Depending on the course you have chosen you may spend a few hours or almost every hour of the week at lectures and tutorials. The difference at university is that you are relatively unsupervised and will have to meet project deadlines under your own steam and therefore have to be well self-motivated.
You will most probably do projects or exercises on your own or in a team so become familiar with the library and the computer rooms! Also remember that your tutors are there to help and support you throughout your degree so develop a good relationship with them - after all they may end up becoming your academic reference you need to give to a future employer!
On degree and postgraduate courses:
- You do not have to attend all your classes all the time, and you have much more time to study on your own. This means that you have to organise your private study time.
- Your tutors/lecturers will not always provide you with answers - instead, they show you ways to find the answers yourself.
- You will not always be dealing with facts, and there will not always be right and wrong answers. You will need to learn to think about the subject matter and develop your own ideas and opinions.
- Classroom teaching may be much less formal than in school or college. You will be encouraged to ask questions, join in discussions, and even argue with your tutors!
The teaching and learning methods you are most likely to encounter include:
- seminars and tutorials
This is the most formal, traditional teaching method. How to make the most of your lectures:
- Go to them. You will probably find that no one checks to make sure you attend lectures, but in spite of that, it is still important to go. If you miss your lectures, your work will suffer.
- If possible, read about the topic before the lecture. When you already know something about the subject, you will understand the lecture more fully.
- Don't write down everthing the lecturer says (except when you are copying down equations or formulae). If you try to write down everything, you will think about the writing instead of the information. It is more effective to listen carefully and make notes of the main ideas, plus any references (sources or further information) you should look for later.
- After the lecture, read through your notes and reorganise them if you need to. Add in extra details you recall, any related information you have read elsewhere, and your own ideas and opinions.
- If you do have to miss a lecture, borrow someone's notes so that you can catch up on the material.
Seminars are small discussion groups: a number of students (about 8 to 16) join their lecturer or tutor to discuss a particular topic and exchange ideas. Seminars usually last one to two hours. Unlike lectures, attendance is often obligatory.
How to learn from seminars:
- Be prepared. Read about the topic in advance, form your own ideas and opinions, and be ready to discuss them.
- Don't be afraid to join in discussions. Other students will be interested in your ideas and opinions.
- Sometimes you may have to prepare a paper in advance (either on your own or with another student) and then present it to the rest of the group for discussion. Relax and remember why you are there: to learn about the topic.
Tutorials usually take place weekly and last about an hour. You meet with a lecturer or tutor, either on your own or with one to three other students, to:
- discuss your own work (e.g. an essay you are writing)
- cover a particular topic in greater depth
If you are on a postgraduate research programme, you will spend little or no time in lectures, seminars or tutorials. Instead most of your time will be spent on independent research.
There will be four main stages to your research programme:
- You will start by meeting your supervisor and agreeing on a specific direction for your research.
- Next, you may need to do some background reading to become familar with the subject. This sometimes takes several months. On some research programmes you may also have to take a couple of taught courses at the beginning, either to learn about the subject or to learn about research methods.
- The bulk of the programme is your research. In scientific fields, you will probably need to design and carry out extensive experiments. Research in other fields may involve various activities such as critical reading and analysis, interviewing people, designing and conducting surveys, or developing programs.
- When your research is complete, you will be expected to write a dissertation. This stage can take several months for a Master's degree, or a year or so for a PhD.
Throughout the process, you should have regular meetings with your supervisor. He or she will want to know how you are progressing, and can offer guidance and suggestions on your research and dissertation.
Towards the end of your course you will then have to consider your career and/or other options for when you finish.
Some graduate jobs demand a specific degree subject, especially in the fields of science and engineering. However, a high number of advertised vacancies ask for graduates from any degree subject, which means that you will have lots of career options whatever you decide to study.
Most students view their degree as a key stepping stone, and many graduates end up in graduate jobs not related to their degree. Postgraduate conversion courses exist for many professions including accountancy, law, teaching, and social work, for those studying non-relevant degrees.
So many people have degrees these days that you will need to stand out from the crowd when applying for graduate jobs. Employers want new recruits to be able to add value straightaway. If you can demonstrate that you have already achieved a certain level of competence, you will be far more likely to get the graduate job you want.
It is never too early to start thinking about your options. You should use your time at university to get a range of experiences that will stand you in good stead when you graduate. Remember that your main priority is your coursework or revision for exams, so don't spend to long making yourself marketable.
This is question we get asked a lot. Obviously the best response is to work as hard as you can and the grade you achieve will be the result of the effort and commitment you put in. Based on our experience in graduate recruitment:
- Those students who gain a First or a 2:1 honours degree are more likely to be in graduate jobs they regard as appropriate. However contrary to the fears of many students, a high proportion of those with a 2:2 or less are able to obtain employment which they regard as appropriate and for which a degree is required.
- A 'good' degree is clearly essential for many graduate jobs but many of the employers we survey are often more concerned with work experience and proven competence than formal qualifications.
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