University vs School. What I wish I knew before starting university, part 1.

Damian has just graduated and is about to start working as a technical product manager at Net4. We asked him what he wished he had known before starting university and he has written four blog posts for us. In this first one he talks about how uni life is different from being at school.

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If you’re coming to the University of Sheffield from a secondary school, it’s going to be a huge change from what you’re used to. There’s a huge number of changes from school to the University experience, but I want to talk about a couple that are going to show up in the first year of your computer science course.

Deadlines in School vs Deadlines at University

You have probably dealt with coursework deadlines at school. Usually, you could probably get an extension of a couple of weeks easily, maybe even on the day of the deadline.

Although you can still receive extension in the case of extenuating circumstances in University, the criteria of extenuating circumstances are strictly monitored. These can be found in the following. Additionally, these forms must be sent in advance. 

Basically, you will not be able to get away with a “dog ate my laptop” to get a week’s extension. 

The department follows an additional late-submission penalty. Every day you miss a deadline, you will get an additional 5% penalty for your assignment. 

Also, lecturers might sometimes warn you about a deadline, but not always! Make sure to put deadlines in your calendar, so you don’t forget about them. (This will happen to somebody at least once a year, do not let it be you) 

So make sure you get your work in on time, that being said, make sure it’s good quality, which leads me to the second point

Holding yourself accountable and motivated

Unlike school, nobody is going to check if you’re doing your work. You’re not going to get a warning or somebody looking over your shoulder, this might feel more freeing than school, but also means you must make sure to take responsibility! 

You won’t have anyone looking at your work, double checking that it’s correct. You’ll have to hold yourself accountable.

Here’s a couple of tips! 

Firstly, make sure you always look at the mark-scheme when tackling coursework. Most coursework will be marked directly compared to the mark-scheme, which should help you track your progress across a course. 

Secondly, make sure to attend every lecture! This might be difficult, especially when it’s at 9am, but it helps make sure you understand the material. 

If you’re confused about a topic, ask questions! If you’re uncomfortable doing this in a lecture, you can send an email, or post a topic on a study-group if a lecturer has set one up. 

Lectures vs Lessons

The size of lecture theatres might be quite daunting at first, especially if you’re used to smaller classes in school. It’s a different experience of teaching as well, you won’t get many worksheets to do during lectures, instead, you’re mostly going to get taught the content directly. 

There’s not a set-way of learning, so you’ll have to find what’s best for you. Personally, I find it easier to make notes after lectures, and spend lectures focusing on the content, but you might have a different method! Don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what study method works best for you.

Most lectures are also recorded, this isn’t so you can bunk off lectures (some will check attendance!), but it’s incredibly useful for making more structured notes later for projects!

Developing Good Study Habits

When studying for exams, it’s important to develop good study habits. This doesn’t mean working 24/7, but instead, making sure you take regular breaks (Recommended is a 5–10-minute break every 60 minutes, especially when in computer science you’ll be working mostly on a computer!) 

Everybody develops slightly different schedules, so the importance is finding something that’s right for you! Taking breaks can mean you don’t approach burn-out and become over-worked, while still being able to work on work.

Also, while on a break, make sure not to go back to another screen! 

Group Projects

Large group projects might be new to you. Lots of different assessments will be marked via group work, which means you have to learn how to work in a team.  Here’s a couple of tips, from someone who has made a ton of mistakes in group projects!

Make sure to set-up communication early

Modules early on should give a few more detailed recommendations of things such as Slack that you can communicate on, but make sure to set-up communication early! This will help your group work together easier later on.

Set-up regular meetings

It may sound like it’s too much but setting up a weekly meeting at a regular time with your team can make a huge difference! It’s easy with all your other uni responsibilities to lose track of time and forget about projects, so setting up a weekly meeting can make sure you keep on track with your project.

What. Who, When

It’s easy to lose track of who’s working on what, and when you want it to be done by when working on group projects. I’d recommend making sure everyone has a task with a self-imposed deadline as much as possible! You don’t always have to follow the exact deadline set, but it can help track progress in the project, and make it easier to see how much work is left!

Hopefully, these tips will help make your experience a little less daunting when going to university, and help you a little navigating around your first year.

Hi, I'm Damian, and I wanted to share some things that I wish I knew about starting University with you. There's a lot of little things that you end up picking up throughout the course, and from knowing what you might need buying a laptop to learning basic terminal skills, lots of things that I think it's really good to know before you get to uni. 

I've just finished my integrated master's at the uni with a first, and I've gotten a job at Net4, an IoT and Visual Analytics company working as a technical product manager! 

Over my time at the University I've competed in global programming competitions, been a finalist in the University Business Challenge, travelled to places like Paris for sports competitions and a host of other stuff, the opportunities you'll be able to experience at the Uni are huge and exciting, and I hope some of my content helps you through some of the skills that are incredibly helpful for your computer science course. 

If you want to ask any further questions about Computer Science or any of the content I've sent, feel free to contact me, my website is dambem.github.io, and my linkedin is linkedin.com/in/bemben, feel free to send over questions!

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