Student rep blogs

Our student reps have written blogs with top tips and advice, so you can make the most of your time at university. If there's some aspect of university life that you'd like to hear more about email us and we'll try cover that in an upcoming blog. 

Top tips for beginning, or starting back at university!

Noor Askheta, first year at Cardiff University

Find a balance
Understand that it’s not supposed to be easy. The eye is a complex organ, and you will also be studying a lot more than just the eye. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to get the top grades because frankly the first year is about adjusting to the course and building your foundation. You can then build on that knowledge in the second and third year and aim higher but remember that to get the grades you desire; you need to approach the course with a calm approach. Having unrealistically high expectations will only set you up for disappointment and add stress which will negatively impact your performance. If you try your absolute best and fully commit to your course, you will be just fine.

Develop good organisation skills
Get your organization skills together if you haven’t already done that in high school as you will need it when undertaking a degree in optometry. Invest in a good planner so you are aware of your commitments and deadlines. By seeing your tasks listed on paper or on a document, you will be better able to allocate sufficient time to each task as well as prioritising the more important ones first. This sense of achievement that you gain will further motivate you to tick more tasks off the list greatly improving your productivity levels. Optometry is a very content heavy degree so by being prepared and maintaining good organization skills you should be in a very good position and are setting yourself up for success.

Practice
Practice really does help fine tune your skills. Optometry is very much a hands-on profession which requires you to be confident and competent in your practical skills. So don’t hesitate to reach out to your lecturer or supervisors and book extra practical sessions if you feel that you need some extra help. Arrange practise sessions with your friends too as you can each teach the other something new and enrich your understanding of the subject.

Eve Barrett, first year at Cardiff University

Everyone finds it hard at first, and often the most challenging part of starting university is just having the determination to stay. Moving away from home and becoming so independent is hard, without the extra workload of a degree on top. It can seem so overwhelming at first; all the different modules, a lot more work without as much guidance from teachers, trying to make friends, and cooking and financial managing yourself. It can take time to settle into a routine, especially when you are having to create it for yourself. So, just allow yourself to have this time where you might feel that everything is impossible, but this is ok! This isn’t saying that you should let yourself get really behind, but just to be easy on yourself, it’s a huge adaption and a lot of other changes that aren’t education related that is going to take a bit of time to figure out, and that is ok.

Building on this, now is the best time to figure out how you work best. This isn’t just how to revise best, but also learning how to take notes quickly and effectively, as lecture style teaching is quite different to a level teaching. The library was my best friend, but during Covid-19 this wasn’t an option, and although I never previously liked working and revising in my room, I found that there wasn’t really another option. The way that I best worked with this was having the desk as my designated working space, and my bed a relaxing one. This meant no lectures in bed, as hard as that was to keep to, but this meant that my productivity, even in my room was kept to a maximum. But now everything is opening up again, the library is the main place I work, but find where is best for you, you might find this is the kitchen or a local coffee shop.

I have found a flashcard app is a real lifesaver for remembering content. The practicality of all my revision cards always being on me is so useful and means that I end up revising a lot more frequently. The convenience of being able to pull out my phone anywhere really makes memorising less of a chore. Getting the train home is not a long boring two hours, but now a great time to quickly review the whole anatomy of the eye or layers of the retina. This little an often approach for me is the only way I can effectively memorise but find what works for you.

Work smarter, not harder. Study techniques to help you do well

Mahnoor Khan, second year at Huddersfield University

Studying a course like optometry which has many practical elements, during the COVID-19 crisis, has been an experience that has been difficult yet enlightening. We tried different studying techniques to see what works for us and what doesn’t, and some of us may still not know what works for us and that’s fine. Learning is a never-ending process, and it’s normal to continually adapt your studying technique with time. Personally, I like to share my revision techniques with my classmates and also ask them how they revise, so that we all have a pool of techniques we can try out. 

The first piece of advice I’d give to all optometry students is to create a study timetable or to-do list, so that your time is readily organised. This way, you are aware of which tasks you need to complete per week or per month, therefore you can prioritise them more easily. As most of my lectures are online and released at the start of the week, I always aim to go through them in the first few days of the week, so that I can focus on revision and coursework during the remainder of the week. I use a variety of methods for revision, such as summary sheets, flashcards, mind maps and practice questions. Remember, you don’t have to choose one method for everything, you can mix and match as much as you want based on what works best for each topic. 

With how unprecedented things are, I cannot stress enough how important it is to make the most of the time you get in clinics. Make sure you use the full allocated time you get every week, so that you are confident in your competencies, and if there is anything you may be struggling with you can ask one of the clinic supervisors to demonstrate it to you in person, which is always an invaluable asset to our learning. At my university, we have an additional optional practice session every week, to brush up on what we have learnt so far. So, if your university also offers optional sessions then I would highly recommend that you attend those to truly make the most of every opportunity.

