As students start making their voyage back to their University-town after a visit back home to spend some quality time with friends and family, as well as some much-needed relaxation, it is the perfect opportunity to embrace that New Year motivation for the upcoming semester. After the amazing response from my Year 1 guide, I decided to extend the series for Year 2 and Year 3!
Everyone recognises how much the second year of your studies can impact your final degree classification, the year worth nearly 40% for many institutions if we are being specific! Balance was a very prevalent aspect during Second Year. Students who were choosing to go on an Industrial / Sandwich Year had to ensure they maintained that balance between making arrangements to meet their potential employer for an interview or assessment centre, whilst working on their academic commitments.
The following guidance notes are what I picked up through many cases of trial and error from the first half of my degree and funnelled it down to what worked best, so I hope my two cents can help!
I’ll aim to keep it broad to help a wider range of students. I’ll also cover tips on how to study for the second year of a Computer Science-based degree whilst seeking employability.
By the time I had finished my Second Year at University, I had:
- Achieved a 2:1 for that academic year.
- Secured an Industrial Placement with a FTSE 100 company.
- Successfully completed role as Vice-President of the society I had co-founded the previous academic year. (Highlights of my position: securing over 170 members and attaining the lineup of speakers for the first conference.)
These views are completely my own and not affiliated with the University of Portsmouth at all. If you want to know more information, feel free to contact me via the form here!
So without further ado, my tips for you Second Years are:
1. Balance your time.
University of Portsmouth has six units for the second year in undergraduate degree courses. This may feel like a stark contrast with regards to workload compared to the five units in First Year. Therefore, it’s important to know how to balance your time, even more so if you are applying for an Industrial Placement year, are in employment or even both alongside your studies!
As such, many units across the degree courses also have a combination of tutorials and seminars to exercise the information learnt in lectures. All these sessions require some preparation and is imperative to keep up with your reading and independent study so you know what to do when it comes to the actual seminar.
2. Be creative when pursuing a placement.
You need to be creative and proactive when pursuing a placement. The truth is the companies that you want to notice you will only do so if you make yourself known. The competition may be rather tough because you’re pining after the same position as your fellow Computer Science student who happens to be studying on the other side of the country. The one who ultimately gets that job for the year is the one who put in the most effort.
LinkedIn can put you in direct contact with recruiters nationwide. It can also send you weekly job advertisements based on what roles you are interested in.
Utilise your faculty / university employment service and book a consultation with a careers adviser to identify your strong and weak areas during recruitment processes. Maybe it’s the need to hone your answers at interviews and follow the STAR technique, maybe it’s the need to gain more experience in aptitude tests, maybe it’s finding your inner confidence at assessment centres. They can help you find what it is and guide you along your way.
Attend talks by companies visiting the campus to promote their placement schemes. Sign up to mock assessment centres and interviews. Practising consistently will help you master the basics in securing employment.
Have a professional but unique CV. This is your main selling point because a lot of employers can base their decision to progress your application on whether you have showcased your abilities. There are numerous templates available online and on Microsoft Word! A unique design can be eye-catching whilst displaying succinct information to demonstrate your top achievements and employment experience.
It may be the second semester, but do not panic if you have not yet secured your Industrial Placement. Many companies, including a small number of large corporations, are still recruiting. To put things in perspective and hopefully some of you at ease, I did not secure my Industrial Placement until April! I had applied to ten different companies from October 2014 – March 2015. Don’t be disheartened by rejection. Use it as motivation to do better for the next application. Make sure to ask the companies you had applied to for feedback on how to improve! Many provided insightful advice for me and helped me identify what areas to consolidate.
3. Don’t be afraid of seeking academic help.
You may be in Second Year but that doesn’t mean everyone expects you to know everything just yet! The complexity in content delivered in lectures, tutorials and seminars increases each academic year. Some units may largely focus on areas you are weak in, but do not let this restrict you from exceeding in your studies.
For instance, some units may be maths based. If this is not your strong area, seek help from tutors, classmates or support staff. Create a weekly study session with others who are facing the same encounters to help each other. A fresh pair of eyes looking at the same thing may help you find what was missing.
4. Be resourceful.
One of the most prevalent issues I had found when observing my fellow classmates during Second Year was the realisation of having the incorrect equipment. A number of units may require specialist software for completing assignments, such as creating network simulations. Unfortunately, many of the applications used during my time were only for Windows, therefore leaving many of my Mac OS classmates at a disadvantage. Some would need to depend on their housemates staying around for the weekend so they can do some extra work using their laptop or visiting the specialist labs which had the software installed on the machines. Consult with your lecturers to find out if the application is compatible with your machine or if you can use an alternative.
Before you drop a large wad of cash on some licenses for a piece of software you will use for a finite amount of time, your University may be able to provide it to you for free! University of Portsmouth students can download applications, such as Microsoft Project, from DreamSpark. Discuss with your lecturers and IT Team to find out more about such services.
Join GitHub to showcase your work. Not only is it a great version controlling tool, making it ideal for collaborative working, it is also very comprehensive to use and has all your projects ready to display to interviewers if they want to see your previous work.
You can privatise repositories if you feel uncomfortable with sharing your work publicly. Although the contents of the repository will not be displayed to external users, it will still be recorded as contributions on your profile everytime you update. Therefore, demonstrating you are an active user to anyone who visits your profile.
GitHub is available for free to all students using an academic coupon. To find out more about this offer and check your eligibility, please visit GitHub Help.
Other services include BitBucket which offer similar features. Many of my classmates had used this for their Final Year Projects due to its comprehensive function in creating private repositories and version controlling.
5. Maintain tracking sheets.
I’ve been using tracking sheets to monitor my grades in each assessment since college and it has been so beneficial throughout the rest of my academic career! It allows me to view where I am with each unit at a glance. I would add every single piece of work that would make a contribution to my unit grade, even down to the 2.5%!
These are so simple to create on Excel. It’s a great way to be strategic with your grades and prioritise assessments as well as identify any patterns in your performance.
6. Soft skills matter.
A large misconception with technical degrees is only technical skills matter. You need to be a total pro at coding and that’s it. Usually, those who hold these views (including myself at one point) end up getting a rude awakening later on.
Soft skills matter. You need to know how to properly communicate. You need to know how to work with others. You need to know how to be compassionate towards others in your team when they are facing hardships.
Second Year has a lot of units, these then have a lot of assignments, which then require a lot of teamwork and communication. Be open towards different perception. Not everyone will work the same way you do, nor will they have the same views on a topic as you. Don’t argue or backbite at the first instance, instead let them say their piece in an articulate manner and try to understand where they are coming from.
7. Work + Play = Happy Days.
I will be ending this post the same way I started it: by emphasising the importance of balance. Work + Play = Happy Days. It is important to maintain a healthy work / life balance to keep the momentum going.
Make sure to strike that even trio between academia, employment and social life. Put aside some time to spend it with friends, whether that’s going for some tasty pie or visiting the marina. Spend a couple hours a week on searching for Industrial Placement vacancies or working at the weekends / evenings. Maintain a realistic study schedule to meet your commitments and independent reading.
It is possible to maintain a balance between these three aspects in your student life. You just need to be honest with yourself and ration your time and priorities correctly.