The University Guide: Year 1

Hello, all! As Freshers’ Week has drawn to a close for Universities nationwide, it is now time to soak in that campus life a little bit more. I’ve decided to write a little guide to those starting out their new chapter in life.

Everyone is on the same page when they begin their pursuit in Higher Education. I remember scouring through many student blogs and YouTube videos to prepare for the big-grown-up-student-world when I was starting University. I couldn’t find many related to Computer Science-based degrees, so I hope my little two cents can help! By the time I had finished my first year at University, I:

  • Achieved a 2:1 for that academic year
  • Secured employment with the Faculty of Technology at the University of Portsmouth
  • Victoriously campaigned to the Student Union to ratify a society I had co-founded
  • Successfully elected by the student-body as Vice President for that society.

I’ll try to keep it broad to help a wider range of students.

I graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a 2:1 in BSc (Hons) Computing this July and was the School of Computing Prize Winner for Best Business Solution Project. I also had the opportunity to be the Graduation Ceremony Student Speaker.

These views are completely my own and not affiliated with the University of Portsmouth in any form. If you want to know any more information, feel free to contact me via the form here!

Without further ado, my tips for you Freshers are:

1. Personal Development Plan.

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Maintain a PDP (Personal Development Plan) to see you throughout your entire degree! This was one of the biggest tips I had learnt during my time at University. I was told during Freshers Week about maintaining a log of your progress throughout your academia and my, oh my, it was so beneficial!

You have full control of this document. It can be in whatever format you desire. It can be viewed by whoever you desire. It can contain whatever content you desire. It is all up to you! For University of Portsmouth students, you can use the ePortfolio service which integrates a more social experience. It allows students to interact with one another through messaging and view each other’s portfolios.

The three useful categories for your plan can be: personal, academia, and employability. You can have as many goals as you want for each topic but make sure the milestones are spread out evenly and you have a reasonable set of long-term and short-term aspirations. Shown in the screenshot below is a review of what objectives I had set myself in September  2013. I was critical and honest as I wanted accountability each step of the way. If something went right, what were the factors to get me to that position? If something went wrong, what happened and did I learn anything from it? Can it  be prevented next time?

1st year review

1st year goals

I’m a visual and auditory learner. If there’s lots of noise and colourful spaces, I am in my element. I would add lots of colourful collages of motivational quotes throughout my portfolio. I felt this would keep me driven and a nice quick reminder of what I want at the other side of this!

Lastly, ensure your objectives are SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

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2. Student Finance.

Make sure you finance correctly. Even as someone who lived at home during University, being budget-wise ensured I had enough for my day-to-day necessities, bills and a little bit left for social activities.

You can find employment through your University or Students’ Union. University of Portsmouth Faculties post job advertisements looking for students to work at recruitment events, so be sure to keep an eye on the Students News page! Student Unions are always on the search for brand ambassadors. There’s something for everyone. Regardless of where you find your employment, having a job during your degree is so rewarding. You can pick up so many soft skills on the job and it really does shape your communication and interpersonal abilities.

Join UniDays to score discounts online and in-store from hundreds of brands, such as H&M, Apple, ProteinWorld, etc. As well as this, keep hold of your student ID. Other than the obvious fact that it grants you entry to your exams and the University bus service, you can use this ID card to get discounts in-store at retailers like Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, etc.!

3. “First Year doesn’t count.”

The age old sentiment of First Year doesn’t count… Plot twist: it does. 🙂

Perhaps not in the sense that it contributes towards your final degree classification, but if you are thinking of summer internships or taking a year in industry, companies will be seeing your grades from First Year instead of Second.

During the first half of my degree, my tutor would tell us to avoid losing sight of our goals and to continuously aim high. The better our grades, the more likelihood we had of standing out in the competitive job market. Being “the cream of the crop” would make us more employable in the eyes of the companies looking for the best.

4. Find your niche working style.

As mentioned previously, I am a visual and auditory learner. I love noise and I love colours. Put both in a room and I can happily work all day.

Not everyone is like this though. Different people have different ways to be efficient. Some like to plan ahead and some like to burn the midnight fuel to write their essay. Some can work in the library without it being a playground and some can work at home without drowning in cabin fever.

Find what works for you. Experiment with different locations, surroundings, time, etc.

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5. Academic Support.

Utilise your academic support if it is available in your University! For the School of Computing at University of Portsmouth, there is a daily Tutor Centre where students can drop-in to seek extra help with their work. There’s also Maths Café which runs regularly to provide a one-to-one session with a tutor to consolidate the areas you struggle with in mathematical-based units. Be sure to check the schedule for both of these!

ASK (Academic Skills Unit) is a service available at many Universities nationwide which provide a similar service. Book an appointment with your ASK Tutor to find out how they can help you.

Whenever possible, attend extra lessons to understand the lecture content in more depth. This gives you the opportunity to ask your lecturer questions on areas you are not confident in if you were not able to in your scheduled session. I found attending extra lessons helped me to stay on top of my work and I managed to slot each session within my independent study time. Contact your lecturer or unit coordinator to see if this is possible.

6. Extenuating Circumstances.

Sometimes, your University life won’t be like the movies. Sometimes things can happen  in our lives which we cannot control. Every University has a strategy to help students when things turn complicated, to ensure it does not detriment the student any further. Speak to your Personal Tutor to discuss the terms and conditions of Extenuating Circumstances forms. Reach out to the University Support Service to see if they can also help.

7. Clubs and Societies.

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First ever TEDxUniversityofPortsmouth Society event. October 2014.

The Students’ Union is a lively part of campus filled with opportunities to meet like-minded people. Clubs and societies are filled with individuals who share the same passions as you and it is a great way to make friends! Join a society which piques your interest and you might find a fun new hobby!

If your Students’ Union does not have a society which fits your interest, take the initiative to start one yourself! Round up your friends and campaign your reasoning as to why the Students’ Union should ratify your society.

8. Record your lectures.

During First Year, you may struggle with finding your pace during lectures. Recording them using Dictaphones or the voice recorder app on your mobile gives you the opportunity to return to the session and check if you have missed any vital content.

9. Transfers.

The School of Computing at the University of Portsmouth provides flexibility for their students. Most of the undergraduate degrees offered from this school have the exact same units. Many of my classmates who came from different degree disciplines in the first year found the content in the second year of their original degree might not have been as compatible with their expectations. This was not the be-all and end-all as they were able to simply transfer within the School of Computing to a degree which suited more towards their academia.

10. Optional Units.

Close to the end of your First Year, you will be given the chance to pick what optional units you wish to study in your Second Year.

If all your friends are doing X unit but you want to do Y, go with your instinct and do the unit you want to do. Don’t follow your friends because you fear the prospect of being alone in your Optional Y unit and instead hate the content of Option X because lolz this is not relevant to what you want out of your degree. Everyone is new and approachable each academic year.

Be sure to do your research for the optional units you are intrigued by. Reach out to current students and lecturers to find out what the unit content and assessments are like. Definitely don’t choose the module because it has a cool name. I can confirm Fuzzy Logic is a form of logic where truth-values of variables can be any real number between 0 and 1. It is nothing to do with the Honey Monster.

Related posts: The University Guide: Year 2 | The University Guide: Year 3

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