Dealing with exam stress? Struggling with a heavy workload? Thinking about what it would be like to attach yourself to a rocket and shoot yourself into the sun? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Work-life balance is often poorly managed by the majority of students, especially (but again not limited to) those in STEM subjects. This post is just a few helpful tips for those students who feel like they’re struggling to make everything work.
To start with, make time to see your friends. This sounds simple, to the point where you might wonder why it’s even being mentioned. However, spending every minute of every day studying can lead to burnout and mental health struggles, which should really be minimised at all costs. You don’t even physically have to be in the same space! Discord, Zoom, Facetime – whatever it is, make sure you speak to the people who are trying to overcome the same challenges. Feeling like you’re the only person who’s struggling with a particularly difficult course or subject is extremely common, but also completely avoidable. Working together and socialising, even during intense periods such as exam season, only benefits your overall learning (and quality of life!)
Secondly, remember that any progress is good progress, no matter how slow or small it may seem. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. For as many classes where you excel, you’ll have some that demand more effort, focus and time. This especially applies in the early stages of your university career, when learning a variety of topics on a fundamental level is a daunting task. There will be some areas of study that you are unlikely to ever fully appreciate (for example, most aeronautical engineers are allergic to electrical engineering). Instead, you wonder why your cruel lecturers are forcing you to learn it. It may be easier to break these less-familiar sections down into more manageable bites and focus on mastering them individually. What may feel slow and frustrating at first will eventually make way for a deeper understanding of the course overall. Don’t worry about your classmates seemingly being leaps and bounds ahead of you in a particular area. There will be things you’re better at – you probably just don’t realise it!
A failed exam is not the end of the world. Even Albert Einstein failed an entrance exam to attend college in Zurich. It is far more common than you think for people to have to resit their exams. While obviously you absolutely want to give your best effort so as to avoid these dreaded resits, there is no horrible punishment for having to do one. A resit is an opportunity to fill any gaps in your knowledge, which is a good thing to do before progressing to your next year of study. Sometimes it can take new students a while to fully settle into university and resits are especially common in the first year. This usually doesn’t indicate that a student lacks the potential to be a great engineer. It simply means you might have to change something in your preparation for assessments. Whether that be looking at more tutorials and past papers, reading through your notes with a fine-tooth comb just a few more times or even just trying again if you have a bad day the first time around – it is not the end of the world to resit an exam. This cannot be stressed enough. Dust yourself off and give it another go. It's all just a learning experience!
Finally, make sure you’re having fun! As mentioned previously, there is absolutely no obligation for you to love every second of every lecture and every tutorial you attend. That’s just not realistic at all. What you should remember is that you’re supposed to enjoy the overall experience. Problem-solving, teamwork, understanding the universe just that little bit better – these are the things that will get you through the busy and stressful periods of your university career. At the end of the day, it’s all for nothing if you don’t enjoy it. And if you don’t enjoy it, that’s okay too! STEM careers are not for everyone. Sometimes you have to figure out what you DON’T want to do in order to find out what you’re actually meant to be doing. Everyone is different, that’s what makes life so interesting. Best of luck in all the challenges to come – the team at GU Rocketry is rooting for you!