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Stuff I wish I knew in first year

Written by Angela WIlcox-watson

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Finally, break time! Don’t be deceived though, it’s not quite a holiday and there are always readings, assignments and catching-up to do. Balancing study and relaxation in mid-semester break is an art, here are seven ways to maximise your time off and still come back fighting fit for round 2 of first semester.

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Info Day is a great opportunity to talk to someone before you finalise your course preferences. It's also a great opportunity to have fun. And who doesn't love fun?

The end of school is typically a time of traditions and rites of passages. When I think of my end of high school, I remember a blur of graduations, formals, muck-up days, exams, schoolies and seemingly endless holidays. All these are fun, but without a doubt the most exciting and important summer event on anyone’s calendar should be the University of Sydney Info Day.

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Sometimes life isn’t smooth sailing. You may encounter a Debilitating Nasal Fungus, a Disastrously Nasty Friendship/Family, Dire Never-ending Finances, or other Disadvantaged Non-foreseeable Factors that force you to reduce or withdraw from your semester study.

Then there's the ‘Discontinue Not Fail’ (DNF) deadline – but what is it, and what do you have to do about it?

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We’ve all been told that when it comes to securing an internship or job, often it’s not what, but who we know that makes the difference. For those of us who are a little shy or self-conscious though, the task of networking can feel intimidating, if not somewhat contrived. But it doesn’t have to be...

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Normally university education and fortune-telling don’t go together, but if you’re interested in finding out what studying at Sydney Uni will be like, then you should definitely be coming to Open Day!

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Insects, super conductors, latex bouncy balls, Quidditch, food DNA and Game of Thrones... these are just some of the fun hands-on activities that will open your mind at Open Day this Saturday.

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As we approach the middle of semester, the sometimes torturous cycle of attending class, doing readings, starting assignments and preparing for mid-terms is starting to kick in.

If you’re finding that you have too much on your plate this semester, or will struggle with the workload when assessments start piling up, now is a good time to think about withdrawing from a unit of study.

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It’s not everyday you’re given the opportunity to present your findings in an international conference – especially as an undergrad student – but I’ve just returned from presenting at one in New Zealand about improving the experience of first-year uni students.

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Dear Sydney University,

I would like to receive a scholarship because it has always been my dream to attend Hogwarts. After being terribly disappointed in not receiving my Hogwarts acceptance letter when I was 11 years old (I’m sure they made a mistake!), I have now decided that my next best option is to attend Sydney University. This is a why I deserve a scholarship.

I hope I can bring my owl to class.*

(* My sources inform me that this letter may or may not be an actual scholarship application received by the university.)

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My sources inform me that the scholarship money may or may not be secretly guarded by dragons in a vault beneath the Bank Building.

What type of ships are worth a total of $65 million, don't not sail on water but will help you immensely to navigate through the high seas of higher education?

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Journalist. Politician. Lawyer. As professions go, these are some of the least trusted and most hated of all in society – and I happen to study all three! So why pick these subjects, and why study a combined degree?

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Week 13 just rolled past and suddenly STUVAC (the study vacation) has come knocking. If it's your first semester at Uni, you might find yourself facing final exams with scarily high percentage values, a few less-battered-than-they-should-be textbooks, and the classic "how did this happen?" moment. If you're a seasoned second or third year (or even fifth, like me), chances are you've just been hit by that horrible "how did I let this happen again?" crisis.

But by using the STUVAC burst of adrenalin, one week of intensive study can actually be incredibly productive. As Leonard Bernstein said: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” so here's my tip for surviving STUVAC:

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Yes, it's student election season again. Here are my tips for not being harassed by people in bright t-shirts...

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Being a law student at Sydney Uni is not just about avoiding the pretentious people.

I’m a third-year Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Law student (although I once told a health science student that I study a Bachelor of Manning Bar, to which they just looked confused). Basically, being a law student means that while I drink coffee all day and make the most of having only 12 hours of classes a week, I get to complain about how hard my life is that I have to carry heavy textbooks around. So why did I choose this degree?

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I’m Megan. I’m a third-year Commerce (Liberal Studies) student and intern at IBM and I enjoy living life at an unsustainable pace. I micromanage to do lists, I’m a coffee aficionado and I’m strongly opposed to grammatical incorrectness.