If you feel like you are struggling with organising your time efficiently or that you feel overwhelmed by the workload, you can contact your university’s wellbeing team, who can help you to get through this. Once you learn how to organise your time efficiently, you will feel a sense of satisfaction when your time is under your control. Another top tip is to try to get assignments done sooner rather than later. Completing lectures, revision and assignments in good timing gives you a decent amount of free time in which you can afford to relax. This could just mean having a lazy evening at home watching your favourite series or popping out to see a friend for lunch. Whatever it may be, make sure you give yourself time to have me-time!

Thiviya Polenthirarajah, first year at City University

The way students and lecturers have had to adapt due to the turbulent pandemic is significant. Studying optometry at City this year, most learning had moved online but labs were kept in person with compulsory PPE. This made it apparent to me the importance of self-discipline and organisation; it is very easy to neglect all the work set online as it is your responsibility to actively keep up and learn. My advice to future students in the same situation would be, find a routine that works for you (this may take a couple of weeks after starting university which is ok) and stick to it so the work does not become overwhelming. This is where studying smarter and not harder comes into play: it is easy to assume as a university student you are constantly studying. However, working smarter allows you to be on top of work as well as having more free time. 

It is exciting starting university, for most it is an unknown city or town, so get exploring! Have a walk around campus and the neighbouring area. You may even find a cafe that you like studying at as opposed to a library for example. Knowing the local area would also help you feel familiar with the place and feel more settled down. 

Often the ‘jump’ from sixth form/college is painted as quite big and daunting, so it's normal to feel nervous starting. However, what most students forget is that mostly everyone else is in the same situation! Though it's easy to tell you to join societies it can be difficult for some to consider this, what I will tell you is perhaps just start with talking to your course peers. For those that may struggle with their mental health, there are numerous support groups/systems available at university that you can contact, you can even reach out to your tutor or lecturer. 

Back to normality? A post-COVID optometry student world

Khushi Thakkar, second year at Aston University

Now that we are finally reaching a new normality in a post COVID world, it can be hard to look back on a time where we had to attend in-person lectures, sit exams in an exam hall, and be put in closed-book assessment conditions. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious as we approach a new university experience unlike one that most of us will have faced so I’m going to share my three top tips on managing life as an optometry student.

1) Organise your time well! As an optometry student, you’re splitting your time up into revising lectures, mastering all the practical techniques, and completing essay and assignment deadlines whilst keeping up to date with all things optometry at the same time. Get a planner or an organiser and plan each day with portions of the things listed above. The good thing is that there is such a variety on things you'll have to do - you'll never get bored!

2) Go to all practical sessions, even the non-compulsory ones! Practicals provide the key to an optometrist's career going forward - it's amazing if you have all the eye diseases and conditions memorised in your head, but if you can't put any of these techniques into practice during a routine sight test, then it has no use! Practice makes perfect. No optometric technique is easy on the first go (especially things like retinoscopy or slit lamp techniques) but the more you do it, the better you will get at it and the quicker it'll become second nature to you. It's better to start as early as possible, so when final year gets too stressful, you have already mastered the key techniques early on.

3) Take regular breaks! It’s no secret that spending almost two years of our lives in lockdown has had somewhat of an impact on the concentration span of an average university student. The Pomodoro method is a revision technique where you spend 20 minutes studying, take a five minute break and repeat. I think this is a perfect way to begin and you can use it as a platform to slowly build on, integrating your own revision techniques as you go along.

Jay Hughes, first year at University of Lancashire

There’s no such thing as a silly question… 
Undertaking a professional qualification like optometry is no mean feat and managing the work, life and university balance can be a challenge at the best of times. One thing I’ve learned from being an on-and-off student over the last eight years is that we can often create our own barriers to learning or make life unnecessarily difficult for ourselves. A prime example of this is being reluctant to speak-up in class to seek clarification or ask what we worry is “a silly question”.

At some point in time, all of us will have had that moment during a lecture (or similar) where we feel like we’ve missed a step, or a concept just isn’t landing but we’ve sat silent, not wanting to be the one to raise our hand. If we’re lucky then somebody else has asked the same question on our minds or sought further clarification and we’ve got the answer(s) we needed. If we’re not so lucky, we find ourselves left with a gap in our knowledge that we’re unsure how to fill. This can lead to a spiral where consequently we make the subsequent steps/concepts harder to grasp and put additional (and unnecessary) stress and strain on ourselves.

In a profession like optometry, where there is a constant layering of concepts, we can’t afford to have shaky foundations. So, my advice to try and gain the maximum benefit from your studies, from the very beginning, is simply to be unreservedly inquisitive. I’m sure educators up and down the country will echo the sentiment that “there’s no such thing as a silly question” or arguably that “the only silly question is the one not asked”.

Our course providers are here to support us but as individuals we all have different learning styles, and it is inevitable that teaching content will provoke further questions. We all process information differently, so don’t be fearful to speak-up if you need support, make sure you get the maximum benefit from the time with your lecturers and take pride in being proactive with your learning. There is no shame in asking questions! 

Studying in a pandemic: Top tips

Nikita Patel, second year at Hertfordshire University

If you are thinking about studying optometry, you are embarking on a rewarding career. While studying optometry, you will develop and work on many skills, for example, organisation skills, time management and communication skills. 

