Things I've Learned After Third Year University

It's been three years (okay, technically four years, since I did take a year out after second year) and I'm still working my way through an engineering degree. Guess what though? It's officially summer and that means that I'm finished my courses for the year!

I wanted to share a bit of my knowledge with anyone who's interested in learning more about what university, or more specifically, engineering, is like. Or anyone who's interested in my uni experience so far. Without further ado, I'm going to talk about some of the both educational as well as social lessons.

1. You may not get the grades you expect to get

When I left high school, I was used to doing really well in all of my courses (except art courses oops). However, I remember how it felt to enter university and suddenly get much lower grades than I expected. I felt so bad for a while, until I realised that those topics are not designed for you to do perfectly. You're getting a degree to learn about way more advanced topics than you have ever learned in school, and it's going to take work to keep up. Plus, you're there with lots of other students who have a similar aptitude for your chosen subject. You're also starting out a new stage of your life, and it can be quite a change from what you're used to. That way you're feeling- I can pretty much guarantee that everyone else is feeling that way too. Don't let this discourage you, though! Keep working hard, and try to find your own unique way to study. There's no set in stone way to do well in a course, you may have to go through quite a few different methods before you find the one that best suits you!

2. You might not understand everything

I remember thinking in high school that university would be so much easier because I would be doing a subject that I had chosen, and wouldn't have to do all the extra classes you have to do in high school. However, I was oh so wrong. Sometimes, the concepts make me want to tear my hair out, but in the end, I (generally) end up working through all my problems. Some of the topics, like partial differential equations, might just be something I will only ever partially (that was terrible- I know) understand. University is all about finding subjects that you're passionate about, and that definitely will not be every single subject you study. You just have to try your best at each subject, and not be too hard on yourself if you don't understand every little detail.

3. Structure is important

In high school, you're already in a routine, and teachers set you up for success with their learning materials. In university, the way the learning environment is set up is that you attend a lecture where the lecturer basically tells you a load of information about a topic, and then you have to spend your own time going through everything yourself. That means that sometimes, you can get a bit lost and suddenly find yourself at the end of the semester wondering what you've been doing for the past several months. Therefore, it's really good to get your ideal day structure nailed down as early on in your degree as you can. If you like to exercise first thing in the morning so your endorphins carry you through the morning, then try to wake up a bit earlier to get this done. Perhaps you like to do work with a bit of noise around you, so try to find a local café or somewhere on your campus where you can finish your afternoon assignments. It's nice to be able to get into a bit of a routine, although be sure to schedule in some downtime once in a while!

4. Get stuff done

After a few nerve wracking experiences submitting things at the last minute after staying up most of the night, I have learned that this is a less than ideal way to live. Therefore, what I started doing was predicting how many hours each assignment would take me, and multiplying that value by 1.5 to get the total number of hours it should take me. Then, I incorporate everything into my calendar- and by everything, I mean everything- down to when your socialising hours and meals should be. Of course, you're not going to stick to this 100%, but making sure you factor in enough time to complete that Dynamics Lab will definitely save some future stress. Plus, it means that you can really shut off after you've done your work for the day.

5. Work with others

Sometimes, it can feel like your university work is all consuming, and that you're all alone in it. That's simply not true! You have lots of other coursemates that are feeling the exact same way. You don't have to be best friends with everyone around you, but it does help to have a few study buddies so you can all speak about questions and revise together. Not only does it help make the work a bit less daunting, but it also helps you improve your understanding as you speak through any questions with others, while also sharing your own knowledge too! This will also give you a sense of what it feels like to work on projects with others in industry, which is quite a useful skill. Who knows, you might even end up becoming really good friends with your study buddy!

6. Speak up

There are so many people at university that it's easy to feel a bit lost in a sea of people. Remember, though, you have your own unique voice, and university is your chance to share that voice. Sometimes, it can be a bit intimidating, especially in places such as group projects (hello engineering boys who know everything there is to know about technical topics!), but remember that you have just as much a right to be there as they do and should contribute as such. Get a little bit of research done before you go into a meeting, and assert your opinion. A lot of the time, other people will have similar ideas and you can all build off of one another. This also goes for joining extracurriculars. It can be super beneficial to share your opinion, not only because you have a great idea, but it's also good practice for the future. The world revolves around human communication, so university is a great chance for you to find your voice and start developing it before you go out into the real world.

7. Get started on revision early

It can get easy to get wrapped up in university, and suddenly, before you know it, exams are a week away (this hasn't happened to me, mum...). I get it, procrastination is part of human nature. However, it's not so nice when you're in your honour years and your degree classification is hinging on the fact about how well you've done in your Thermodynamics Exam. Therefore, it's super helpful to have a schedule, and also to set deadlines for yourself. If you want to go through notes, have a date where you will have gone through all of your notes, so you can have time to absorb some of the info you didn't quite understand. Same goes with any tutorial questions. Not to mention it's really important to go through past exam papers well before the exam to get used to the layout. Getting exposure to the material before revision time can save a lot of time and stress at the end of the semester.

8. Get involved with whatever you find interesting

With tons of sports and societies available at most universities (my university has over 280 societies and 64 sports teams), there's a lot to choose from. It can feel a bit overwhelming, but there are usually taster sessions for each club/society, and you are not obliged to continue attending their meetings if you're finding you don't enjoy it. University is the perfect time to either continue refining your skills in a certain area, or even try something new! For me, I really enjoyed getting involved with my Mechanical Engineering Society and I ended up being on the executive committee and leading a lot of fun projects. I never would have imagined myself doing something like that, but I made lots of new friends and improved my skills along the way. Whether you're into theatre, absolutely love whiskey, enjoy scientific writing, want to learn a language, or maybe just want to go running with some other people, there's something for everyone. Don't be afraid to try something new, chances are you're not the only newbie and you may end up making friends and exploring some cool places.

9. Enjoy the moment

I'm the first to admit that university is a bit of a whirlwind. I personally love being involved in lots of things, so sometimes I forget to stop and remember that I am at such an interesting time of my life. There's so much going on around , in terms of people, course content, new activities and opportunities, that sometimes everything gets so busy and before you know it, summer has come and you're back at home. You've worked really hard to get to university, and are hopefully studying a subject that you enjoy, with your afternoons filled with sports/societies, and evenings meeting up with friends. Congratulations, you've managed to find your place at university, and should be really proud about what you have achieved.

10. You belong here

Trust yourself and your abilities. Especially when I entered university, I had the feeling like I wasn't good enough to be there. Everyone else seemed so smart, or had really technical knowledge that I just didn't have. However, you made it there fair and square, and you're still doing that degree! Everyone has their own strengths, as well as weaknesses, and at the end of the day, you're all there to learn more about your chosen subject. Just focus on yourself, and you'll do just fine!

I hope that this post is useful, not just for you guys, but also for me. It's really nice to reflect on the past few years at university and see how much I've learned since arriving as a wide eyed fresher. Of course, I definitely don't follow all of my aforementioned lessons all the time, but they're what I strive to accomplish and think about most of the time.

I'm not going to lie, it's not been the easiest road at university, especially given the subject that I'm studying. However, university has been a time of massive growth for me, and I'm really excited to see where I end up over the next few years.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned over the past few years?


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Mechanical Engineering student. Future space engineer. Writer. Runner. Passionate about getting more women into STEM.

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