Uni is back for the new term (what Alice Cooper did not sing; evidently it does not promote the rebellious and celebratory mood quite like the end of a term) and with it comes modules, academic reading, coursework and the consumption of copious gallons of coffee. Coincidentally enough, today marks National Coffee Day, or so Twitter is at pains to inform me, and I think it comes at a convenient time when one considers how yesterday marked my return to university, and to entering Final Year Law.
It was a fantastic day, actually, for all that I joked about the ‘end being nigh’ to my friends and family. My seminar for Understanding Human Rights was fascinating; I think I am going to enjoy that module not only for the course content, and for the new perspectives it will afford me and the new means of thinking I will undergo, but also due to the teaching style. The module is taught as a seminar, meaning that it will be class-led, and we will share our thoughts and opinions on the readings and related current affairs. I am looking forward to the discussions and debates we will have!
I also have a feeling that I will really enjoy my Legal Theory module (essentially a Jurisprudence module). I initially felt quite bemused at my voluntary choice to study two theory-heavy modules in one semester, especially after two years of black-letter law teaching, not to mention a year away in America. But now, I am pleasantly surprised and actually excited for this semester. I appreciate how such theory-dominant modules encourage debate, challenging the student to re-consider their own views and contrast differing perspectives. I particularly am looking forward to the ‘interactive caselaw session’ during this module, where we will be examining cases from various competing legal critiques to determine how each critique influences the outcome of the case. I suppose that it is simply nice to remember that the ‘law’ dos not have a straightforward definition, and there is no one way to understand it or describe it. Even better, it goes to show that a Law degree is not just about being able to recall legislation and caselaw; it is also about being able to think, to prepare for contrasting opinions, and have the ability to put forward a reasoned argument in favour of your view, whilst respecting that of your counterpart.
So, hurrah for being back on campus, and for the new academic term. (For all that it is already causing me to drown in a sea of papers.)
I must confess to being rather the keen bean student, for when I started to receive emails from the co-ordinators of my modules, I felt a thrill of excitement, knowing that I was going back to Law, and entering my final year. Of course, I greatly enjoyed my year abroad in America, studying a different course and in a different learning environment. But Law is my degree, my chosen profession. Thus, to head on back to the law textbooks and article readings was a joy, and to walk back on my own university campus was eerily like returning home. (Okay, okay. I will cease the cliché love-in with my degree right about now.)
Yet, for all that I enjoyed yesterday, and am looking forward to my new semester, I cannot deny that it can be rather the rude shock to the system to adjust to the old routine. It is difficult to get used to early mornings, the daily commute and studying when you have been enjoying the delights of a long summer. So with that in mind, I thought I would draw up a brief list of how best to get back into the swing of work/study after the holidays.
Having a positive attitude (‘I’m looking forward to doing X’/’I cannot wait to start this’) will work wonders, and help provide motivation to adapt back to the daily grind. With that, and the tips below, you can jump back into uni/work/extra-curriculars in no time.
- Alarm-clock blues: okay, this may seem rather odd, but there is reason to the madness of this inclusion. The very first change of routine will be the early mornings – no more luxury lie-ins to be sure. I coped (whilst I returned to uni yesterday, for the past week I have been attending committee meetings amongst other things in Belfast, so I was basically in the working-day mode already) by setting several alarms, maybe two before my main alarm, to ensure I would get up. I also opted for songs in lieu of piercing shrieks, because I respond better to songs I like than the shrill ‘wah wah wah’ of a standard alarm. So, I went for Stone Temple Pilots, Twin Atlantic, and to really set the tone, this gem from the House of Cards OST. (Hear that go off on a dark morning, and it sets up for the day. If you plan on devious scheming, that is.) I recommend you choose songs you like, that also boast a strong rhythm and drumbeat. You will have to wake up, and you will be humming along in the process.
- Breakfast: this is the most important meal of the day. How do you expect to endure the day if you are running low on energy? Even if you are not a big eater in the mornings, try to eat some fruit and a cereal bar. You’ll thank me later. (Oh, and have some herbal tea or coffee to have wake you up and prep you for the morning.)
- Time Management: this isn’t necessarily just confined to prioritising tasks at work/uni. This also includes you. Make sure that you have some time that you can spend refreshing your mind about what you need to focus on, assess your workload, and make sure you can find a healthy balance between work and socialising with friends.
- Treat September as a new year: this one is easy for me, as the new academic year always commences in September. What I mean by this is consider this month as a fresh start as you go back to your job, or to university. Summer allowed you to relax and recharge yourself, so you should be raring to go. You can use ‘fresh start’ to set yourself some new goals or targets that you wish to achieve in the coming months, and/or revise your existing plans and make adjustments. Maybe you can join the gym, and take up a new hobby? If you are a student like myself, why not become involved in a student organisation? You will have fun, make new friends and be able to share your interest and enthusiasm for a subject with others.
- Have a ‘treat’ date: following on from above, make sure you have something set aside for the future that you can be excited about. Counting down the days until your treat will help make time fly by, and motivate you to work hard so that you can reward yourself (without a guilty conscience!) Whether it is a fancy dinner date with friends, a saved-up for shopping trip or luxury purchase, or a mini-holiday – having something to look forward to on the horizon will help get you through the working week. (Myself? Oh, I have my birthday, and a Johnny Marr gig to look forward to in late October.)
- Eating habits: when you are stuck in the uni library, surrounded by notes and textbooks, or sitting at an office desk in front of a glaring computer screen, you are always tempted to snack, whether from a sugar-fix need or from boredom. (My personal temptation is Tracker bars. Don’t ask.) Try to avoid the snacking temptation! You will only succumb to a sugar-fix, with its impeding crash, and will feel tired and/or bemoan a sore head. Stick to three healthy, balanced meals a day, drink plenty of water and consider bringing fruit or granola bars around with you. This will keep you alert and energised throughout the day.
- Of timetables and schedules: if you know you will have to work at home, be it for a project, or for lecture prep and revision, start as soon as you are able – do not leave anything until the last minute. Write out your timetable and post it on a wall or in your diary, so that you are aware of your work for the day and can plan around it. Draw up a schedule for revision and uni prep, so that you will always have a few hours to yourself in the day for relaxation or for extra-curriculars.
- Beauty sleep: when you return home after a long day, make sure that you set a reasonable hour for when you will go to bed, and stick to it. I know I sound akin to a lecturing parent here, but speaking from experience -I pulled far too many all-nighters in America and I was shattered at the end of the semester – your working week will go in easier and smoother if you are alert. When you get plenty of sleep, you will also feel more positive and motivated – and not feeling the urge to either sleep at your desk, or shout in a Malcolm Tucker-esque manner at the students talking loudly and walking like elephants around you in the library. (Not that that has ever been a temptation of mine. Oh no.)
The above tips are simply a guide; they may not work for everyone. But I hope that they may be of service to someone! And remember: September is nearly over! Enjoy glorious Autumn whilst it is here, and remember that a work/life balance is essential, whether you are working full-time, or still at school.