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winning essay 2007




Debbie Brown winner of ADM-HEA's Student Essay Competition in 2007





“What advice would you give to students starting your course?”

The first day of your degree course finally arrives and your stomach is full of nervous excitement, your head is full of doubts and your eyes are busy weighing up everybody else in attendance!  Amongst all of this you must try to remember to be brave, smile and say hello as these are the people you will practically live with for the next three years of your life.  Making good friends and trying to get along with people will make your student life so much easier!  Also remember to spare a thought for the poor lecturers who are trying to break the ice and get through mountains of boring administration whilst keeping you awake!

After induction week you will of course be given your first set of assignments and you will have ages to complete them because deadline is weeks away.  This is the classic assumption made by nearly every student in the history of education!  However the day before deadline, there will always be some smartie-pants sitting smugly in the front row looking cool, calm and collected as they finished weeks ago while you were out partying!  An all nighter looms largely on the horizon and you are wondering how on earth you are going to fit in a whole term’s assignment into one night!  Most of us have been in this situation and of course after the first time we will (hopefully) learn from our mistakes!  

The secret of working to deadline is of course not a secret!  It involves a little planning, a huge dose of discipline and a relative amount of hard work!  The best advice I can offer is keep up to date and the sooner this lesson is learned the better.  Listen to your lecturers as believe it or not they want you to do well and they give out clues to help you all the time.  Honestly, they do!  They will tell you that by next lesson they want you to have done some research and formulated an idea or they will give you an address where you can obtain some materials and they will expect you to arrive with them.  It is frustrating for you and them when this doesn’t happen so if you are unsure what is required of you, always ask for help or clarification.  First year in particular is about learning to get the balance right as it is important to have lots of fun and enjoyment during your learning experience!

I remember one of my first assignments during a lesson where I had two lecturers who both constantly offered differing opinions.  It was a subject I knew very little about and consequently I got a little upset and confused and hated that particular lesson with a passion.  After three weeks of trying to puzzle it out and not getting very far, I sat them both down together and spelt out what was going on.  They were both incredibly supportive and I realised that this was always going to happen as artists invariably see thing differently.  They were merely offering their opinions from their perspective and it was up to me to decide to filter the advice and information they were giving and use it selectively.  Consequently I was very proud of what I learned that first year and this subject is now my favourite.  Sometimes we can be too quick to dismiss something as being too hard or just not our cup of tea and I think it is important to keep an open mind, at least for a little while!

There will be occasions when your lecturers will say the dreaded ‘crit’ word.  I think that this is an unfortunate turn of phrase as I always think of criticism but in fact it means ‘critique’ which is basically an assessment of the work you have done.  I know that it can be very nerve wracking to present your work in this setting but try to overcome this and contribute as positively as you can.  Group and individual crits are an important element of the educational process.  Use this time effectively as it is your opportunity to gain valuable input not only from your lecturers but also from your student peers who believe it or not, sometimes have amazing ideas!  It is also a chance to bounce ideas around within the group setting.  There is nothing worse and no learning to be gained from a group who look but say nothing!

An important issue I would like to add is with regard to common courtesy and good manners.  Treating others with respect to their feelings and their work is imperative.  When you are respectful to others, you will usually find that the respect will be returned.  I have witnessed on several occasions students who just don’t bother to turn up or are downright rude to lecturers when they do!  They really are not doing themselves any favours as it is so much easier to relate to people who appear to want to learn and show that they are interested.  Remember that the lecturer is constantly assessing you and one day may be asked to write you a reference.
Lastly I would say try to keep things in perspective!  Small problems can become enormous when you feel stressed and under pressure and sometimes feel insurmountable.  Talk to people!  Use the services that are there for you!  The teaching staff and your will always want to help as will student support services.  There are very few people who will get through a degree course without feeling some kind of emotional stress at some point.  It may appear that everyone else is doing better or coping better than you but this is probably not the case and just discussing this or asking for a bit of reassurance can work wonders!

Get as much out of the course as you can.  If you put in a little that is what you will get!  Be brave and push your own boundaries and you will be astounded at what you can achieve.  Your degree is the foundation for your career!  Look to the future because at the end of this period of your life you will need to rely on your newly acquired skills and knowledge to take you into the next chapter.  Remember that success is a journey, not a destination!






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