Living the Postgraduate Life

A term and a bit into my MA in Archives and Records Management, It’s time to think about student life so far…

Commuter life

Commuting. The start of the student day. The worst bit is getting up at 6am, especially when it’s dark, miserable, cold, and takes at least 20 minutes to de-ice the car. Living quite a distance from the station, and with parking quite expensive, my commute starts when I leave the house at 7am. I drive to the closest free parking to the station, and then walk the final 15 minutes. (I’ve been lucky so far that it has never rained more than a light drizzle, but I’m not looking forward to that 15 minute walk when it’s pouring!) Thankfully there’s a Starbucks at Northampton station (wahoo!), and I’m usually in time to pop in for something hot and caffeinated. (Although, I’m trying to spend less on coffee and croissants in the morning, especially as train fares have increased!) I’ve now taken to bringing a travel mug full of coffee for the commute into London, and a Thermos full of strong tea to keep my caffeine levels topped up throughout the day. I wonder how long I will last before I’m beating down the door at Starbucks for a soya cappuccino and an almond croissant… Update: I’ve been back at uni for two weeks, and I’ve caved in twice. That’s not too bad. Right?

My commute to London is about an hour. Mostly I spend the time waking up, drinking my coffee, eating whatever breakfast item I’ve brought from home or *accidentally* bought from Starbucks, and reading something on my Kindle. When I started commuting last September, I told myself that I would use the time commuting to do some reading for uni, but I’ve never really been awake or energised enough in the morning, and in the evening, I’m usually quite drained from being awake since 6am that I end up loafing about in my seat, attempting to read something on my Kindle, and watching the countryside fly past. This year I’d like to use those two hours a day a bit more wisely this year, but we’ll see how that goes. Update: I’ve been really good so far, lots of articles read, and less Kindle time!

Tips for commuting:

  • Book your train tickets in advance, it will save you money!
  • Check for cancellations,delays, bad weather before you leave for the station. Sometimes plans have to change, but it’s better if you can work out a solution before arriving to chaos at the station.
  • Don’t forget your headphones (you’ll thank me later).
  • Bring a travel mug! Fill it with something from Starbucks, or bring a coffee from home. Not only is caffeine essential so early in the morning, but on a cold morning, it will help to keep you warm!
  • Keep your Oyster card topped up!

University College London

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UCL, Gower Street

UCL is huge, and I mean huge! The campus is absolutely swarming with people whenever I come out of a lecture around lunchtime. There are always people with places to go, people to see, it’s a very busy place. The library resources that are relevant to my course are held in the Science Library, which is in the main campus, so I haven’t investigated any of the other UCL libraries for study spaces, that’s on my to-do list this year. My lectures are in the main UCL campus, Birkbeck and the Institute of Education, so I get to see different bits  of Bloomsbury.

The Department of Information Studies has a common room for their postgraduate students. This is a whole new experience for me, coming from a university background where students relied on the library or university canteen for somewhere to ‘hang out’. If I ever have some time to use up in-between lecture or before catching my train home, I usually head to the common room. It’s got a kettle, a microwave and a fridge – very conducive to studying.

UCL is in Bloomsbury, so I’m very close to Tottenham Court Road and all the lovely little streets around there. UCL has its own coffee shops and student union bars around the campus, and there are also lots of little coffee shops and great places to grab a sandwich, sushi or some street food for lunch – Store Street has a particularly great little place for Greek food! London can be quite expensive though, so now I bring a packed lunch and only occasionally treat myself to something yummy.

Tips for university:

  • Familiarise yourself with the layout of the campus before you get there. Work out where your lectures are and download a campus map to your phone if there is one.
  • Check your timetable every morning for unexpected room changes.
  • Bring a packed lunch or some snacks to keep you going throughout the day. Buying snacks or lunch every day can rack up your expenditure, so treat yourself every now and then, but your bank balance will thank you if you can avoid buying too many sandwiches.
  • Always bring your student card – you never know when you might be asked for it.
  • Do the reading! This one I can’t emphasise enough. If you can’t manage to do all of the reading, at least do some. 
  • Get yourself a planner: a Filofax, fancy notebook, smartphone app, whatever takes your fancy (I use a Happiness Planner). Have somewhere to keep track of when and where your lectures are, any prep or reading that you’ve been set, to-do lists, and your thoughts.
  • Find a way to take notes that works best for you. What works for the person sitting next to you might not work for you. I’d never used Microsoft OneNote until I started this course, but I’d be lost without it. You don’t need a Microsoft subscription, it lets you save work offline (for those keen beans who manage to squeeze some work in on the train!), you can have different sections (I have one for each module), and within each section you can have as many pages as you like (I have one for each lecture). It’s a really easy way of keeping you notes all together, rather than in separate documents. But like I said, what works for one person might not work for you, so try different things out and find which way fits with your style of learning.
  • Don’t leave things until the last minute. If you’re a postgrad student, then it’s more than likely that you’ve already completed an undergraduate degree; you’ve worked hard to get where you are, and now isn’t the time to be sloppy.

Being a postgrad student is hard work, but it is also a lot of fun. There are people to meet, places to see, and new things to learn. Here are some final tips that I’ve picked up so far…

  • Student discount! Keep your student card or NUS card with you whenever you go out, and if you’re unsure whether a student discount is offered somewhere then ask.
  • Check UniDays for student discounts. That 10% off at Apple is a real help when you’re buying a new MacBook, and don’t even mention the amount of times I’ve used my Asos discount code!
  • Google docs is great for group work! It’s an easy way for lots of people to collaborate on documents and spreadsheets without having to faff around e-mailing separate documents to everyone for checking.
  • Have fun and enjoy it. Being a student is hard work, especially as a postgrad, but the time goes so quickly, so don’t forget to have fun and enjoy it as you go.

 

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