Live. Work. Play. Adapting to Life at University.

This is the third article in the ongoing Freshers series. Check out more in the coming weeks!


 

Live

Have fun and make the most of it, but remember to look after yourself,’ says the classic family member. These traditional words of wisdom are entirely true.

The first transition to medical school throws all sorts of curve balls and for most freshers a brand new city to navigate and explore.  It is worthwhile appreciating that a big part of the university experience is about making sure you get the basics right. By basics I mean making sure you have a bed to sleep in, some decent method to wash (sounds obvious, but this is especially important after anatomy dissection!) and a source of hot nourishing calories (particular after those endless diet and nutrition lectures.) Before university it is likely that all of the above are commodities that have been taken for granted and quite literally handed to you on a plate. Fortunately most first year students are guaranteed accommodation, whether it is catered or not. Students learn to become experts about supermarket deals and quick basic meals. Why not make it fun by cooking with others and being adventurous with baked beans or even throwing a dinner party!

Where you live as a fresher and whom you meet on your course influences the people you get to know. It can be refreshing to mix with non- medics, differing in their subject but who are also adapting to life at university. At the start it is likely that you will be attending similar socials and nights out together as well as working out how the washing machine works!

In the first few weeks you will introduce yourself to more people than you probably ever have in your life. Moreover, you will look around a room and think, ‘wow, all these people may be doctors one day!’

It is a time full of excitement and distraction for those who may miss their home environment. For many, hall mates and course friends rapidly become your extended family as you are looking out for each other and experiencing things at the same time. Additionally, in most accommodations there will be senior members as a go- to for valuable advice and support.  You will never be alone.

It is worth making the effort to keep your family updated with how you are getting on. Even if it is just to tell them that you are doing the washing (occasionally) and not always relying on late night fast food…

Work

We all know the huge test that is getting into medical school. Ultimately we signed up to acquire a medical degree and therefore a large part of university is about work and study.

Teaching and learning styles are transformed from your earlier education and any other previous degrees. The medicine timetable is pretty intense with much longer hours than most other university students, but usually less than school in terms of contact hours.  There is more independence, freedom and flexibility.

Depending on your medical school’s specific set up, the weighting of lectures to group and practical work will be different. Regardless it is likely that information will often be delivered in the form of lectures to the whole year. Commonly lectures are viewed as more impersonal and overwhelming than the classroom environment, as lecturers come and go throughout the year. However, this does bring the bonus of hearing from some of the most specialist academics and clinicians in their fields. It is worth working out how best to take notes in order to maximise learning.

You will learn how to best tackle new concepts and take responsibility to read up on areas and participate in self- directed learning. People find that it can be difficult to gage your progress, without the existence of regular homework, assignments and past papers. As a result it is important to make the most of any tutorials and smaller group work to clarify any misunderstandings or a complete lack of knowledge (maybe because of that one- off lecture you missed last Thursday after sports night?)

Not only discovering how to study best but also where to work is key. Don’t be afraid to try things out.  Some may find it preferable to work with a group of other medics or in an environment with a whole range of students.  You will find that older medical students will have good tips about approaching different topics.

A piece of advice about advice from others: get as many tips as you would like but also work out what works best for you. Do not get put off by people who dumb down first year. Everyone has to work for it. In the end most people realise that it is much more pain- free to work steadily and consistently throughout the year.  You will be told where you can find more formal advice e.g. a personal tutor or a welfare office. University staff will be there to look out for your wellbeing and are trained to expect the weird and wonderful (particularly in medicine!) Make the most of mentor schemes, peer tutorials and medic parents. Speaking to these people is a great way of getting recommendations for how to make the most of the more exciting elements of medical school…

Play

 ‘Freshers is a blur… the nights out were great,’ says the classic second year. Well said.

On arrival freshers are immediately hit by a multitude of pursuits and societies to get involved with. Every society wants you. The culture of sports and groups entirely supersedes that of school or college.  Try things out and decide which is for you.

Medical school teams are a guaranteed way of experiencing  (un) memorable socials and meeting the rest of your year and above. Wider university also provides infinite societies, ranging from the traditional to the wacky. If a society doesn’t exist that you think should, get a group together and set it up. One of the best aspects of joining university is meeting so many people from all over the world and with common interests. University helps identify your true values.

Make the most of the place you are in and familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Rest and play are both incredibly important amongst the study so venture out and channel your interests beyond the university scene. Go to the theatre, watch a rugby match, it doesn’t matter what… Invest in your life away from the books and in return your study will benefit.

Later on, why not take the opportunity to volunteer. Seize the chance to really make a difference within the university and wider community.

In what seems like a flash you will have finished your first year and then you will be the one giving advice to the next generation.

 

Go for your life. Ultimately you are the one who signed up to do your medical degree so it is absolutely what you make of it. Your degree is yours to take along with the many other opportunities alongside. Don’t look back. You will meet the best people and life- long friends. So I would say, ‘Work hard, play hard and look out for yourself.’ University years will be some of the best of your life. Luckily for us medics we have many of them!

By Elle Wilson, UCL

 

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