my two cents: surviving uni


I've spent the majority of my life in school - probably longer than some of you have been on earth. I never thought I was qualified to give advice on surviving uni, but five years and three schools later, I figured it wouldn't hurt to pitch in my two cents.

Yes, yes, I know, 5 years and 3 schools sound excessive, but let me break it down for you. Uni back home has a standard of 4 years, like the American system. Not ready to go into the big bad world just yet, I spent the last year in London doing an extra year. Back between my freshman and sophomore year, I did a summer term at UC Berkeley. Now? I officially put uni behind me over the summer and I'm back in London - yes, studying. So if there's one thing that I can say I kinda know what I'm doing, I suppose it would be on how to survive uni.

1. Study what you love. 

There are so many buts with this statement, I know. But the main principle is study what you love. Throw aside the realistic questions for a second and ask yourself what classes/majors make you happy, and take those courses. Of course, reality can't be ignored. If you happen to be completely obsessed with say, philosophy, but you're worried that it won't be able to get you a job in the future, then take some side courses, like law or econ.

Trust me, I know how important it is to have at least one course that you love. It was no secret that I hated my standard four years of uni back home - I studied law and let's just say the teaching style of the professors were dull and cramming. If you're not aware, the schools in Taiwan are more about cramming you with knowledge and prepping you for exams like prepping a turkey before thanksgiving dinner - as much stuffing as you can fit into it. Anyway, that said, I think the only reason I managed to drag through the 4 years is because each term, I had at least one class that I enjoyed. Whether it was that Writing Class, or the Anglo-American law that had routine MOOT court practices, there was always that one class I could count on making my week better.

I'm doing a Criminology/Social Policy Programme and difference from before is that I look forward to studying. Of course, I'll still procrastinate reading those long academic articles (it's a habit I've yet to shake - also procrastinating that), but I don't stress and grumble too much over the readings because it's like a source of knowledge that I want to know everything about.

So even if you can't do a module on what you love, then for your sanity's sake, take at least one class you're passionate about each term! 

2. Show up to class. 

I should probably be the last one to tell you this as I was notoriously known among my circle of friends as the one that would skip half my classes to grab a cup of coffee. But that was back when I hated my school and the majority of people in it. And I suffered from it. Come exam season, I'd be reading the textbooks, utterly confused by the gibberish in it. In the end, I would just memorize without understanding and basically copy/print it onto my exam paper. Showing up to class and actually listening to the teacher helps a lot as these are academics that spent years researching what they're lecturing. Most of them know how to explain these complex theories and issues in a way that's understandable. Sure, there are going to be the ones that just going to highlight your question mark, which brings me to the next tip.

3. Get to know your TAs 

TAs are usually more accessible than professors, and less intimidating in my opinion. The TAs are usually grad students or even PhD candidates, which means they're also students themselves and will have better understanding of how to explain these complex issues in a way that students will understand.

4. Take notes. 

Whether you're reading for class, in a lecture, or revising, takes notes. Trust me, you won't be able to remember if you don't make any marks. Highlighter in hand, a pen/pencil is still always needed so you can make notes. Notes shouldn't be whole paragraphs from the readings, nor should they be a whole lecture word by word. You can't write that fast and you won't be able to process the lecture in all its glory. I'll do a post on how I take notes in the near future, but in short, mark down the bits the teacher stresses and goes into full explanation. Concentrate the words, but don't concentrate it to a point that causes question marks as to why you wrote down 'Hertz, right good left bad' when revising. 

5. Pre-class reading and regular revision

I know, every teacher stresses this but at least when it came to me, I could count the times that I actually followed this advice during my standard 4 years. But coming to London and going to an uni that has a demanding course load, I started pulling up the core articles for that week's lecture, or at least the pre-uploaded powerpoint and had a big picture of what the lecture was going to be about. I find that way, it's easier to follow the teacher's logic. Regular revision is something that I started doing in the past year as well, and the weeks that I really spend time and effort into the revision are the weeks that I remember more clearly come exam session now.

6. Look at the big picture, not just the chunks. 

There's a reason people tell you to look at the big picture, because it works. I remember after first week of classes, I was gushing with a friend at how much I loved the teaching style here. Rather than going into details and just explaining theory after theory, they gave you the big picture, the outline and the structure. Details were for the students to go home and read up on. Even if the teachers were explaining theory after theory, they'd still try and give you the outline of how the theories developed, how they transformed and connected. The big picture. The same goes to revision, instead of tackling the text from first word to last: read the titles and subtitles first, then read the conclusion. This allows you to know what the article's argument is and provide a bullet point structure that allows you to better follow the logic. It's just like essay writing - know your conclusion and your arguments before you start writing and then structure the essay according to it.

7. Teach. 

Yes, even if you're not planning to go into the academic world for future career, teaching is still beneficial. Only those that truly know what they're studying are able to explain the concept to other people without sounding mental and all over the place. I taught for a couple of years as a part-time job and over the summers, it was always obvious to myself when a topic I wasn't that familiar with rolled around - you're twisting around in your own logic and caught off guard by the questions asked. But when you're familiar inside and out with what you're trying to study, then all that comes with ease. So next time you're revising and/or writing an essay, grab a friend, sit them down and teach them what you're trying to learn. If they understand the theory and you're not blindsided by their questions, then by George! I think she's got it! (oh yeah, I've had sessions where my flatmate is trying to teach me about political economy and him learning about the theories of why stalkers stalk) 

I hope that it was helpful. These were some this and that lessons I picked up along the way. Five years, three unis and already planning on being a student for at least another year, I have a couple of cents in my pocket to share; so don't hesitate to ask if you have any questions!

With love, Daphne x

(special thanks to Jaye for commenting that I've 'been to so many unis and never want to leave it' and Iqra for commenting on an instagram photo - they inspired this post)

This post was originally on my personal blog, but after de facto abandoning it and this post being backlinked quite a bit by me or mentioned throughout the comments - I decided that it would probably be more efficient if I just moved it here.