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So it’s that time of semester when you really start to dislike 'past you' – who took so long to open up those textbooks, didn't take enough notes in lectures and misspent the entire mid-semester break indulging in chocolate and TV. Fortunately, all hope is not lost when it comes to preparing for mid-semester exams and assignments: Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) are available in the Business and Law Schools.

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Week Four: the time when you start to think perhaps this whole Uni thing isn’t for you. You have a weird tutor that trails off at the end of her sentences, you can never keep up in lectures and you don’t really understand this whole ‘eLearning’ thing people keep talking about.

It seems at this point – whether you’re completely behind on readings, struggling to understand the basic concepts of your subjects, or haven’t made a single friend – that a lot of students just jump ship entirely.

But that's not the only solution. The HECS Census date is this Sunday, 31 March – your last chance to withdraw from subjects you no longer wish to take without attracting fees or fail marks on your academic record.

Here’s some ways to make this deadline work for you…

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You can be forgiven for mistaking the new Learning Hubs for café lounges, what with the bean bags, zigzag sofas, boutique tabletops and whiteboards sharing floor space with the conventional computer desks.

That’s not to say you won’t find any computers around; they’re still readily available for all things research and beating assignment deadlines. But you ought to visit these hubs for the customs emerging outside the computer. Whether it’s the club executives making bulletins of the whiteboards, or the engineers casually dining and playing cards, or the weary first-years enjoying Sydney’s skyline from Carslaw’s windows, there’s a livelihood in these hubs that was sorely missing from the old access labs they replaced. Less than a year after launch, students have made these hubs a wonderfully unique space.

It’s clear these hubs were destined to become that 'third place'. That place you could frequent to get work done, hang with friends or just unwind. The choice is yours. See what these new hubs can do for you.

You can check out the PNR Learning Hub on weekdays between 8AM and 6PM, and Carslaw Learning Hub is now open 24/7.
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Learn more about student IT services.

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I never really meant to get into med school. I wanted to be a Vet or an Architect in high school, and couldn’t imagine being the lead actor in the blood and guts of TV medicine. I dressed like an architect – matching colours and structured outfits are still my thing – and loved talking to animals at every opportunity. But somehow, I ended up here at Sydney Medical School. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

So how did I get here?

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Where can your medical studies at Sydney Uni take you? Brooke Sachs (pictured) is a stage three medical student based at the Royal North Shore Hospital, founder of the rural youth mentoring initiative ‘Avenir’, and the Vice-Chair of the Australian Youth Forum Steering Committee. Despite this daunting workload, she’s made time to do a quick Q&A with us!

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Starting University is a pretty damn exciting time in one’s life. For me it was such a mix of emotions. I cried at enrolment and nearly exploded with excitement at 0-Week. At the time, I had spent a year off from study, travelling and working so I was very ready to learn.

If I could go back and tell 19-year-old me a few things, what would I say?

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Walking through uni the other day I saw people setting up a multitude of stalls along Eastern Avenue. A giddy sense of excitement welled up inside of me as I braced myself for the fun ball of happiness that’s about to explode on campus: O-Week!

Speed dating in Manning Bar isn't the only way to meet new people during O-Week; you can also get an Access card and join a million clubs and societies. But what exactly are clubs and societies?

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An interest in science fiction and history – and the influence of some inspirational teachers – put Benjamin Pope on a study path that’s taken him around the world.

Now back at Sydney Uni after completing an exchange year at the University of California, Berkeley, where he conducted research with a Nobel Laureate and travelled to an observatory in Hawaii to work with world leaders in astrophysics, Ben has received a University Medal for his honours thesis and is about to start his PhD. “The example of those who've taught me has cemented the importance of nurturing the individual interests of students and helping them find the right field to kindle their excitement”, says Ben, but he didn’t start out with a career in astrophysics in mind.

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Enrolment for me was a painful experience when it needn’t have been. At the end of 2010 I was offered a place to study Arts at the University of Sydney. It was so exciting to me. After 6 months working as a receptionist after school and saving all my money, and 6 months touring Europe alone spending all my money, I was ready to study and ready to learn.

