If you could write a letter to yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?
I am writing to you 15 years ago as a university student the first time round. I’ve now returned to university to learn how to be a mental health nurse but I remember how difficult it all was back then and looking back I can see how I didn’t make the most of the time I had, the opportunities available to me or my own abilities. I really wish that I had known then what I know now!
So here are five pieces of advice about studying that I know you will find useful.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, know why you are there and why you are doing it.
Don’t walk into a lecture or start reading an article without knowing what you want to get out of it. Learn actively: challenge assumptions, ask questions, and remember that while your lecturers and mentors are there to help you, you need to help yourself.
Know when you can and can’t learn.
You need to give yourself plenty of time and space to think widely and to enjoy going off on interesting tangents. Deep learning (that’s where the little sparks come together and you realise that you understand) feels great - but it’ll need self-reflection which takes time.
Oh, and please help yourself: don’t skip the library session, you need to learn how to search.
Step away from the book – you can only learn so much by simply reading. You’ll learn more about critical thinking from listening to Women’s Hour than from a dusty book on a shelf. YouTube doesn’t exist yet, but when it does, watch these to understand selective attention and leadership. Be brave and ask questions, especially when you meet someone you admire – most people love to share.
Be unashamedly enthusiastic.
Seriously. You’ll learn more when you’re engaged and enthusiastic, rather than negative - and you’ll notice a change in how people respond. Maybe you’d rather be invisible than risk ridicule? That’ll change if you have purpose and passion, and learning to be an excellent nurse provides both. I’m not saying you won’t feel embarrassed asking a question, but you should do it anyway.
Don’t try to keep anything only in your head.
Your memory is not as good as you think it is, and you are not going to remember every idea, reference or page number, no matter how much you think you will at the time. So write it down! Keep lists, flag things for assignments, flag something that’s caught your interest. There’s more to this than meets the eye - you’re going to like learning about Getting Things Done. Studying is just one part of a complex life.
Enjoy, and be engaged in everything you do!
Elaine Francis is a second year Mental Health Nursing Student at University of Greenwich. She tweets at @eformation