Your College Aunts Week One: Freshers and Refreshers

Your College Aunts tackle workload, routine, relationships and friendship in this week’s column

CN: mention of weight

One week in and what a week it has been for Your College Aunts. Some pub trips, some COVID cases and a whole freshers’ week executed. Luckily we made it out unscathed and are excited to share some pearls of wisdom with you. Get your tea and spill it for us, because we want to maintain social distancing.

Q1: I’m terrified that I’m not going to be able to keep up with the workload. Do you have any tips on how to make sure you can stay on top of your work? And also to actually understand it because most of the stuff my DoS sent me has gone straight over my head?

I can give some practical advice, but also I’m giving a bit of tough love here, because your degree is going to be just as hard as you expect – sorry but it is what you signed up for – and you need to get your head in the game.

  1. Not all pieces of work need to be perfect or even close to it. Supervisions shouldn’t be about showing off to your supervisor how much you know, instead it’s about figuring out what you don’t know and filling those blanks. Because literally what would be the point of turning up to a supervision, answering all the questions perfectly and just leaving. To get that gold star and pat on the head you’re looking for? No. Most likely than not you won’t be top of the class, especially if you’re in a year of 400 Natscis or medics or something. Accept it. Accept that you’re doing your degree for you, because you love your subject and you want to pay to know more about it.
  2. If you don’t understand a topic read the textbook, review the slides, do some googling and then ask someone for help. You’re an adult now, you have to take ownership over your academic life. If you need help and ask for it, people will be willing to help, but suffering in silence won’t get you anywhere.
  3. Obviously be organised and make smart choices. Don’t go to the pub 6 days a week if you have looming deadlines and you don’t understand the work. Once you have a supo schedule, plan out which days every week are best to do that work. I also do lecture preps – going through the slides ahead of time where possible and make short notes, so when I turn up (or log on as the case may be), I have an idea of what the lecturer is going to start on. On the flipside, go through lectures afterwards may the next day or that evening. Ultimately it’s all about consolidating and reminding yourself of what you’ve learnt.

Also a final note that might make me unpopular among academic staff: Not all lecturers and supervisors are amazing teachers. They are all without a doubt incredibly smart people, but that does not always translate to a teaching style that you find easy to understand. Two pieces of advice for this issue: 1) Find resources from other lecturers. Past years lecture notes may help or even notes from a different uni which you can find on google. Also YouTube. 2) If a supervisor is genuinely failing you, I mean not turning up to supos or never marking work, then tell someone. Sometimes awful supervisors fall through the cracks. Email your tutor, they will help.

Don’t let this be you. Ask for help before crying into your A4 pad. (Credit: Archie Herrod)

Q2: I’m a returning student and I’m worried about being back at uni again – my partner doesn’t go to Cambridge, and I was hoping that they’d be able to come and stay with me at uni but my college now has a no visitors policy. I don’t want to break up, but I’m nervous about not being able to spend time with my partner for 8 weeks plus – any advice?

You can’t fight your college, and you shouldn’t quit your degree over it, so do your best to make it work. You’ve been here at least a year, you know how fast some parts of the term go by because of how much there is going on and how much work you have to do. Take some comfort in knowing life will keep you busy enough that you don’t miss them quite as much as you would in an 8 week holiday. You can Facetime, you can send each other letters if you’re romantic like that, you can buy each other weird shit off Etsy. Although you aren’t together, you are able to contact one another and that is a brilliant thing. At least you aren’t actually stood by a window crying ‘when will my husband return from war’; you can call your partner every day if you so please. A lot of people are in the same position, so trust me, if they can do it, you can do it.

Q3: Last year I found I became easily overwhelmed and didn’t have time to work basic “me-time” into my routine. Any advice on how to establish a self-care regime from early on, and what kind of things I could do to stay sane?

Get the ‘work always comes first’ mentality out of your mind. Academic excellence is not worth endangering your health: physical or mental.

Make sure you eat 3 square meals a day. Despite the previous question, I think a lot of people can get so wrapped up in work and running around to commitments they forget to eat, which will run you into the ground. Trust me I’ve seen it happen. Have some easy meals up your sleeve that you can make if you miss hall timings, but generally hall can provide some routine.

Spending time with friends is part of self-care too. Humans are social creatures; you’ll never do your best work isolating yourself from the world. At the same time, if you’re a bit of an introvert, make time to have a bath, do a face mask and watch Netflix one night a week to recharge your social batteries.

