Student bloggers

Life as a student in Bath

Topic: Yousuf

An update on the second semester

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, First year, Yousuf

The second semester started off slowly but picked up momentum as it went along. The greatest relief was going onto something new and hopefully more interesting after having to re-read the first semester’s notes a million times. The modules bring additional complexity to what we are learning but also add a design aspect to things. Our lecturers are starting to give us more free reign with some of our work, especially with work that is design oriented. Designing circuits and programmes for things like vending machines and safe locks may seem tedious but I began appreciating the engineering that goes into mundane things that people take for granted.

Designing a counting circuit – Don’t worry it doesn’t work

Designing a counting circuit – Don’t worry it doesn’t work

The second semester did not only bring in new modules but the results of our first semester exams. I was surprised to find out that I did better than I predicted myself after completing the exams, (my handwriting was a disaster) but I am happy to say that I made it in one piece. Just like everything in my first year I learned a lot about myself during the examinations that I can work on for the next time, continuous improvement is essential. The first year marks are not counted towards my degree but I think the emphasis of my first year is getting students on the right track more than assessing their marks.

‘Just turn on the LED’ they said, ‘Its easy’ they said

‘Just turn on the LED’ they said, ‘Its easy’ they said

Spring is also here! Not being from this part of the world I am glad to see sunnier days. I have survived the winter and I am really looking forward to spending some time outdoors as I am tired of crowded canteens and the vending machine area of the library.

Springtime in full swing

Springtime in full swing

The students union has also organised a new set of fairs (albeit less glamorous than Freshers' Week) to attract new members to its plethora of societies, which means it is another chance for me to venture out of my hermetic shell and into the great beyond. I have already tried Pilates (at which I only managed to blubber around unlike my more flexible comrades) and the St Johns ambulance, where I am learning about all the ways people manage to hurt themselves. I’ve taught myself that there really isn’t anything to lose by at least trying, and all these societies are run by students who themselves have hectic workloads, so it’s a very understanding environment where I can put in whatever free time I have.

Luckily for us, Easter holidays are coming earlier this year. This is great because I can finally catch up on some work (and have a break too). Some lecturers have conveniently finished the lecturing part of their respective courses which is great for us because I can spread out my revision more evenly and bring down a lot of the stress that can occur during revision week. Getting a revision-ready set of notes for two of my modules is a goal I set for the holidays.

Last but not least, the legendary summer vacation is getting closer and I have (hopefully) planned myself out to make the most of my free time then. More on that later!

 

Adding spice to university life: gym, vegetable plots, and the Bath Award

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📥  Faculty of Engineering, First year, Yousuf

Things had started to get pretty repetitive for me in university. Bus – Class – Lunch – Class – Bus is the cycle I’ve been in since September. However, I have managed to find some extra-curricular activities to add some spice to my routine.

After a long wait I have finally convinced myself to get a gym membership (halfway through the year). I have delayed getting a gym membership for a while due to a mixture of university workload and procrastination. I was also very unsure of what I would be doing in the gym because I’m not that avid of a gym-goer, so I was surprised that the gym offered me a free service when I joined that set me up with a trainer who wrote out a workout schedule for me.

Early mornings at the gym

Early mornings at the gym

After booking a meeting with the trainer I settled with a programme that I do on my own and gets changed every six weeks. I have also seen trainers that provide a personal training service too, but that wouldn’t suit me because I prefer my timetable to be flexible. Having a space where I can put on my music and row till I can’t feel my legs anymore is greatly appreciated … at least until I have to waddle into campus next day.

The main reason for my awkward induction to the Sports Training Village gym was because I was getting bored of swimming being the only sport I do whenever I get tired of work. I am slightly regretting not joining a sports society to learn a new sport, but there is always next year. The gym will be keeping me busy until then with all the different things that I can do. It’s slightly becoming an obsession as I am starting to look at different techniques which push me to my limit.

I have also begun to apply for volunteering opportunities through the Students Union. One of these is a community garden where students get to prepare and plant a plot in a park in the city of Bath where anyone can contribute to/benefit from what is planted. The idea is to get people familiar with plants that are local to the area, and all of it is organic. I really enjoyed this more than any of the volunteering opportunities I have had before because I really believe in organic produce and using public spaces for more than just flower and tree galleries. I also have gotten to meet some really cool people who have similar interests.

The vegmead vegetable plot in early spring

The vegmead vegetable plot in early spring

The one and only, Rodney the Rhubarb!

The one and only, Rodney the Rhubarb!

Another opportunity I am looking forward to is teaching secondary students about electricity and magnetism with an engineer from Airbus- I can’t wait!