I opened the Arts Handbook to choose my subjects and the sheer number available overwhelmed me. I was meant to choose eight junior subjects, four for each semester and these junior subjects needed to lead to the major I wanted to do. I felt like then and there, in the summer after a very long holiday and time off studying I had to plan the entire course of my next three years. I was sufficiently whelmed.
I asked my friends for help choosing and they offered the following pearls of wisdom “do one about aliens, or gender stuff,” “do what you want” and my favourite, “follow your dreams.”

In the end I decided to just wing it, to rock up at enrolment, burst through the doors of MacLaurin Hall, and just choose then and there.

However when I got there, I was nowhere near as bold and confident as I had hoped to be. I received my forms, attempted to fill out a few boxes and then when it came time to choose subjects I froze. I couldn’t decide. Should I do Music? French? Biology? English? The possibilities buzzed around in my brain and I suddenly burst into tears. I looked around through tear-filed eyes. Other people had brought their parents. I should have brought my parents. Or my mum at least. Mum would have known what to do. I franticly scribbled that I would do Music, Biblical Studies, Australian Politics and Sociology and shoved it at the enrolment officer before I could change my mind.

I’ve now just finished my second year and see that my enrolment experience could have been entirely different. You can change your subjects very easily until the HECS census date, which is usually a few weeks into semester. And I only needed to nominate some subjects for the second semester, but could change them very easily too! Uni is much more flexible that school, there is greater choice and thanks to the online admin systems you can do a lot of it yourself at home. If you have any questions about enrolling to study at Sydney in 2013, jump on here and have a read.

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I’m coming to the end of my first year of a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications). The course goes for four years, which is longer than most media and journalism courses. There’s good reason for that though!

I’m still quite undecided as to what my ‘end goal’ is, and I’m certainly not alone in that respect within my cohort. But the course caters for indecisiveness – I’ve tried my hand at print journalism, radio, online media and the production side of things, and will do an internship in fourth-year! On top of all these Media units I’ve also decided to undertake a marketing major, which will give me a breadth of knowledge that other degrees wouldn’t have provided me. And my Media lecturers have all had real-world journalism experience, which has been a bonus in terms of learning how to mix lofty theory and practical application.

The range of subjects (media, arts and marketing units) offered by my degree are especially important given the volatile environment the media now finds itself in. Having a broader scope of understanding and learning will hopefully put me in good stead when I’m looking for full-time jobs after graduation.

Another advantage has been the access to experience. I’ve done quite a lot of writing this year for The BULL, where I’ve been able to focus on pop culture and feature writing, but there are other Uni titles for writers more interested in current affairs or international issues.

The malleability of the course means I’ve been able to mould it to fit my own career aspirations and interests. I’d say that’s the best thing about it!

See more information about my course.

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There is nothing worse than that rush through the tiny door into the Eastern Avenue Auditorium on the first day of semester. What seems like thousands of people aiming for the same seat, each saving an extra three for their late running friends. Why do they all sit on the ends of the rows, forcing us to play hopscotch to the seats in the centre of the theatre? They sit in their groups, but individually at the ready with paper pre-margined and dated already prepared to write the minutes of the lecture. It’s amazing how these people are so intimidating before you even know their names.

It’s the anxiety of knowing that this is university, every day for the next thirteen weeks. Just a battle to avoid sitting on the floor in a lecture theatre.

But what people forget is that students live up to their stereotypes. We sleep in, we are lazy and we don’t like things that are difficult. Anything that can be missed will be missed and so inevitably the number of people in the lecture will dramatically fall within the first week as we return to our natural nocturnal lifestyle entirely confined to our bedrooms. So, dear student, do not panic if you are compressed between an extra full pencil case and a pile of neatly ruled paper on Monday morning. You’ll probably get some room to put your feet up next week.

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Mondays, for most people, are absolutely horrific. This day usually involves minimal to no breaks, running from one side of campus to the other in the tiny ten minute gap we have (if the lecture hasn’t run late) and attempting to retain concentration after seven hours worth of information has been shoved into your brain. This is not what Mondays are like for me.

I arrive at uni a comfortable 11:30 and casually walk to my English lecture. After that I have my English tutorial. Then a gap. Lovely right? NOT SO.

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As exams finish, first semester comes to a close and the holidays begin, I wonder why, with my parents still in Europe, I am still sitting here. Is it because I have nothing better to do? Am I in shock that my first semester of university is over? Are my legs broken?

No.