I think this is another case of learning to ‘adult’. Work-life balance never stops being hard. You need to grow an awareness of when you feel rough and pause the academics to focus on making yourself feel better – go for a walk, have a shower, have a nap. Also, get enough sleep. 4 hours is not sufficient. Lack of sleep will actually kill you, so it’s a priority over work.

Q4: I’m worried about ‘fresher’s 15’ and gaining weight coming to uni.

If you have a history of mental health struggles surrounding food or your weight, the only thing to do is speak to someone privately who you trust (therapist, parent or guardian etc). They can talk through your worries and help you to stay away from any previous behaviour that was damaging your wellbeing.

If you don’t have said history, I will offer a little advice from my experience. Balance the need for health with the need for enjoying your first term. If your flatmate suggests a midnight Maccies and you really fancy it, please just go and enjoy yourself. Obviously, if that becomes your standard evening, you’re in unhealthy territory. So, what I’m really saying is: moderation. Embrace the slightly more active lifestyle of Cambridge. Walking and cycling everywhere will do you wonders, mentally as well as physically. Definitely join a club or two to get some ‘organised’ movement in there as well.

Also embrace the fact that learning to manage your calories in and calories out is part of the ‘adulting’ you get to learn at uni. If you put on a few pounds in first term, come Christmas you can look back and say ‘hmmm okay possibly fewer chips at hall next term, and maybe some vodka lime sodas instead of pints every night’. Give yourself the space to ‘figure it out’ in Michaelmas, with food and exercise, but also with everything else that comes with going to Cambridge. You’ve got to survive in the real world, so take your time to figure out how, while in the Cambridge bubble.

Having a post night-out quesadilla at Van of Life is definitely worth the calories (Credit: Katie Thacker)

Q5: I’m in a household with both freshers and 2nd/3rd years and I’m not sure how the dynamic will be. How do I approach convo with those in the years above? 

The thing about group dynamics is you can never really know what they’re going to be like until you get there- it’s something that is literally out of your control. What is in your control, however, is your own mindset and how you choose to interact with those around you. I think something that’s easy to forget is that those in older years are ultimately just people so this is how you should treat them. It’s usually when we start to place others on pedestals or when we dwell on our insecurities that we cut ourselves off from forming connections with others. The best thing you can do when approaching your new household is to be polite, respectful and stay true to yourself. We tend to reciprocate the energy that we receive, so if you put positive and welcoming energy out there you are far more likely to get it back. The people in your household don’t necessarily need to be your best friends, but cooperation is definitely essential to make sure that your living situation this year is bearable. So, I would advise putting an active effort into getting to know your household, especially within this new covid-context. Altogether, convo with the years above should be approached in the same way as convo with anyone else: remind yourself this might actually result in you making some new friends and also feeling more comfortable in your new home.

A wholesome household is a happy household (credit: Leila Lawrence)

Q6: I’m coming back for a fourth year (yikes) and living in a rented house with some mates but the rest of my friends have already graduated and left. How do I make new friends, and also navigate the world of dating in this weird covid time but with added out of college difficulty?

Even though you’re a fourth-year and it may feel like a bit of a ‘yikes’ moment for you, I think you need to be reminded that you’re still a young university student. This means that you can still join a new society and try and actively make new friends in the way that you did during freshers. Even though you may have finally reached a stage of settled friendships, this doesn’t mean that you’ve now lost the ability to make friends. Trying to get involved with your college’s MCR is a great way of making new friends, especially since most MCR freshers are probably in an even less favourable situation when it comes to making friends than you are. They would probably really appreciate it if those more familiar with Cambridge made an effort to get to know them. Dating is where it gets more difficult. Unfortunately, covid means dating apps might have to be your best friend. If you want to go on actual dates, Hinge is probably your best bet, but you need to realise that it may take a while before you even match with anyone you want to go on a (covid-safe) date with. Using dating apps can easily become a disheartening experience, so I think it’s important not to put too much pressure on it and understand that these things take time. Here would be the part where I insert the cliche section about how you don’t need a relationship to be happy, but I’m sure being a fourth-year you’ve already worked that out. Try to view any dating attempts or experiences as a way to get to know yourself better, rather than an activity that is only successful if you find the love of your life, and hopefully that will make the infinitely more difficult task of dating during covid somewhat less depressing.

Well, that’s all from us this week…

Be sure to catch our podcast which is out on Thursday on all podcasting platforms you can possibly imagine!


Your College Aunts x

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