It’s early in semester which means I’ve been thinking a lot about what new and returning students need to know to really get kicked into gear and that led me to reflecting a bit on what I wish I’d known when I first started uni. It was a while ago and things were different then: we still had physical assignment drop boxes and cover sheets we filled out by hand …
But, while things have changed somewhat, at the end of the day, there’s a lot that’s still as true now as it was back then. I wish, for one, that I’d known how useful and smart the library staff are and that they’re there to answer your questions. They’re not frightening, they’re not going to think you’re stupid for asking how a database works (a question I really should have asked earlier), and they can save you a heap of time by showing you how to search properly.
I also wish I knew how incredibly fun and genuinely useful and influential joining a Flinders club would be. I didn’t join a club until I was in post-grad – the Speakeasy Readings Club – and I was soon the co-president. That club is responsible for introducing me my business partner, my creative collaborators, and the people who remain my best friends. In fact, I credit the skills that I learned there, and the projects that came out of those collaborations, as a huge part of how I landed this job.
So, I thought I would ask a bunch of experts – people with years of experience in academia – what they wish they’d known when they first started uni.
Dr Mikaela Cibich: Explore and Try New Things
Lecturer in Psychology
What I wish I knew when I started university is that university is really a time to explore and try new things. Having some focus at university as to what you want to do at the end is great, but don’t let that detract you from the shiny things in the corner of your eye that really grab your attention! It’s a really good opportunity to try some new things, try some new subjects, and also to visit the Careers Hub and understand the kind of opportunities that are available to you outside the university.
Start tyring those things while you’re doing your degree: the volunteer opportunities, the work relevant experience that you can do. It all adds up to the narrative of who you are and where you’re going. It’s really important to start exploring those things while you’re at university so when you go to apply for jobs you’re super competitive, you’ve got a really good idea of what you want to be doing, and why you want to be doing it. Visit the Careers Hub, they can help you a lot with that.
Dr Ali Enright: Find Your People
Lecturer in Psychology
One of the things I wish I knew when I started university is to explore around all the different groups and find your people! Find the people that you really fit and connect with. And recognise that that might change over the years. But it was really helpful for me, mainly because they became my comrades, my friends, they know what academic life is all about – they know what it’s like to work and balance everything.
They’re also a great opportunity to practice your knowledge. We came together as study groups, we could practice things together, and most of them I’m still really good friends with now. So good luck, I hope you have a great time here!
Associate Professor Emma Thomas: Be Organised, Access Academic Support and Engage in Ideas
Associate Lecturer in Psychology
There are three things I wish I knew when I started studying. The first is the importance of being organised. Get yourself a diary and write weekly goals, monthly things and keep track of your assignments!
The second is the importance and the usefulness of accessing academic supports. So, the Learning Lounge: these people can help you work on problems and help you develop your writing and your analytical skills.
And the third one is a bit different, and that is the importance of making time and space to have conversation and engage in ideas with other people. This is one of the few times in your life where you’re learning a lot and it’s really important to test ideas with other people and enjoy doing that. I wish you every success!
Dr Helen Harrison: Ask Questions
Lecturer in Physiology
What I wish I’d known when I started university was that it’s okay to ask questions and that academics actually really like it when you ask questions! It will save you a whole lot of time actually going up and asking a question about something you’re not sure about compared to spending hours searching for an answer in a textbook or online. This is something that took me quite a while to learn, but I wish I had learned it sooner!
Dr Joss Rankin: Take Opportunities
Senior Lecture in Health and Physical Education
When I think back to when I was in uni, I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunities that were in front of us, and those that weren’t as obvious in the first instance. Things like sessions during O’Week, support networks, clubs and associations, and even inside of topics when lecturers made us aware of certain volunteer opportunities that we might be able to take advantage of. It connects us, really, with the outside world and what we’re studying towards. I did learn my lesson as I started to move through, and I think that worked relatively well for me!
Associate Professor Lydia Woodyatt: Have a Growth Mindset
Associate Lecturer in Psychology
I wish I knew that just because you’re not good at something to start with, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be doing it in the long run. Sime of the assignments and topics that I really struggled with in my first degree are the things that I now do on the daily in my job and I think I’m pretty good at!
So if you take a growth mindset and just start somewhere and build skills, you’re actually probably going to get there And if you love it and are curious, that’s probably the most important thing.
No one can do this straight away!
Dr Michael McNamara: Pay Attention to Information
Lecturer in Business, Government and Law
What’s something I wish I knew when I was a student? Well, I wish I knew how important it was to attend class, whether that’s face-to-face or virtually, and keep on top of important information such as the topic guide and announcements from the teaching staff.
Why do I think this is so important? I guess it’s because I realised that most teachers at university actually want their students to succeed and that they spend a lot of time organising the information that they’re going to give to students so they can help their students manage their time. So if we follow the 80/20 rule, we can get 80% of what we need to know in 20% of the time if we just stay in tune with what the topic coordinator and other teaching staff are trying to deliver to us. And this means regular engagement by coming to class, and that might mean virtual attendance, reading announcements when they come, and always checking back and looking at those important materials like the Topic Guide and assignment instructions.
Pay attention to this!
Dr Paul Williamson: Take Your Time to Find the Right Opportunities
Lecturer in Psychology
If there’s one thing that I wish I knew when I started university, it would be that I actually have a bit of time and I don’t have to make all my decisions right at the beginning. I can think about things, but I have to try to take opportunities as they come.
There are quite a few opportunities that arise, and it might seem like a bit of extra work sometimes, but it might be volunteering or anything like that. You can’t do it all right at the end, but if you do it when you get opportunities, that will really help you down the track. Plus, you’ll probably make a lot of good friends, which is important too.
Professor Kate Douglas: You Can Be Creative
Professor in English
What I wish I knew – so many things – but what I wish I’d known is that university professors appreciate creativity. They don’t just want to read the same assignment over and over again. They want to see your assignment, something that’s unique to you. Something that’s come to your mind in your critical perspectives, your thoughts, your interpretations. That’s what we want to see. And that’s what I wish I’d known.
That’s it for this episode. I’ll be back next week to chat more with Dr Lydia Woodyatt about how to bounce back if you feel like you had a less than ideal semester one and why you shouldn’t feel guilty if you haven’t been as productive as you feel you should have been. Until then, have a great week!