Student Life: Learn baby learn

Some people at uni have brains so big, and are so incredibly brilliant at their subject, that they're shit at everything else. They can't even make a bowl of cornflakes. Others have no brain, never do any work, but have such an easy-going manner that they're bound to be successful. Okay, they have brains too. Whoever you are, though, there are certain steps you can take to get the most from your learning experience at uni...

Feature by Nicola More | 10 Sep 2008
  • Stress not, public speaker

Acclimatising to life at uni can take any length of time between a couple of weeks and the rest of your life. That's 'cause acclimatising to uni is a bit like acclimatising to life as a whole, only with even more received wisdom and confusing social rituals.

We've all seen people whose faces seem to give away that moment of realisation: 'Oh, I was supposed to try to learn!' Weirdly, some folks just seem to get this - and all its implications - from the start. Either way, once you've found your feet you'll quickly discover that students fall into two camps when it comes to lectures and tutorials.

Some will lean back in their seat and talk at length, liberally using phrases such as ‘nihilism’ and ‘Freudianism’ with total disregard for the context. You will often spot these same people making inverted commas with their fingers alongside ‘every key word’. Annoying, isn’t it? Of course, that’s not to say that these students don’t have a valid point to make. Many will be astonishingly astute and well read. Others just know how to play the part.

Group discussions can be dominated by the usual suspects, while the less assertive students in the class speak timidly from time to time, or give up and sit quietly gazing out the window. The latter is a very tempting reaction, but learning is an interactive experience. To get the most out of your time at uni, it’s crucial to engage in discussions that are enlightening, relevant and challenging.

Here are a few tips to help beat those nerves:

Preparation, preparation, preparation

The number one way to speak with confidence is to know what you’re talking about. If you’re making a presentation, do your research and be smart about what to include and what to leave out. Decide in advance exactly what message you want to communicate and make sure all your points tie back to that – save the boring detail for a hand out. Oh, and limit any unfortunate personal visual aids such as remnants of your breakfast porridge staining the crotch of your trousers.

Use your nerves

Did you know that public speaking is the number one fear in the world, even ranking higher than death? So rest assured, everyone suffers from butterflies in the stomach. As the saying goes, the trick is to get them flying in formation. All that adrenaline can work in your favour, boosting alertness and helping you to think on your feet. Take long deep breaths before you speak and don’t be afraid to pause for air between sentences – what seems like an eternity to you won’t seem that way to others. Soon you’ll have the prowess of John Major at the dispatches box.

Imagine the best

If you tell yourself “I’m so nervous, what if I make a total idiot of myself?” you are subconsciously preparing yourself to do just that. Instead, visualise yourself at your most articulate, imagine a confident delivery and think how fantastic you will feel when you get it right. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking – that’s what Norma tells John every morning (in her special way).

Have something to say

Everyone knows a student who just likes the sound of their own voice. Nine times out of ten, they’ve simply read the footnotes and regurgitated them to order. The people who make a truly valuable contribution are the ones who know their stuff and, more importantly, are passionate about their subject. Speak up if you have something to contribute but don’t be afraid just to listen to others’ views. The beauty of uni is the opportunity to meet fascinating people and open up to new perspectives. And for some this may be a chance to wipe the slate clean and move on from any negatives that dragged you back at school.

So in the worlds of that great American philosopher Niké – just dae it!