Friday, 27 November 2015

Contemplating Final Year

"So is this your final year?"
"Oh, so you actually have to work really hard now..."

I've had this conversation TOO MANY times in the last 6 weeks. At first I thought "well maybe, but I did work hard(ish) last year"; now I'm thinking "oh my god yes and I have so much to do and it's taking over my life". It is fair to say that I had not quite anticipated the demands of final year prior to starting it...which is fine, but now I'm entering a deepening realisation that I have a lot to do all the time and this is going to continue for the next 6 months so I'd better stop flapping over it. Right now, I'm stuck in a love/hate/slight indifference/absolute frustration relationship with university at the moment, which is both rewarding and tear-inducing. I didn't really know what to do about it, so I figured it would be best to try and step back from it all and have a moment of reflection...

Final year is stressful because... there is a lot more work to do
I think I currently have more work to do than I did in my first and second years combined, so I'm a little out of practice and not really used to it. In some ways it's great, because I like being busy and having things to do, but in others it's very disheartening. I feel like there is always something that needs doing imminently, and for everything I tick off my 'to-do' list, I add about 5 more things. Currently, I see very few endpoints (aside from the glorious dissertation hand-in date) and I'm trying to manage having a constant pile of things to do that never seems to go down. On the flip side, the work I have to do is marginally less stressful because I am taking more modules that I'm interested in this year, so I'm finding the work generally, or at least partially, enjoyable. 

Final year is satisfying because... it is a means to an end 
University is about a lot of things: having new experiences; broadening/deepening/stretching/challenging/narrowing your knowledge, outlooks and perspectives; growing up; meeting new people; a step towards employability; having fun. It is also, in some ways, a means to an end - especially at this point in the final year. I feel like I've got to the point where I know (vaguely) what I want and what I need in terms of a qualification on a piece of paper to help me get there. All I need to do now is achieve that. At times this feels really exciting and liberating; at others it feels daunting - like an end to my university career, and even all my time spent in education - and that I should be working really hard to make sure it was all worth it and I did the best I possibly could have done. 

Final year is scary because... you have to think about life after university
Whether you're doing further study, going into a job, going travelling, have no idea what you're going to do yet but you'll work it out, it's a step into a different period in your life. The change for some will be greater than for others, but that doesn't necessarily make it any more or less scary or any more or less meaningful. When I think about my life post-university I am, first, excited to have a year of freedom, travel, meeting new people, doing something different...and not revising/writing essays. When I think about my life post-gap year of dreams, it's a bit more scary. It's hard to decide what you want to do when you've never done anything except go to school, then university with a couple of summer/part-time jobs in between. I guess we're all in the same position though: self-discovery will be a process...I'll let you know how it goes. 

Final year is comforting because... you know what you're doing
This is the first year of university which I've stepped into and actually felt like I know what I'm doing and what's expected of me. I've finally reached a point, which in my first term of first year I never imagined that I would, where I know how to write a proper academic essay (with slight varying success...); I can read academic articles and actually understand what they're talking about most of the time; and I can reference without it taking me as long as it did to write the essay itself. I know where I'm living, what I'm doing, how to cook, how to use buses, where different university buildings are, which few hours a day the Geography Office's door isn't locked, who my friends are and how to be an actual real life student. So whilst lots of other elements are hugely stress-inducing, having a grip on other parts of university/my life makes it much easier.

Final year is tiring because... sometimes I am too stressed to sleep
You know that feeling when you're laying in bed and you're thinking about all the things you need to do, and you should probably do, and you also all that stuff that you already should have done? I feel like that's a little too regular at the moment, and I'm left feeling very sleepy and smothering my face in concealer as a result. Because I am of the mentality that, once I start something, I'd rather work really hard and solidly to get it done rather than drag it out for ages, I'm left with long days of working, hour after hour of staring at spreadsheets and transcripts, and very sore and tired eyes. It's not ideal, but I'm sure this is something lots of other finalists are also experiencing. My tip: take weekends off. I always make sure that I work hard all week, but I very rarely work at weekends and the break (from reading, from thinking about work, from staring at a screen) is absolutely necessary to my own sanity. 

Final year is... better than any other year of university
All taken into account, I am definitely enjoying my final year significantly more than I have any other year of university. A significant amount of this enjoyment is as a result of recent changes in my department that have infinitely improved student experience (shout out to Jason Dittmer!) It's awesome to have a dissertation supervisor that I see fortnightly and can e-mail whenever for advice/support/direction/stability; it's also cool to have a tutor to help clarify feedback, go through exams, and just ask for general help. Seminars mean that I have some really meaningful academic engagement with others students and lecturers, and that I can ask questions without having to awkwardly put my hand up in lectures, or clarify readings and things I'm not sure about. Just last week one of my lecturers said "hey Laura!" to me in Bedford Way, and I went to see another for a chat and ended up hanging out for 45 minutes. The changes, and also being a final year student - and being more familiar and established in the department - makes for a much better sense of community, approachability and affability. 

I hope other people can identify this, and it helps put your final year into perspective if you're struggling! 

"I remembered that the real word was wide, and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had the courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils" - Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre


1 comment

  1. Keep your chin up and keep powering through, graduation is worth every second of hard work!

    Lilies and Lipbalm


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