Last, but not least, I have started to look at the Bath Award and to about the criteria I need to meet in order to complete it. The Bath Award is an award given by the university to students who take on tasks that provide them with key skills that they will need when they graduate and enter the world of work. Its requirements are fairly straightforward and I think it will reflect all of my extra-curricular activities nicely by the time I graduate. So I can both enjoy my time volunteering and rest assured that the time I spent will be appreciated by future employers.

 

End of Semester Exams: Part 2

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, First year, Yousuf

This may sound like crazy, but I really couldn’t wait to come back to university. There is something about university life that I seem to have gotten used to subconsciously but never seemed to have figured out what it is exactly. As soon as my train got back into the station and I set foot back in Bath, I had a confident skip in my step and a solid ‘Battle-plan’ for revision week. I treated myself to a good night’s sleep and next morning I was off to the university library to hunker down for what was to come.

Try not to get stuck in the long line at the bus stop before an exam!

Try not to get stuck in the long line at the bus stop before an exam!

I slowly realised that having some of my friends come along to the silent study area is a bad idea because silent study quickly turns into a miming competition and a lunch planning committee. I also understood the unwritten laws of the library during exam periods. The seat you get is the seat where you will stay until you cannot physically turn one more page, the moment you leave someone will take your seat and you’ll be abolished to library purgatory where you shuffle around the library looking for another seat. However, I did also discover that there is a treasure trove of rooms that are booked for students to study in which I found extremely useful.

Going into the exam for the first time was a bit scary and weird at the same time. Scary because it was my first exam at  university level, but weird because the atmosphere was more relaxed than A-Level examinations. The invigilators seemed to expect you to know what to do and don’t tend to repeat things like at the beginning of IELTS exams- I specifically enjoyed not being told a hundred times about the punishments of cheating!

When I started my first exam (Mathematics 1) I had a shaky start due to my own anxiety. I wish I could apologize to whoever had to mark my paper because of all the crossing out I did. The fact that I had a choice of questions I could answer did not help either as I kept jumping from question to question trying to decide which was easier. I managed to pull myself together just in time to do the required amount with enough confidence in my answers to hand in my paper with a good outlook.

After the first exam the following exams were pretty much straightforward. Although some of the exams surprised us because they differed vastly from the 5 year trend seen in the past papers, I still managed to keep my momentum up until the final exam. I realised throughout the semester that I can only prepare for something as much as I can, and to a certain degree I have learnt to this. Managing time during an exam is a critical skill that I will need to learn quickly, but since my first year does not contribute to my final mark on my degree I have some time to figure this out

After completing my exams I had prepared to go on a little holiday to London just to have a change of scenery. I managed to find a deal on a hotel that isn’t too far away from central London and along with my 16-25 railcard I managed to save a good amount of money, which was put to good use I promise. Choosing London as a destination might seem boring compared to where a lot of people go on their holidays but seeing a familiar place with a new attitude made my visit more special.

Harrods is always in a Christmas mood

Harrods is always in a Christmas mood

Workers taking down Banksy's latest while on my visit

Workers taking down Banksy's latest while on my visit

Coming back to university for the second semester was kind of like starting a New Year again. I have made my resolutions and I have learnt from my previous mistakes, all that’s left now is to take it head on.

 

End of Semester Exams: Part 1

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, First year, Yousuf

After beginning my first semester at university I was very surprised at how it abruptly it ends. I was amazed at how the first semester flew by and all without me noticing. I blame this not on the amount of fun I was having but also on the constant workload and the back-to-back report/assignment juggling I had to do. Nonetheless, it was time to put on my revision boots and to get planning. Revision seems like something that you would naturally do, you have done a lot of it in school and so you should know the ins and outs of how you manage to remember things. Going into revision for university requires nothing special but knowing a few extra tips and tricks will help you to save time!

One of the first things I had to consider was what I would be taking back home with me as I was planning to spend Christmas back home. I decided not to run to the library and take advantage of their winter loans (which span the Christmas break and more) and take out every book your lecturers recommended, but instead to use my notes and the lecturer’s notes which were more than sufficient

You'll be seeing a lot of this at Uni!

You'll be seeing a lot of this at Uni!

Organisation is one of the most important things that is both tedious and life-saving. Some departments do not allow the solutions to past exams to be published, so you get stuck with a past paper with no answers to check yours against. Here comes the value of all those questions your tutors set for you throughout the semester, your tutors would have provided solutions to those and an insight into how questions should be solved in the exam. These along with any quizzes and tests will provide you with a wealth of knowledge of what might be coming, so save those papers and make sure to ask your lecturers all the questions you need to ask while you still have them!

The sad state of my bookshelf

The sad state of my bookshelf

Some departments offer an exam preparation lecture slot. This lecture is near the end of the first semester before the break and explains what is going to happen in the exams and how the exams are handled after you hand it in to the invigilator. The university uses an anonymous marking system that is good because this means the marking of the papers is completely fair. The lecturer at one of these sessions might also throw in some helpful tips with answering the exam questions or explain how they mark exams which will give you some pointers as to how to approach questions. On top of this, the lecture serves as a reassurance to anyone who is beginning to panic about their first exams at university.

