my lockdown hobby, I noticed a significant improvement in my ability to focus on my coursework. This inspired me to write this blog post.

As STEM students, we are often taught the most pragmatic approaches to problem-solving. The ones which, like mathematics, involve standard procedures or logical successions of operations. Hence, the greatest mistake we can make is to get stuck in a cycle of mindlessly applying physical laws or equations, without appreciating their significance or exercising our creativity in any way. This would only teach us to approach problems in a machinelike manner, and we already have computers for that. A creative mind is a flexible one, which can think for itself and overcome obstacles more effectively. For these reasons, I will try to persuade you to invest some time in an artistic outlet, if you are not doing so already. Here I summarize what, in my opinion, are the key advantages:

Painting in a sketchbook showing the rough outlines of buildings and palm tree against a sunset background

1. Improved mental well-being.
As you may already know, arts and crafts are often described as natural anti-depressants, because they cause the brain to release dopamine, the chemical of happiness. More specifically, creative activities like drawing and painting can increase levels of cortisol, which is the hormone that the body releases in response to stress. In other words, engaging in creative activities can
improve our mental well-being, making us feel more relaxed and content. This can help you let go of that stress from your most recent assignment!

2. Developing employability skills
If you are not yet convinced, making space for art can help us develop highly employable skills. For example, the process of crafting something with our own hands can improve our self-efficacy, which is our belief in our ability to succeed in a certain situation. Psychologists claim that a strong sense of self-efficacy improves our resilience and shapes the way we overcome challenges. These are crucial skills for the workplace, and to survive the pandemic.

3. Improved focus (flow)
As you probably know, our nervous system can only process a limited amount of information at a time, which is why some people find it particularly difficult to multi-task. When someone starts
creating, and focusing solely on their creation, they forget themselves and their surroundings for a while. Their attention is at full capacity, and their brain is stimulated at just the right level. This
phenomenon is known as flow. With enough practice, one can learn to use creative activities to elicit flow, and then channel it towards their other academic responsibilities. This can help you
get motivated to start the assignment that you have been procrastinating on! All it takes is a bit of time for habit formation.

We all need balance. I believe that an artistic outlet or hobby can help you find the right balance to be able to focus, feel, and perform better.

If you are not sure where to start, here is a list of things you can try, even just occasionally:

  • Drawing or painting – this is what I do. I used to be terrible at it, but improvement is almost unavoidable with enough practice. Check out the pictures of my paintings embedded in the post. I will let you guess which one was my first one, and which was my last.
  • Ceramics – perhaps requires a few more supplies.
  • Blackout poetry – very simple to do if you’ve got lots of old books. I highly suggest you
    google it if you are not familiar.
  • Journaling – easy to do on a regular basis.
  • Creative writing – this one is a bit more involved, and probably requires more time.
  • Knitting – you might already have the supplies in your house without even knowing.
  • Cooking and baking – this one requires talent that I do not have.
  • Gardening – ever tried growing potato sprouts?

Thank you for reading, and let us know what creative activity you will be trying in the comments!