Letter to my undergraduate self: Simon Gamble – ‘Don’t waste brain power on fears, spend the time studying’

In a nod to 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 present Simon Gamble, Head of Study Skills.

Did you experience a culture shock when you started University?

Completely. I had no idea what I was doing, plus I didn’t really know if I should be there because I got pretty bad grades at A’ level. It all had a huge psychological effect on me and I was very unsure of myself for a long time, which is why I spent the first term getting drunk, doing no work, lying in bed all day and making friends with some real idiots. One day I was so freaked out I just wandered round the whole city feeling lost, instead of doing a practical session about fungus. I genuinely had no idea what was happening to me. It took me about four months to get over it, well into Spring term. Luckily I’d also made friends with some really great people, not just idiots. Those good people really helped me.

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

I failed a unit in year two. It was my favourite subject and I loved all the lectures, but I spent all my time working on the subjects I found hard, just assumed I’d do well at this one and I tanked. That was when I had to relearn how to learn. It taught me that there are techniques and strategies for learning that I needed to apply, especially that testing myself was a huge help and that studying takes time and some organisation. In the retake I got a really good score, though it was capped at a pass grade. I didn’t care though, because the revision skills I gained were more important.

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

My time in France. There were two of us accepted to go to Université de Technologie de Compiègne on a placement year. We worked incredibly hard, but we had a brilliant time and we were trained very well. Some previous students hadn’t made much effort and we were going to be the last ones unless it went well, so we turned that placement around and even got our names on a research paper. When we got back the head of course knew our names, so obviously we’d made a good impression. I made some brilliant friends, learned to speak French really well, learned to cook, survived a car crash and kind of discovered myself. I came back transformed and it made the final year so much better.

What was the best bit of feedback you received?

“You’re enjoying yourself here aren’t you Simon? Well, if you want to keep enjoying yourself, do some work.” Head of School, January, year 1. I listened.

What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?

Don’t worry so much, just do your best. You have a perfect right to be here and to be doing this, so get on with it. Be kind, be helpful and friendly and say yes to anything that sounds interesting. All those things you’re scared of, they’re never going to happen because they’re extreme and life is mostly very mundane. Just don’t waste the brain power on fears, spend the time studying and talking to your fellow students about your subject instead. You’ve done really well to get here and that’s not going to stop, so just keep on at it.  And don’t move in with Gerry because he turns out to be racist and you end up really hating each other.