Updated: Jan 21, 2019
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 13/07/2015
I know exactly what you’re thinking and going through right now. Chances are as you’re reading this, you’re sitting in a corner of the General Library on a lovely Friday afternoon with your books out, midway through what will be another marathon 14 hour study session while every molecule of your existence is screaming for you to get outside and go for a sunbathing or drinking session with your mates like every single other University student seems to be doing since the beginning of life on Earth. If you’re like me, as you stare out the window at the crystal-clear sky and ponder the meaning of life, negative, self-defeating thoughts inevitably pop up inside your head, like:
“There is just so much content to learn and I’m not even sure that Biomed is something I want to study anymore.” “I work so hard, but I’m still borderline failing/not getting good grades and I’m never good enough to get the grades I need to get into the programme I want.” “Everybody here is a genius and better than me. I’m hopeless and have no chance against them.” “I’m really lost and struggling with everything, somebody help me!!”
First of all, although nobody may ever admit it to you (at least not in the competitive setting of first year Biomed/Health Sciences), I can assure you that you are not alone in experiencing moments and thoughts like these – I certainly did and it wrecked total havoc with my confidence, self-esteem and motivation to do well. As you would have all found out by now, the transition from a high school senior to University in terms of workload and course content is like going from the freezer to the Arctic and it is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and underachieved, especially when everyone else around you seems to be getting As and A+’s effortlessly and certainly aren’t shy about telling it to all their friends and on social media. Even though I’m not by any means a qualified therapist or professional guidance counsellor, having been through two and a half years of biomedical science has given me a wee bit more experience in dealing with the stresses and anxiety of a University student just like you. Hopefully what I have learnt will help you in your journey towards success too, whatever that may be.
“There is just so much content to learn and I’m not even sure that Biomed is something I want to study anymore.”
Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that Biomed is hard work, but if you talked to your friends doing other degrees chances are they’ll tell you the exact same thing. I’m sure you’ll also be delighted to hear that the amount of content you are expected to learn and retain in second year medically-related courses like medicine, pharmacy and biomedical sciences will take another gigantic leap upwards compared to first year, but the point I’m trying to make here is that whether you decide to continue studying the medical sciences or switch to something completely different, you will always be expected to work hard, so don’t be put off if you find yourself drowning in content and struggling to keep up – most of your peers are too and like you are spending many long hours in the library studying to keep up with the seemingly never-ending barrage of lectures and labs. Do not fall into the trap of self-pity and assume that everyone else has it easier or better, because I can assure you this is not always the case. This is just the normal, typical side of University life which Hollywood will never show to you on the big screen.
As for not being sure that Biomed or the medically-related courses are for you, my best advice is to not get too hung up on this and try your best to just focus on your studies during the semester. Taking such a demanding course in which you do not see a desirable light at the end of the tunnel can quickly sap away all your motivation and quickly lead you to despise your papers, but this is a big mistake which will usually see your GPA drop and along with it not only your chances to progress to second year but also your chances of a successful degree transfer (as minimum GPA thresholds may need to be met). Instead, try and approach each paper with an open mind, and that way you’re much more likely to actually appreciate what you are learning and how it may benefit you in your future. The times after exams, and during the semester breaks is when you can set aside time to sit down and carefully plan out your future directions, talk to other staff and students (including us!!) and explore all the different pathways you can take. If you are focused and have worked hard during the semester, a flash GPA will help open up all the doors for you and as you are exposed to more variety of content throughout your degree it is likely that you’ll naturally find your niche anyways.
“I work so hard, but I’m still borderline failing/not getting good grades and I’m never good enough to get the grades I need to get into the programme I want.”
“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” - Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
This quote is not meant to discourage you, or tell you that you are not good enough. The reality is that you are good enough – the University has entrance thresholds for a reason, and by passing that and successfully getting into your course you have already proven that you have got what it takes to not only pass, but to excel. Now, you just need to have the belief in yourself and put in the work to prove them right. If you could only take away one thing from this entire 'article', let it be that for many of you the main reason why you're not doing well is not because you aren’t capable of doing well, but rather you don’t believe you are capable of doing well. And in order to “do well,” it may not be as simple as just spending more hours in the library.