Christmas break well deserved after a semester of hard work and it should be treated that way. It's important not to get into a cycle of paranoia and burnout where you think you aren’t studying as much as you should and how much your friends have completed. Take things at your own pace and make sure you take time to relax, and with good planning and preparation revision is far more likely to be successful.

 

How to deal with misbehaving coursework

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, First year, International student, Yousuf

As I am writing this, I think I have survived what the first year of university could throw at me. I’ve certainly become better at sprinting to catch the bus. Everyone talks about how there’s a big difference between school and university, but no one seemed to have told me what the difference is or what I should expect. The most noticeable difference was the amount of detail that had to go into my reports, which took me a while to get into the groove of doing. Nonetheless, the university does a really good job at throwing tonnes of resources at you so that you can pick up academic skills really quickly.

I am going to be talking about the way I have been writing reports for my Engineering modules, other subjects may do things differently but may have similar aspects, so your mileage may vary.  The first thing I was told is how to structure a report, sounds simple on paper but it really isn’t. It may all look swell when you’ve divided things into neat little categories but you then fall into an existentialist dilemma as to where all your new-fangled data is supposed to go. A simple way of avoiding this is to assume your reader (your lecturer) has no idea what your report is about. That way, you start out slow by introducing the topic of your report, speed up when you start displaying your data, and then ease into the conclusion with a discussion.  Linking paragraphs in your writing gives it nice flow.

The university provides academic writing skills courses which you can do in your own time and whose credits do not go towards your degree. This seems off-putting to many students and it is also the reason why a lot of them apply and don’t go through with the course. However, after enrolling in an academic writing course tailored towards scientific studies, I cannot stress how important this is. Specifically for first years, the course will give you a foundation in writing in an academic context, and once you’ve done it once, you’ll never have to do it again because you’ll be constantly using the skills you have learnt.

The Writing center decorated in a lovely 'Emergency' Red

The Writing center decorated in a lovely 'Emergency' Red

Even down the line if you need help with a specific subject, the writing centre offers 20 minute sessions where you can sit down and get all your full stops and commas in order.

A more obvious resource to your adventures through writing is the Library. It has tonnes (literally) of help to do with referencing and examples of academic writing.

The library's wall-of-wisdom

The library's wall-of-wisdom

Picking a referencing guide and keeping it with you is a very important to do during your time at Uni, and you’ll be referring back to it a lot during your studies. Another tip I would give is to reference while writing, meaning that as soon as you use someone else’s ideas in your report, reference the source you got it from. This saves you a lot of time when it comes down to submission time.

My copy referencing guidelines sheet glaring at me cynically

My copy referencing guidelines sheet glaring at me cynically

Another great way of getting into academic writing is to actually read journals in your specific field. Your professors would be asking you to write your reports in a similar way to what is written in journal articles, albeit somewhat simpler. So finding a journal article that is not too complex and reading it to look at its structure can come in handy.

In the end, this may seem like a cause for panic, but don’t worry. If you pace yourself and take a calculated step in the right direction you’ll be fine.

 

A Hitchhikers guide to choosing a university

  

📥  Faculty of Engineering, First year, International student, Yousuf

Choosing a place to study may seem like a difficult decision due to the many factors that are involved. It may seem overwhelming at times because there are so many good options that entice you into considering a course. However, a reality (and sanity) check must be made here because there is a lot depending on this and maintaining your academic momentum is essential. Here is a concise guide to the thought process I went through while deciding on the big five.

The first thing to do is to reflect. Look at your current grades and the grades that you are predicted, set a threshold of grades ranging from worst to best case scenario and start looking at university courses which are within that range. This is easier said than done because overconfidence may give things a silver lining, so take your time during this step and make a list of universities and courses that suit your aspirations.

When choosing a course look for additional things you can do to enhance your degree like joint degrees, placement years and language options- these can significantly increase your employability and add flavor to your studies.

Make sure you list the courses and their codes as this will make it easier for you in the future, and you can strike out choices as you narrow your decisions down. Another resource might be your teachers or advisers as they will obviously have some experience with higher education, make sure you take advice from a teacher whose class you enjoy because that’s where you’ll find the best advice.

Narrowing down your choices

This is where you will start to narrow down your choices to something more manageable.

One of the most important factors for me when considering my choices was the location of the university and its services. Start off by reading about the universities that you applied to and considering the type of location that they are in. Are they in the middle of a bustling city? Or next to a dairy farm? These are all personal choices that you have to make depending on the kind of lifestyle you’d like. If you have a sport or activity that you enjoy doing you may want to read about the facilities that the university is able to offer- this is critical because after a weekday crammed with study, you’ll be looking forward to unwinding during the weekend.

