One of the most difficult things about university is the feeling that you should be doing so much, and be so busy, and come out the other side the most well rounded and employable person you can. By being at university you have already taken a huge step forward in making yourself more attractive to employers.
However, here is some advice for how to make the most of your time at university, become employable and discover what you are good at, and maybe where you want your higher education to take you.
Take the initiative and get out there
· At university, life is different to sixth form. Opportunities will not be pushed under your nose, and you will not be forced or even necessarily encouraged to do them. At university the best thing to do is take the initiative. If there is a society you would like to join but isn’t already set up, start one, if there is a trip you would like to go on with your cohort, organize it. Doing these sorts of things takes courage and initiative but it is what can sometimes set you apart from the others in your group.
· If you find initiative taking is not your strong suit, join some societies – I recommend one for fun, and one for furthering your academic self; these might be sports, from fencing, lacrosse, rugby, badminton to tennis. ‘Academic’ or knowledge-based societies could – but are by no means limited to – student newspapers, Ted talk societies (often with these you get the opportunity to produce your own ted talk), subject specific societies or model UN based societies.
Utilise your holiday
· Beginning now, your summers and Christmases will be long you should use this to your advantage. Of course, these are the times you should be relaxing and recovering from exam seasons, but especially in first year these holidays are relatively empty and as the work load picks up as you go along the course you will be thankful that you have a summers experience in your arsenal.
· As with the previous advice, your universities are unlikely to push you to do these or find you work experience themselves. Depending on your course there may be plenty of summer internships and work experience opportunities on job websites, but if you do a more obscure or specialized course (I do Global Health) you may need to take initiative here too. I found mine by emailing as many companies as I could think of that pertained to global or public health and asking if any of them would take me over the summer.
· Many universities across the country offer their own opportunities for development – mine is called the Skills Award. These often include things like project management workshops, volunteer management, first aid (both mental and physical), communicating information with competence and public speaking. These may seem insignificant but often in job interviews you will be asked about your ability to do these things, and being able to point at something and say that you demonstrated or practiced that skill is invaluable.
· Use your professors and lecturers, they are the gateway to your subject after all. This is the only time in your life you will be surrounded by so many experts in your area. Ask them if they need help with projects or papers they are writing, they often recruit paid research
assistants from the upper years, but rarely dip into first years under the assumption they do not want to dedicate effort or time. If this doesn’t tickle your fancy, universities themselves will offer employment – open days are a good example.
· Your school or faculty will put on lots of talks off their own back, be sure to go if you can. It may not seem like a topic you specifically care about but it is usually only an hour off your life at a time when you are unlikely to be doing anything else. I encourage you to go to these, you never know where you will find your dissertation topic or a future employer.
Try new things, push yourself
· If you are doing any of the above, try not to perfect existing skills. It seems tempting to take a class on public speaking when you know you are good at it, but the sensible thing would be to improve your weakest areas such at time management, social media campaigns, meeting chairing etc.
· Subscribe to a new magazine or get into the habit of watching a relevant documentary a month. This one is not specifically about opportunities, but it does make you a more rounded student and will boost your grades and interest in the subject. A few of my recommendations are: the New Humanist for social sciences, politics etc. the New Scientist for science degrees – this is great to learn the role your course will play in the world, or a national geographic for history or culture studies. There are subject specific ones too (New Civil Engineer…), but these are good to get you started.
While you are doing all of this, try and remember to do a few things that will help in the long run:
· Keep a list of everything you attend, including talks and training
· Note down interesting articles or papers you read as this will help with selection of essay or dissertation titles later –if you decide to do a masters this is really useful too
· Get on LinkedIn, it’s a good way to build a network of tangible contacts from these courses you attend, or of like-minded students.
No matter where you are, or what you end up doing, make sure you spin it in your favor. For example, playing a sport shows teamwork and time management, just being in university is proof that you can handle deadlines and a large workload. Most importantly of all, remember the world is yours for the taking, go out and make it work for you.
Global Health Student at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.