Improve your skills
As an optometry student, I have learnt and improved on many skills. I had to adapt to different situations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I learnt to be adaptable to any last minute changes in my timetable or events. Due to the pandemic, lectures were virtual which was tough because I had to motivate myself to keep on track of them. I learnt making a timetable where I have scheduled times for my breaks, listening to the lecture recording and for revision helps me to stay on track. Another thing that helped me was making a list of things that was required to be completed. I learnt that it was overwhelming when l had a list of things to do. So I broke it down where I completed each task on different days. 

You're not alone
Don't forget! You are not alone and universities do have services where you can get help. By arranging time with your tutors or by contacting the health and wellbeing service at the university. Don't be shy or nervous; they understand what students go through.

Join a society
Make the most out of your university experience and make it memorable and enjoyable. You can join societies, for example Optosoc. This is an optometry society where you will get a chance to meet students from different years. It is an amazing opportunity to ask questions and to learn from your peers. The society has fun activities and events which you can participate in.

Prioritise your mental health
As a student I realised mental health is very important, and taking care of yourself is very important. Interact with your peers and join a university sport centre. It can be stressful and overwhelming being a student and especially within the pandemic. One thing I learnt during the pandemic was to meditate. I found it very relaxing and helps me to stay calm.

Nuvneet Kaur Roopra, second year, Glasgow Caledonian University

Studying optometry can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. However, it is also challenging, and becoming even more so due to the pandemic. So, I wanted to give my top tips for those studying optometry, which I have found very useful myself.

Firstly, it is important to be organised. Make sure you stay on top of things – don’t let things pile up! There are a number of different methods that you can use to stay organised, such as making to-do lists and creating a timetable. Good time management and a study routine will allow you to study more efficiently and be less stressed.

A positive mindset is also beneficial. Whilst the course is enjoyable and interesting, there may be ups and downs, so don’t get disheartened if you suffer a setback. Try to learn from your mistakes and use this knowledge to do better next time. Don’t forget to reward yourself as well!

As everybody has their own way of studying, try different study methods, and find the ones that work for you. Try to engage with the learning material as much as you can and set achievable goals. Don’t worry if you don’t understand things the first time. It takes time for certain concepts to make sense. As you learn more, things will gradually fall into place.

Practice makes perfect - practise techniques such as retinoscopy and ophthalmoscopy as much as you can. The more you practise, the more confident you will become.

Try to get a job in optometric practice – this will enhance your understanding of university topics and build your confidence. You will gain experience of dispensing and working in an optical environment. 

Get to know your classmates – you will soon realise that you are all in the same boat and having a network of people to support you will make the hard work seem easier too.

Ask for help - studying at university can be difficult, so don’t be afraid to reach out to family, friends, and university staff for help.

Make the most of other opportunities your university offers as well, such as clubs, qualifications, projects, etc.

Take care of yourself. Whilst hard work is necessary, it is important to look after yourself and take breaks too. Eating and sleeping well, regular exercise and hobbies will not only make you feel better, but will also allow you to study better too.

Try to spend some time outside as well - sometimes a change of surroundings is all that is needed to take your mind of the pressures of studying and regain your focus.

I hope you find these tips useful!

Jenna Butler, third year, Glasgow Caledonian University

Do you feel like you’re starting to settle into the student slump?

Well, you’re not alone. It can be difficult to find ways to motivate yourself when university life still hasn’t returned
to its pre-pandemic form. As students, we need to take advantage of new form of student life and find ways to allow us to flourish amongst these changes. 

The move to online learning has given us the opportunity to take on self-led learning. Where we can be in control of the structure of our day to a degree. While we may still need to attend university for practicals and labs, gone are the days where we must scurry into uni for 9am, from Monday to Friday. We have the freedom to watch pre-recorded lectures at our own
time and take breaks when we feel it is necessary. We also have the added bonus of this material being available to us anytime we please. This form of student life is unlike that of those before us, but it is up to us to make the most of it.

While this added flexibility can be great for educational purposes, it doesn’t go without benefiting us in other aspects of life. Whether you use that time to get a walk or run in before uni, or you get a little extra sleep in the morning. This flexibility allows you to be in control of your time and gives you a better university-life balance.

For myself, I like to use this flexibility to my advantage and do at least one thing a day that I enjoy. This allows me to take a break from studying and take away the monatomicity of online learning. It can be something as simple as going out to get a coffee or going to the gym, something to give your mind and eyes a break from the screen. This is a freedom that I would
have never had pre-pandemic, as I would be busy rushing into uni every day. 

While it can be easy to get carried away in the busy-ness of studying and coursework, it is still important to form a life outside of uni and make time for things you enjoy. While the pandemic has had many disadvantages, it has allowed us all to slow down a little and make more time for ourselves.

Even after your time as student, there will always be stressful times brought on by your life and career. So now is the time to incorporate things in your life that you enjoy outside of the world of optometry. This will allow you to maintain a healthy work-life balance throughout your career and avoid letting stress get the best of you.

As students undergoing a very practical degree, we may feel we have been disadvantaged more than other degree programs, but it is up to us to face the challenges and come out stronger on the other side. It’s up to us to use this new way of life to our advantage.

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