Coming to the end of my second year studying Psychology at Bath, I can safely say that I look back on it fondly, despite the challenges the pandemic has presented. This isn’t to say that the second year was a breeze; there were multiple occasions where I questioned my ability to cope with the workload and content, whilst of course trying to fit in plenty of socializing in the form of socially distanced walks! To add to the pressure, I was hyper-aware that second-year actually counted towards my final degree mark, and on top of this I was trying to secure a placement for my third year.
An impossible task? It might have seemed that way, but I am a firm believer that with the right mindset anything is possible. In this blog, I will be sharing my tips for surviving the second year, plus my experience of the placement process. Whether you are coming to the end of your first year and preparing yourself for what is to come, or not even at uni yet but wanting to get a feel for the bigger picture, I hope you’ll find this blog helpful. Let's jump right in...
Be one step ahead – Plan, plan, and then plan some more!
The number one thing that I found really helped me to keep a cool head in the second year was organisation. There’s nothing more powerful than a plan! Now, your planning doesn’t have to be anything crazy. A simple to-do list was enough to set me in the right direction, but if you’re the kind of person who thrives off making spreadsheets, then go for it!
Exactly what you choose to include in your plans is up to you, but it can be a good idea to start by making a note of your timetable, alongside any deadlines and exams that you may have that semester. As my course is heavily weighted on coursework, there’s a fair amount of extra reading to get through, so noting down the reading lists for each week can be very helpful.
I also found that by breaking any tasks down into weekly agendas, things seemed much more manageable. It’s a bit like running a marathon – you wouldn’t plough through 26 miles in one training session, but running a few kilometres each week until you get stronger is a much more realistic possibility. Your workload can be dealt with in a similar way; as they say, slow and steady wins the race!
Organisation doesn’t have to be boring, either. You can use it as an opportunity to be creative – I’m talking gel pens, funky highlighters, stickers. Throw in a bit of glitter if you’re feeling it! In short, stationery is your friend. I’m a bit of a notebook nerd, so I’m never more than an A5 sheet away from making an *epic* to-do list (if I do say so myself!!).
The first few weeks of the second year tend to be the most chilled, so I would advise you to use any spare time you have at this point to stock up on your stationery collection for the semester. One of my favourite shops in Bath to fulfil this purpose is ‘Typo’. Situated close to the bus station in SouthGate, it sells everything you could possibly need to get your organisational skills up to scratch. A bonus is that it sells some very quirky and highly amusing mugs, perfect for the caffeine-fuelled days of coursework and deadlines that lay ahead…
Find a study technique that works for you
It can be easy to get overwhelmed by workloads and assignments, especially near the time of deadlines. Whilst a moderate level of stress is healthy and motivating, you don’t want to risk burnout due to extreme stress.
Preventing your stress levels from skyrocketing may sound easier said than done, but it’s definitely not impossible! In my opinion, high-quality work stems from listening to your body and brain. As humans, we love to make social comparisons and channel a lot of our attention onto what other people are doing. Great when trying to figure out which fork to use at a fancy restaurant, not so great when trying to produce an original piece of work.
I’m not here to tell you how to study, because let’s be honest, that would completely contradict my above point! Personally, I benefitted from using the Pomodoro technique, which involves working on tasks in short increments with regular breaks. There are plenty of apps promoting this mode of study; for example, ‘Flora’ is an app that plants a tree on your phone after every work interval, and essentially rewards you for studying. Once you’re finished, you should have a nice little forest to admire!
Research suggests that the average person’s concentration span is around 20 minutes, perhaps explaining why the Pomodoro technique is so popular. That being said, everybody is different, and your preferred way of studying will reflect these differences, so it may take a few attempts with various techniques before you find one that suits you best. It may even be the case that you use different methods for different types of tasks. For example, when I write my blogs, I tend to write out a draft in one sitting whenever I’m feeling in the creative ‘zone’, and then review the draft after a short period away from it. Yet, the thought of writing an essay in one go terrifies me!! It’s all about tailoring to your situation and being flexible in your approach. Basically, if what you’re doing helps you to feel like you’re bossing it, then keep it up! 😊
Make the most of resources
Although it’s important to tailor your work to your unique self, it’s also important to remember that you are not alone. All the support that was available to you during the first year doesn’t suddenly disappear when the second year rolls around!
