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Starting a degree? Here are some ways to prepare!

Ahh the summer before starting a degree or going back to school - when motivation is high and brains are refreshed ready to take on the challenges of a new year. I have experienced this feeling 7 (soon to be 8) times throughout my many years at university and one thing I want to say is embrace it. Once you are a few weeks into your busy schedule, the buzz of your new stationary and making hand crafted notes wears off and the reality of full time study kicks in. But you can utilise that drive you have right now to get ahead and ensure your next year at University or college is your most productive YET.

I have had a good think about what I did and what I would have liked to have done before starting a new year to get my brain in gear. So follow these tips to get your next academic adventure off to a flying start, soaring middle and beautiful end.

Read a Recent Review Article

Reviews are summaries by experts of all the research so far in a particular field and they can give you an up-to-date view on the work going on. Not only will you get a flavour for the hottest techniques and big questions in your subject area, but reading this type of article now will help you so much during your degree. Practice makes reading literature much easier! So I suggest picking a topic you are interested in, googling this with 'review' on the end, picking a recently published article and practice reading over a few weeks. One article is plenty - and going over it a few times is even better to get yourself comfortable. Some of these will require your uni log in details but there should be open access ones out there too!

Set up your Schedule and Study Hours

Once you get your timetable (this can be last minute!), fill in these details in your own calendar (I use Google Calendar) and then add in time for study and recapping the lecture in the same week. Putting it in your calendar ahead of time makes it less negotiable (rather than a big blank 'free' space). For a PhD, this is harder to do but plan to be in from 9-5 Monday to Friday as a start and then you can adapt as time goes on. 

Decide on Note Taking and Storage Methods

This is something I wish I had done because I kept changing every year but having an established system of how you take and store notes will help so much when it comes to revision. Some people learn better through writing - myself being one of them - but in lectures, I would get into trap of writing everything which isn't necessary! I would suggest taking slide print out to lecture or laptop/iPad with slides on and annotate. Then in your study time for that lecture, write up the notes in way which is useful for you. Personally, I think doing this electronically is beneficial as when It comes to revision, you can edit, add in sources & information in the right order and then print to have your own ‘mini’ textbook. 

Make Pact About Going to all your Contact Hours

With the freedom a degree brings, it can be so easy to slip into not going to class. So make a pact now! Even plan a reward for the end of term as this should give you an incentive to keep going once motivation dwindles and tiredness creeps in. I find going to the scheduled hours (in person or virtual) helps you stay on top of the work and means you do not have to rely on yourself to catch up. I skipped sooooo many classes during my 2nd and 3rd years of undergrad and suffered so much for it! I now wish I had just turned up and listened instead of lying in bed.

Think about A Downtime Hobby

It is so important to have something to do outside of your course. If you already have something you love to do now, see if your uni has a society for it and plan to sign up on your first week. If you don’t, try to think of something you can commit to a several days to give yourself a break from work. For me, my hobby during undergrad was musical theatre and having that alongside my degree was amazing. Now during my PhD, I go to the gym almost every weekday before heading to the lab to give myself some space.

Start Some Mindset Work:

This is one of the MOST important things you can do to have a good quality of student life. Realistically, you are going to be quite shocked when you start your course and realise everyone is on your level (I did), and it can be really common to slip into imposter syndrome thinking ("I am not good enough to be here, I am a fraud"). On of the most effective ways to stop this from being overwhelming is to work on your own mindset and how you react to your thoughts. Things to do to recognise your thinking patterns include taking time for you every morning, reducing time on your phone, meditation, journalling, exercise and positive self-talk. Trying to make sure you are prepared to find things hard and learn from them, rather that seeing the new effort you require to achieve as a sign you are not good enough is such an important outlook to have!

Make Plan for When Motivation Goes

You may feel super excited and motivated to get going with your degree but let me tell you, that does wear off for most people. When it does, you need to have systems in place to ensure you can still work. This includes a set schedule/routine, meal prepping for the week (changed my life!) and focusing on the good that will come out of you working - I would write a list before you start the term of why you are doing your degree and stick it up!

Enjoy Your Summer!

Enjoy this time now to relax and have fun! Uni is great and you will have an amazing time, but you will have a lot of responsibilities. So take time now to see your friends, read your favourite books and relax. You got this!


Julia x

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