So, how can you actually improve your grades? Aside from obviously "working harder" as no doubt many of you are already doing, you may have also found out by now that how you studied during high school is no longer efficient enough to cope with the sheer quantity of content thrown at you, so this would require a dramatic revamp in your study methods. This of course will take time, and that is perfectly okay and in my opinion well worth the investment in gold – I’m in my third year of Biomed and how I approach my studies is still changing from semester to semester! Working hard is great and absolutely necessary for success, but many make the mistake of thinking that it can compensate for not working smart - clearly you could get away with this in high school, but not here. This doesn't mean you have to come up with some magical study formula, but do try different study methods and techniques should you find your study outputs disproportionate to your efforts. If you know in your heart of hearts that you really are giving it 100% each and every single day, constantly seeking ways to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your study methods (see this link) and do not let negative thoughts repress you I guarantee you – guarantee you – that your results will improve.
“Everybody here is a genius and better than me. I’m hopeless and have no chance against them.”
While not all of us have the potential to beat Usain Bolt over 100 metres, comparing yourself and your progress to others is possibly the most damaging action you can do to your own self-esteem and confidence. There is no denying the fact that some people will just understand the theory of evolution better than others, and that is perfectly normal and okay. The people who do well in tests and exams will usually never tell you how hard they actually had worked to get there, and more often than not they are no smarter or more capable than you are. Don’t see the people around you as your competition, but rather as your fellow students and friends who like you are all striving to reach one common goal: to serve and improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. Make new friends and learn from each other – they very well could be your colleagues one day in the not too distant future. What grades he is getting, how hard she is studying....none of these things are within your control and they really don't affect you anyway unless you let it so. As cliché as it sounds, the only person you should be comparing yourself to is who you were yesterday, because in the end no matter how good or bad those around you are doing, the only person you can ever change and improve on is yourself – and that’s all that really matters. You are at University for you and yourself only, and that’s the only way it should be. You are good enough – and you always have been. This is your life, grab hold of it with both arms, and fly.
“I’m really lost and struggling with everything, somebody help me!!”
Like me, you’ve probably also heard the notorious stories of pre-med students sabotaging each other by providing false notes, stealing unattended course guides and lying to each other about their grades or what the requirements are to get into medicine/optometry/pharmacy etc. First of all, as tempting and convincing as they are do not buy into them. The only sources of information which you should pay attention to are those coming from University staff members and on the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences Website here.
I was lucky to have a large group of biomed friends from high school who I could study and get help from, but I’m fully aware this sadly is not the case for many of you. However, I will say that despite that the rumours would have you believe the vast majority of students are not actively out there to backstab you, and many if not all are feeling just as nervous and anxious as you are beneath the mask of confidence and determination. Open yourself up, get out there and you’ll be surprised at how friendly people actually are.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to ask your lecturers and tutors for help, whether that is asking them during or after a lecture, at their office hours or emailing them electronically. They are here to help you, and they want to see you succeed even if their exam questions seem to suggest otherwise. I have met too many people who have said they have never emailed their lecturers for help even when they needed it – don’t be one of them. They may be world-leading researchers in their respective fields, but they too were once a student just like you. The University also offers counselling and guidance services for when the going gets tough, see here for more information.
Finally, there’s always us – the friendly, smiling faces of the S.A.M.S committee members. We’re a group of third year students who came together in 2014 to form a student organisation dedicated providing for the academic, social and welfare needs of all Medical Science students at the University of Auckland – and that includes you!! Please feel free to PM any of us on facebook, ask a question on our group page here or contact us via email here.
“You are good enough. You always have been. You’ve got lots of energy, you’re bursting with life, and you can achieve whatever you want. But I have to say, the most important thing, is just to have fun. Don’t forget to laugh, even with your braces. Confidence is key. You are unique. You are great. You are, magical.”
You can find the original video of this quote here