No dear readers. My legs are fine, if not a little hairy. I sit here still because of my undying desire to tell all of you about my first semester at the University of Sydney, so that you might know a little of what to expect before you get here yourself. I say “might” because to be honest, I haven’t exactly been here that long.

So here are five things you should know about Sydney before your first semester.


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Herein are my tips on coffee around campus. If the availability of good coffee and snack-holes near campus is important to you, Sydney Uni is the place to go. Quick Disclaimer: only one of these places are actually on campus. There are other places, like the USU-run coffee carts, but they aren’t renowned for their culinary standards. They are more about getting snack-food for studying, like Pods. Pods ....

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As I write this, I am sitting in the Fisher Library ‘stacks’ (the research section), munching away on some Twix flavoured pods*, supposedly planning/writing several essays all due within a few hours of each other. First count, I had something in the realms of 11,000 words looming ahead of me. Most recent count revealed that I still have 10,990 words looming up ahead. At least I’ve got my first sentence out of the way.

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Much as Patrick Suskind was moved by the oft-overlooked landscape of smell to write a novel about a serial killer, I have recently been so moved (sometimes physically) by my own olfactory surroundings, that I am compelled to rise up onto my soapbox once more. As far as I know, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille left no descendants, and so I’m fairly certain that any young virgins at Sydney Uni can sleep easy. However, bodily smells have come up in conversation so many times recently that it is obviously a topical concern.

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Today in my science and statistics lecture for Psychology, we got on to the topic (as we often do) of pseudo-science. This term refers to that which is not science but pretends to be.
We were told a few interesting stories about psychics, including the well known John Edward and a woman called Sylvia Browne who, in 2003, used her supernatural powers to attempt to locate a couple’s son, who had been missing for four months.

She made some very interesting predictions.

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As a musician (or, to be more specific, as a young and relatively-cheaper-to-hire musician), chances are you’ll be asked to do at least five million gigs before you hit 25. NEVER underestimate the power of a gig. A ‘bad’ gig can damage more than just your morale. In order to preserve your friendships, sanity, petrol, and bank balance, I suggest thou readest on.

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Maths and Biology...oh dear God.. read on. And now that the break is over and you’ve found you still haven’t done that much work, this might help.

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Also some stuff I did do and found tremendously useful.

So if you’re doing psych 1001 or 1002, listen up:

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Dear Asako:
Where
is Bosch?
-Paul

Thanks for all the responses. They were fantastic. Here is my first Ask Asako column:

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A concept that scared me during my first year were the computers. There are heaps of computers all over uni which are connected to high speed internet and printing facilities that you can use as if they were your own.

In first semester I didn’t even know where any access labs were, how to print and I was too scared to ask anyone. In second semester I ventured out, fell head over heels in love with studying away from home, and tried out many of the access labs on campus. Read here for my verdict:

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Hey guys, so your first week of uni is over.

It’s getting a bit difficult for us bloggers to figure out who’s reading this anymore, and whether we should target this to year 12s or you first years, but if you recent high school graduates / current first years are still out there, listen up...

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If you’re reading this, you need to get a life.

JUST KIDDING.

Making friends at uni is harder than at high school, because there are so many people bustling around doing their own little thing. Then again, the fact that there is a bar on campus can, on occasion, lubricate the situation.

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Throughout the past year, nearly every person I meet who had been through the university system told me that “first year is the worst year, and it only gets better”. I had been dubious I have to say. Unfortunately, I wasn’t dubious because I thought “how could it possibly get any better than this?” (which would have been nice), but because I thought “how could one year make such a difference?”. Well, lo and behold, I was wrong.

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You may hear a term being thrown around during the first few weeks of uni... and it’s actually WebCT.

Not too sure what the CT stands for, but here’s the lowdown nonetheless.

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Talk to someone. That’s the best solution. Let’s face it guys, uni can be a tough time. It’s not always going to be easy. Sometimes things will get the better of you – whether it’s paid work, academic work, friends, family, or just not being able to do what you want at times. Unless you have an abnormally sunny disposition, almost all of us go through these kinds of moments, but we don’t have to dwell on them all by ourselves. Problems can be fixed, and there are people to help. Welcome to the world of university counsellors.

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One thing I was always curious about was what kind of bag I should bring to uni every day, and what people filled it with. So here goes:

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