Whether it’s the SU's Wellbeing Services, your lecturers, or an anonymous phone advisor, there will always be someone to talk to about whatever issues you may be struggling with. What’s more, you don’t have to have used any of these resources before to make use of them in the second year. I’m not ashamed to say that I utilised the Wellbeing Services a few times this year when the stress of exams and adult life were getting on top of me, and they proved to be very helpful in pointing me in the direction of extra resources to get me back on track. In fact, it was through Wellbeing that I learned about and benefitted from the Pomodoro method! You’re not expected to have all the answers, so don’t be afraid to seek out other people to help you find them.
On a related level, the technology at our fingertips can be another useful resource. For example, the pandemic and shift to online learning made it more difficult to work face-to-face alongside others. To fill this void, I turned to YouTube and the wealth of ‘study with me’ videos on there, which made me feel like I wasn’t entirely alone at my desk. Of course, this may not be for everyone, but I think it illustrates that there is always a solution, even to the novel types of problems that the pandemic has thrown our way.
Feeling misplaced about placement? So was I. For a good period of time, it felt like I was getting nowhere in the application process. Then, one day in March, after three interviews, I secured a position working for the mental health charity ‘MIND’. Nobody was more surprised than me!! At the time of receiving my offer, feelings of happiness dominated, and I was just relieved to have my placement year sorted. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that the setbacks I encountered along the way taught me some valuable lessons…
Lesson One – Take note (literally!)
Linking back to the importance of organising, I found it helpful when looking through the placements on offer to note down the key facts about each one. Having bullet-point lists to compare can be useful when deciding which placements you want to apply for, based on the skills and experience you feel you can offer, as well as considering what you stand to gain from the opportunity. Although it is a good idea to apply for a range of placements, be wary of stretching yourself too thin by applying for too many.
For my course, the departmental policy was that I had to accept the first offer I received, meaning it was really important that I only applied for positions I would genuinely be happy to accept. Going on placement can be a really valuable experience in terms of increasing your career prospects, but it is equally important that you enjoy yourself! After all, placement takes up a significant portion of time, so you don’t want to waste it on something you’re not passionate about.
Lesson Two – Enthusiasm is Key
On the subject of passion, my placement officer often stated in our sessions that it’s not so much about what you say in an interview, but how you say it. In other words, coming across as enthusiastic is a core component of a successful interview.
After going through three interviews to secure my placement at MIND, I would have to agree with this. I felt like I was talking about similar facts and skills in each interview, but regardless of the exact question asked, the main thing I was trying to convey was that I actually wanted the placement! Of course, it’s important to research the company and role you are applying for, but it’s unlikely that the interviewer expects you to be an expert. Whilst I can only speak from my own experience, a recurring theme that came up in each interview was how I could demonstrate that I had the skills and passion for the job.
Enthusiasm isn’t teachable in the same way that other interview skills such as maintaining eye contact are, however, this doesn’t mean that you can’t hone yours through practice. I found it helpful to ask family members to conduct practice interviews with me, or you could go one step further than this and take advantage of an online interview simulator. MyFuture, the university’s Career Service hub, is also a great resource to get tips about interview conduct and how to put your best self forward.
Lesson Three – ‘Failing’ is not a bad thing
When I was at school, I remember one of the teachers telling us in assembly that the word ‘fail’ simply reflected a ‘first attempt in learning'. At the time, I simply rolled my eyes with the sarcastic disbelief that fifteen-year-olds seem to excel at, but at the worldly age of twenty, I have to say I’m inclined to agree with my teacher!!
The first interview I had during my placement journey proved a lot more difficult than I expected, and perhaps not surprisingly I wasn’t successful at securing the job. Tempting as it may be to view this as a massive setback, I am actually really grateful that things played out this way. The interviewers provided me with feedback in the rejection email, which proved really useful for my subsequent interviews, as I knew what I was doing well and what I needed to work on. This was knowledge that I never would have gained if I hadn’t ‘failed’. Yep, you guessed it, it was my first attempt at learning the art of a good interview.
So, next time you don’t get the result you wanted, don’t jump to the conclusion that you have made some kind of personal error. Rather, use any comments you receive about your performance to your advantage. Although my feedback occurred in the context of an interview, I feel like this applies to other situations, such as coursework. In the wise words of Hannah Montana, nobody’s perfect, and you’ve got to work it again and again until you get it right.
Hopefully, you found this blog useful and feel more confident to make the most of your second year. I can’t believe that my second year at uni has come to an end already; I suppose time flies when you’re having fun (and writing lots of to-do lists!). Above all, remember that you are more capable than you think you are, and the most challenging things in life are often the most rewarding in the long term. You got this!!