As my time as a student at Manchester is coming to an end, it’s fitting that I should share my reflections with you. There have been dizzying highs and crushing lows. I’ve made fabulous friends, travelled to breath-taking places, worked with world-leading academics, obtained loads of new skills, and have had amazing fun. I’ve also panicked over presenting my research to a Nobel laureate, lost many nights’ sleep due to exam stress, spent many frustrating hours in the lab, and have had my emotions kicked around like a football.
Sadly, there’s no way I can fit 4 jam-packed years into a single blog post, and the juicy details are best saved for my biographer. Instead, I’ve reflected on my time spent in this great, grimy and glorious city, and have distilled what I’ve learnt into 5 main life lessons. Some of these might be glaringly obvious and can easily be derived from common sense, but I hope if you’re a new student or someone considering coming to study at Manchester that you’ll find the odd thing useful. I’m amazed at how often common sense deserts me.
- Try New Things
When I think back on the last few years I don’t remember much of the days studying alone and spending quiet evenings at home. What I remember most is the amazing things I’ve done, people I’ve met and cool new skills that I’ve learnt.
From day 1 at UoM, I threw myself into loads of different societies, sports, and social groups. Most I’d never done before, such as hiking and kayaking, but having tried lots of new things I’ve expanded my skillset massively (from learning how to hold an argument, to picking up basic French, and getting the skills to climb a glacier), boosted my confidence, developed contacts all over the world, ran a marathon, had many adventures, opened up loads of opportunities to myself, and had oodles of fun in the process. Manchester has hundreds of things to get involved, so you’ll definitely find something to suit you! These can be charity-based, creative, political, sporting and more, and can also involve your degree, such as being a Student Rep or volunteering with one of UoM’s outreach programmes.
Taking a leap and trying something entirely new can be very daunting, especially if you’re doing it alone. But it’s true that life really happens when you’re out of your comfort zone. If I didn’t take a deep breath, leap and overcome my anxieties, my life would be way less fun, exciting and as fulfilling as I find it now. And I wouldn’t have this lovely job making blogs.
Me learning how to mountaineer in the Alps. This wouldn’t have been possible without UoM Hiking Club!
- Be Determined
Unfortunately, you don’t get anything for free (apart from in Welcome Week – free IT Service pen anyone?), and to really get the most out of your time in uni you’ve got to push yourself and be determined. Creating goals and striving towards these means will keep you focussed and help you achieve more, and it’s important to have short-term as well as long term goals to keep your morale up and help you split up big targets into manageable chunks. These can be fitness orientated, academic, social, skill-based and more! Having a good variety will give you a more balanced life. Remember to give yourself a break and reward yourself too.
Linking this back to lesson 1, not every new experience I had was super-duper and fun. Some new activities I tried just weren’t for me, or I just didn’t click with the people. Sometimes I had a trip which didn’t go well or I tried something which I didn’t enjoy. But to have the good experiences you need to have some less good ones, so keep getting yourself out there, persevere, and don’t let one negative experience hold you back from trying new things! And with every new experience, good or bad, you learn more about yourself and your likes and dislikes. Plus perhaps some funny stories and life lessons to boot.
- Be organised
If you do want to have a fully-loaded life where you cram in all sorts of things on top of your studies, good time-management and organisation are essential. Keep a planner with all your events, commitments, deadlines, and other arrangements in. This way you spot gaps in your timetable to fit more stuff in, can get the most out of your time, help plan your week and really boost your productivity. By good time-management I’ve managed to be on multiple club committees, juggle a few part-time jobs, and provide time for exercise and friends – all whilst studying a full-time degree (I’m neglecting the odd sleepless night here – learning how not to over-commit yourself is a lesson I still need to learn!)
- Don’t panic!
This is Douglas Adam’s most famous and most obvious quote, but it’s oh-so true. I doubt the extra panicked hours spent at 11 pm going over past exam papers and reading revision notes actually made a difference to my grades in the grand scheme of things. Your success is determined primarily by how you conduct yourself over the whole year, by putting in consistent effort and time; not by the last-minute cramming just before an assessment. Plus, you’ll probably be in a much better mental place when exams do role around if you’re well-prepared and confident in your abilities. Most academic stresses are self-imposed and avoidable.
- Be Yourself
A classic part of any new student’s experience is trying to fit in with new social groups. I remember when I first entered halls and was thrown into living with a random group of people. Initially, I made a big effort to get to know them and make friends, but as we had quite different views and lifestyles I realised that I was altering myself to suit them more. I was also uncomfortable with their laddish behaviour. Ultimately, we didn’t gel, and I realised that I wasn’t very comfortable with the people I lived with.
Instead, I ended up hanging out with a mix of people from my course and the clubs I’d joined. I had far more in common with these people, could be completely myself and had much more fun. It took time of course, but eventually you’ll start meeting more and more like-minded people if you keep on being yourself, as people with similar mentalities tend to gravitate towards each other. Of course, you could end up with an amazing group of people in your first year accommodation – it’s completely potluck.
I know it’s completely cliché, but it’s very true that you’ll be happiest when you’re in a situation when you can be yourself, speak your mind freely, be 100% honest with others and yourself, and not change your behaviour for anyone. As a member of the LBGTQ community this was a particularly important lesson for me, but it applies to everyone no matter what your background is. If you’re in a social group or situation where you have to filter yourself and alter your behaviour, are you really happy there?
Rocking the ropes with a buddy at Manchester Climbing Centre