For some of you reading this, it may be your final semester at uni, for others it could be a glorious first year of many more to come. Alternatively, it could just be another year in the seemingly endless space of time you spend in the campus centre.
To some, university is a place where you learn a lot more about yourself and you learn new skills. However, it can also be a place where you forget skills. I recently started doing an internship and realised that somewhere along the line I forgot how to wake up and arrive somewhere before 9am. This is something I had to painfully, but quickly, relearn. A lot of people like to describe uni life and partying as the things that make you falter in your studies. This is quite possibly true, but sometimes your studies can actually be the things that make you falter and forget about what comes next.
Not to dwell on the obvious, but everybody’s experiences of university life are going to be different. There are some definite stereotypes and common experiences that we all share and can relate to. I remember walking around open days and information sessions, all those years ago, feeling excited but also overwhelmed at the expanse of knowledge available to me. For me, university presented a more relaxed and less structured learning environment than high school. With such an environment, it can often become easy for students to become preoccupied with the experience of university and forget about where it’s supposed to lead them. I definitely remember that the main focus of my last year in high school was just to make it to university. Although after actually getting to university, I didn’t feel equipped with the tools to ask myself; ‘What’s next?’ It didn’t take too many semesters at uni to forget what the end goal of my studies was, if I ever knew that in the first place. Perhaps your story is different; perhaps after getting into uni you created structures and foundations to not lose sight of your goal? Or maybe the following years were milestones on the path to the industry you already knew you wanted to get in? Or conversely, you embraced the unknown and open-ended nature of learning, allowing your experiences during your studies to shape and direct you?
When thinking of universities as institutions to help us transition into either the industry or better people, we should consider what the tools necessary to approach that goal are. Universities give us the technical tools relevant to our specific disciplines; laboratory skills, proficiency over different formulas or familiarity with different social theories. Additionally, universities should also help us identify the industry we wish to be a part of, as well as the necessary tools and skill sets necessary to be employed in that area. Even soft-skills such as an ability to network and self-brand should be considered important tools. The naming and identification of these skills is important to our progress and is the first step in learning them and becoming fluent in them. As we come to the end of the academic year we should consider the skills we have learnt over the year and compare them with the skills we require to reach our dream destination.
If a problem with uni life is the lack of direction and structure, then the solution should be to provide that direction. As well as education, universities should also be facilitators for growth and development. While the educational material taught can be considered one such vehicle, universities should also provide space (mental or physical) for networking, material for development of character as well as opportunity to think about and act on future prospects.
It’s this opportunity to think and ponder over our purpose and future that often gets sacrificed for late-night assignments, stressful projects and cramming hundreds of lectures over short periods of time. In an unfortunate irony, it’s this sacrificed opportunity to develop one’s personal and occupational credentials that is most sorely needed after the assignments, cramming and exams. Of course, people may attend university for other reasons and career success is not always the end goal for some. One of my favourite tutors has begun teaching students in class to think beyond a career after university, as another stage in your journey. He asks students, ‘What message do you want to deliver?’ and ‘How do you want to change the world?’ I however think it’s these kinds of questions that firstly get students thinking beyond university but also build up their character.
This piece comes out as I find myself approaching the end of what felt like an extremely long and seemingly endless period at university. After I finally found something I enjoyed spending time studying, I became frustrated and anxious that the knowledge. I was struggling to acquire may not have any real applications in the future. As an Arts student it was hard describing to others and, more importantly, myself how I would actually implement what I had studied. To some extent the world outside of university is still a mystery, but at the same not a mystery that you can’t prepare for. An important question to ask yourself is, “what skills can I bring forward?” and not so much, “what skills are people looking from me?” Some of the best things about the journey through university is the ability to take things at your own time, give life to new ideas or come back to old projects. Yet, we should also realise these things don’t exist in isolation and should be considered as steps along our pathway through life and not as individual goals themselves.