It might be helpful for you to attend the open days of the universities you are applying to: reading a review of the university online and visiting it in person are two totally different things and can make a world of difference when deciding. Taking a parent or older sibling along is also a great idea so you can get a second opinion and gain insight from their own experiences.

Library with a view anyone?

Library with a view anyone?

Making an insurance choice

Now that you’ve taken all factors into consideration you should have shortlisted your original list to around five universities, give-or-take. This is where I bestow the greatest piece of advice which I personally benefited from greatly. Have a good university that you believe you can get into in the event of a worst case scenario as your insurance choice. This will work as a safety net that will keep you moving forward if things go sour.

You can have any university you want as your other four choices, but a guaranteed insurance choice is a must.

Don't panic

Sometimes things don’t go the way you might expect them to. This is where you have to take life by the reins and start steering yourself through a path that you think will lead you to the long term goals you want to achieve (and enjoy yourself while doing so). There is an entire world for you to discover, and this is an opportunity for you to take a step into the unknown and find something that you really want to do, so don’t worry if you get a little lost along the way. Things can go in any direction and you have to find a way to taking advantage of any situation!

 

Freshers' Week: The story of a small fish in a big pond

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📥  Faculty of Engineering, First year, International student, Yousuf

Here I am, 7000 kilometers away from home. I do not live on university accommodation, I do not understand the bus system and I do not know anyone. I had to rent my own apartment in my first year, because I was late in applying for university accommodation. I miss busses or go on busses that take me into the countryside. I try to approach people but I lose all self-confidence and pull back. To add insult to injury I did not have a Freshers' bracelet so I couldn’t go to any events. Nonetheless, Freshers' Week was looming in, and the best I could do would be to find a way to participate somehow.

Going into university for the first day of Freshers' Week did not feel special for me, being a practicing Muslim, I thought that Freshers' Week would just glide past my calendar. I don’t drink, I don’t go to parties and I am a vegetarian- life of the party right? In spite of my shortcomings, I managed to find a group of friends who were open minded and accepted me for who I am. I felt comfortable going out with them and having fun doing things in groups that I would not really enjoy doing alone. They understood my religious obligations and did not pressure me into doing anything I am not comfortable doing.

One of the many friends I met during Freshers' Week

One of the many friends I met during Freshers' Week

One of the first things I tried during Freshers' Week was the free movie night hosted by the film society where I managed to stumble upon some people with similar interests to mine.  More notably I met a selfie collector; who goes around taking selfies of all the people he meets during Freshers' Week. After a conversation on everything sci-fi and the love-and-let-go movie night I became number 86 on his list of selfie pictures, we parted ways after that, but we still manage to bump into each other now and then. During my next induction, I managed to find someone I sat next to in a previous presentation who introduced me to a circle of friends, which was all that was necessary for me to get the ball rolling for Freshers' Week.

The idea of Freshers' Week, in my mind at least, is for the university to show what it’s capable of providing to its new undergraduates, both from a recreational and academic point of view. Walking into the parade for the first time, you will be amazed at how varied the sports on campus are; sports are not limited by the universities state-of-the-art sports village, but go beyond it. Sports like riding, mountaineering and gliding offer the opportunity to students to go off the beaten track for a nominal yearly fee, (if you are brave enough). Freshers' Week also takes time to show off the university's varied societies, if you couldn’t find your place during the sports fair, you will surely find a society that suits your interests, guaranteed. Period.

Some of the most memorable experiences during Freshers' Week, to name a few, would be the very self-explanatory pizza and board game night at the SU (Students Union) and the inflatables rides. Going to pizza and board games might seem silly during the first week of university where everyone is partying as hard as they can, nonetheless, playing an intense game of monopoly and finding our inner tycoons was a great opportunity to break the ice and meet new people. Inflatables on the other hand, actually caught me off guard. If you think about it, a bunch of undergraduate students jumping around on a bouncy-castle and nearly flying off into the grass field may turn you off the event, but just drag yourself there and you will be thanking me later.

A celebrity interview on campus

A celebrity interview on campus

All that I have been able to mention above has been my personal experience of Freshers' Week, I haven’t mentioned any of the parties, yoga sessions, campus challenges or the open mic nights because I did not have time to try any of them, but thinking of that now I should have made time. As Freshers' Week came to a close, it was time to go back to getting into the rhythm of going to bed early, organizing my weeks on my planner, setting reminders and deadlines. I look back at myself leaving home for the first time and not knowing what lay ahead of me. Throwing all sense of comfort out of the window and going out to do something I have never done before. Having to deal with things I didn’t understand and people I didn’t know. I look back at all of this with a grin on my face and the unquestionable beat in my heart saying, ‘More, more, more’.