Yesterday I left university for most likely the last time. It is hard to put into words how that felt, although the overriding emotion was relief. Mixed in with that was sadness, anticipation and a sense of achievement. I don’t know what degree I’ll be awarded but whatever it is will be the biggest success of my life to date. There is no denying the fact I struggled throughout and I’ve certainly surprised myself by finishing. It seems clichéd to be writing about my university experience yet I’ve wanted to do it for a while and now seems like an ideal time to.
First of all, let it be said that I don’t resent the University of Nottingham. Nottingham was welcoming from the first day and the campus has been the true highlight, with walks by the lake a constant reminder for me that there was more to life than physics. Nottingham as a city is also wonderful, a smaller version of Manchester in a central area of the country and so ideally suited for what I want. This year I’ve fallen in love with it and have decided I want to stay for at least one more year. I have been fortunate to live in an excellent house, have met some truly brilliant people and made friends, which I’m sure I’ll keep in contact with. So, from that viewpoint, life and university seems like a blast. Looking back upon it in years to come, I hope I remember all these positives although right now, the negatives are clearer in my mind.
If I don’t dislike UoN then I certainly am opposed to the idea of university. It’s likely that some, or more probably most, of my issues with university stem from my pre-judged view of it although it has to be said those three years there didn’t get anywhere close to changing said views. I saw it as an out-dated system, unable to adapt to accommodate more than one style of learning and refusing to believe there was something wrong with that approach. Lectures have become the bane of my life, not because they are hard or boring but because it was a struggle for me to understand any of the content. Lecturers regurgitate information at you, way too much for anyone to digest in 50 minutes and in a style that forces you to look over everything at home. I learn by doing examples and there were workshops but they weren’t for every module and with such a big class size, it was impossible for lecturers or helpers to see everyone and make sure they understood the work. That isn’t to say it’s a terrible system, as I admit I didn’t take workshops as seriously as I should and the department tried to make them better, adapting a room so it was easier for us to discuss our work with one another was a very positive move. Of course, there are some lecturers who clearly want a change in the way university lessons are taught but then there are those, and they are still in the majority, who don’t appear to see a problem with it. It came to the point where I taught myself the whole of every module I did since first year (and surprisingly my marks got much, much better).
Furthermore, I don’t believe I was ever taught how to take notes or digest important information while independently reading; they are seen as skills to which you can adapt. Yet that doesn’t consider many people who are like me, in the sense that adaption takes time and needs guidance. I didn’t meet anyone during the three years who could give me pointers on how I’d go about isolating the important points from slide after slide of physics work, all of which seemed crucial. I didn’t work as hard as I should have at this but I certainly would have benefitted from a little push in the right direction. One of the most disappointing aspects of university teaching for me was the aim of teaching for an exam rather than to learn. I naively thought that this was a trait only of GCSE and A-Levels and that at degree level, you would be taught more as a way of learning knowledge rather than simply passing an exam. It’s a fine line, and one more easily crossed if the participant is willing to engage in the subject matter. I was most certainly not able to and as a result, I doubt I’ll remember 90% of the physics I’ve learnt this time next year.
So, choosing physics was completely the wrong decision to make. I know that now, although I think I’ve known for a long time. I would have stopped sooner if it weren’t for a determination to finish that I had never experienced before. I won’t get a first class degree but a 2:1 or a 2:2 is somewhat akin to a miracle given how much I’ve struggled and how little I’ve wanted to do it for the last two years.
Essentially what I’m trying to say is to think carefully before you sign up to do a course at university. Think about your learning style, whether you can adapt should you need to and plan a strategy before you leave. Think about the subject you have decided to do and whether it is truly right for you. Finally, think hard about where you want to spend three years of your life. If you can be comfortable with 2 or 3 of those than university will suit you, or you will adapt to suit it. I personally only made one correct decision, with that being Nottingham was close to home but not too close I couldn’t visit regularly while I needed to.
Of course, university isn’t all about work and once crucial aspect of it is socialising. While at secondary school or college, most of your evening was spent doing what the family were or homework. At university, the major advantage is that you can do what you want whenever you want. Throughout the many years of improving life for students, and this is a sad reflection of how boring the internet age is, the only ideas which anyone have come up with is socials. A night where you get together, visit as many clubs as you can and drink until you throw up on the street. Of course there are variations of this theme, with pool, bowling or whatever but they all carry one single constant: alcohol. For some, this idea of getting so drunk you can’t remember your name is appealing but for others, who are cast out and viewed as outsiders, it is distasteful. I fit very much in the secondary bracket. I’m far from teetotal; I just don’t particularly like the taste of most alcohol and am a firm believer in the ability to have a good time without drinking. But those perfectly fine views make it difficult to see your friends without loads of awkward questions about why I’m not drinking. I don’t blame people for this; I blame the system, the belief that alcohol is an absolute must for people my age. I could write an individual blog about how wrong this is, and how hard it makes university for people like me. The hardest and lowest points were at night-time as I sat all alone, not wanting to change who I am but thinking I had to just so I wasn’t so lonely. To be fair, my friends have been brilliant and understand why I don’t drink as much and haven’t pried on it since first year.
Do I regret going? Well sometimes, but looking back I have to say that the positives do outweigh the negatives. The major positive is that I have adapted to all of the stuff I’ve mentioned, found a way to cope and came out with a degree rather than three years of failure. I’ve proved to myself that I can leave home without falling apart and in fact, I rather enjoy being away from my previous comfort zone. The biggest success of my university career is that I want to be away from my family, that I want to settle down somewhere and live with who I want, do what I want and be self-sustaining. I want to try my hand at work, I want to see what I enjoy and what I don’t, and I now know that no matter how hard stuff gets I can find a way to cope with it. I’m not super smart, I’m not talented at any one thing but I know now that I have a resilient streak within me, one which does not stop at the first barrier I face. I’ve thrown myself in the deep end and I’ve come up to breathe and prosper. I’m ready to face bigger challenges as I can draw on the strength gained from these experiences. This blog was never meant to be a rant about things I haven’t enjoyed, it was intended to show the difficulties I’ve faced, how I’ve overcome them and why I’m more positive than ever about the future. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved and therefore my university experience was time well spent.