Learning at university doesn’t necessarily mean learning things, although you’ll learn some of those as well. You’ll gain a bunch of other skills useful for later life (and some that are not, like how to eat spaghetti with only a spoon). In this blog post I’ll talk about stuff I’ve learned through my degree, that wasn’t actually my degree.
It’s a major part of any course, and vital for accessing higher grades. As far as I can work out, it means questioning absolutely everything. My French tutor has told us, that when reading articles and papers, we should ask ourselves “REALLY?” in our heads at every point presented. This can get a bit irritating, but it does work.
What’s great about York is that the teaching staff will push you to think in this critical way; to question everything and form your own opinions based on research. This is useful in later life:
- So you can sound interesting at dinner parties (although my current essay explores the positive effects of colonialism, so you have to be careful what you say)
- So you can think about situations differently, finding new ways to approach and solve problems.
You may have heard that being at university means you’re expected to work independently and you should expect less help from your tutors and lecturers. This isn’t strictly true. Whilst you won’t get much support in the self-motivation department (i.e. nobody to kick you out of bed in the morning), there are plenty of ways to access help with your studies. Academic staff (the people who teach the modules) have an office hour once a week, which you can attend if you have any concerns about the course content.
You’ll also have an academic supervisor with whom you can discuss your progress and talk about any problems. Seminars (smaller and more personal than lectures) are also good environments in which to raise any questions and make sure you’ve understood. The support will be there – you just need to ask for it!
You’ll finish your degree with the ability to work independently, but also knowing how and when to ask for more information and advice. This is really useful for your future work environment: employers don’t want graduates who need spoon-feeding, nor people who never ask for help or clarification and consequently make mistakes.
Each course will vary for the amount of creative thinking you’ll have to do, but you can develop this skill in any degree. As part of my French-English translation module this year, we’re doing lots of technical translations. These can be about anything from nuclear physics to wine, and so your expertise in the area is likely to be limited.
When trying to work out the meaning of a particularly complicated phrase concerning the manufacture of the outer lining of a yacht (my yacht expertise = 0), I suddenly realised that it might be similar to how carbon-fibre frames for bikes are made (my bike expertise = somewhat better). A few Google searches later and I understood what my article was on about. It’s not the most obvious example of creative thinking, but being able to think outside the box and draw in other knowledge to help you solve a problem is definitely useful in life as well as at university.
Putting yourself outside your comfort zone
It’s never particularly pleasant to do, but the more you try, the easier it becomes. There are loads of ways to do this at university, with your course, societies and volunteering, and 98% of the time, it’s worth it. For those few times where you tried something and it didn’t go that well, realising that it’s not the end of the world is also good to know. You did a presentation and fumbled over a bit in the middle? As much as it feels horrendously embarrassing for you, your classmates will have forgotten about it approximately 30 seconds later.
I felt most out of my comfort zone whilst at work in a primary school on my year abroad in France. I faced big classes of kids, with what felt like limited French and teaching experience. It was an enormous learning curve initially, but I persevered and ended up really enjoying my job. My French has improved as well – I can come out with things like “Take your finger out from your partner’s nose and carry on with your work!” without even thinking about it (amongst other, more useful improvements). The more you put yourself out there, the more you’ll gain from the experience.
So voilà – your degree can help you in many weird and wonderful ways. Remember that even if parts of it aren’t exactly your cup of tea, you’re still learning from the experience anyway!