No regrets. Really?

29 September 2017 | Focus | Thomas Peacock

We all wish we could go back in time and redo moments in our history. The moments that matter can be as trivial as getting up a few minutes late and missing a bus, or as pivotal as drawing a blank during a final job interview. Most graduates feel this way when they look back at their university days. Suffice it to say, no amount of regret will turn back the clock. I know from experience that times spent by my peers and I during our undergraduate days could have been more productive. On reflection, I would do the following differently.

Freedom verses time management

When first at university I felt as if I was in total control of my time. To an extent, this was true. Unfortunately, as a bright eyed and bushy tailed undergraduate I was not prepared for the constraints I was under in the early stages. I do however remember complaining about deadlines and submitting rushed, poorly completed assignments. It was not good.

Degrees require students to study core and optional modules, and to meet specific deadlines. Although sixth forms and colleges aim to prepare students for this, the added independence and lack of parental oversight can result in students not taking their studies serious enough in their early years. So, when you receive an assignment, set aside the required time to properly complete it. Doing this from day one gives you more control over your degree.

Mitigating circumstances

There are times where situations outside of your control have an impact on your studies. A sudden death in the family, illness, or personal crisis can make continuing your studies seem like a Herculean feat. Although daunting, it's best to seek advice from your tutor, counselor, and mentor as soon as possible. Discuss any and all mitigating circumstances. Bear in mind that if you leave this too late there will be very little that anybody can do to help.

Being busy doing "nothing"

Over the years there is an increasing expectation that experience, in addition to your degree, are what is needed for you to land your ideal job. Except for those who worked before attending university, it's most likely that you will have little to no experience. Getting involved with university societies is a good stepping stone to tackling this problem.

During my time at university I had what could be described as "yes man" syndrome. Consequently, I undertook roles and tasks that required a lot of work but didn't really add much to my personal development; provided little pay-off. To the outsider it looked as if I was constantly busy when in fact, in developmental terms, I was busy doing nothing. Therefore, when presented with multiple opportunities, think carefully about your personal development. While the work commitment is likely to be similar, which will strengthen your CV, being President of the Engineering in the Community Society or, Social Secretary of the Origami Society? The former may be more appealing to a future employer.

Balancing academic success and overall personal development

Stephen Sondheim reportedly said, "Work is what you do for others. Art is what you do for yourself." As an undergraduate it is relatively easily to slip into the pattern of learning just to pass exams. Depending on your university and your degree subject this might be enough to do well, academically. Unfortunately, if you take that approach you will lose sight of the opportunities to take your personal development to the next level; being exploratory, creativity and the ability to learn across the disciplines.

Many of the clients we see at Alexander Partners have an undergraduate past that is almost wholly focussed on just learning to get a good degree. They are then puzzled when they struggle to land a spot on a quality graduate scheme. Once you leave the world of academia simply following the syllabus is unlikely to serve you well. Unfortunately, too many graduates bring this same approach into the workplace and end up complaining that their colleagues, who readily show creativity of thought and action, are promoted above them. Simply put, when at university find the right balance between passing exams and developing you.

Craig Poku
28th September 2017

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