What kind of student are you going to be?

Party animal.
Political activist.
Social butterfly.
Just there to get the qualification.
There for a good time.
Into as many clubs as possible.
Leader of a club.
Leader of the students’ association.

While people love to stereotype “the uni student”, there are – of course – many kinds. By now, you’ll have had a chance to witness some of them in action (admittedly, O-Week probably showcased some of them better than others) and you should have had a taster of the multitude of academic, cultural and social outlets available. By now, you should be getting a feel for which outlets are most attractive to you.

The unique joy of this time of the year is that you can choose. At uni, you can be whatever kind of student you want. It doesn’t matter who you were at school, or who your parents think you are, or who you are when you’re around your friends. At the end of the uni day, it’s you alone who decides whether to get up for that early lecture, it’s you alone who hits ‘send’ on your assignment, and it’s you alone who feels the joy or the burn of the results. 

The greatest gift of uni is the freedom to be whoever you want. Be who you want to be. And live your own student life accordingly.


The two very simple secrets to student success

I can hardly believe it. After six years of working alongside students from both high school and university, I have come to a startling discovery. It’s one that effectively renders BA: An Insider’s Guide – the entire book that I wrote on effective study skills – obsolete. Seriously, if you haven’t bought it yet, don’t even bother.

Why would I actively dissuade you from buying my product? Well, because I’ve just realised that a student’s success actually has nothing to do with how many classes you attend, how early you start your essays or how hard you study for your exams. All that it depends on is your ability to use two things. Two very simple, cheap, commonplace things.

To be a top student, you don’t need to know how to focus in lectures, read academic writing, or schmooze your lecturers. You don’t need to know how to use textbooks or study planners or fancy online learning tools. All you need to know how to use is: a) a pencil case and b) a semi-colon. The correct usage of these two items is the common link between all of the top students who I have ever known. I have years of observational evidence to back up my theory. I’m amazed that I haven’t discovered it earlier.

Budget for fun

With all this talk about recessions, debt and massive loans, it’s easy to convince yourself that students shouldn’t spend money on anything fun. Budgeting is great, but the whole point of it is to make sure that you can afford the things that you need.

You need fun. Everyone does, unless they want to become resentful and unmotivated. You need, therefore, to budget for fun.

How big your fun budget is depends, of course, on how much money you’ve got coming in. But everyone can afford to put a little aside each week. And no one should have to miss out on that long-awaited gig, that first Sevens weekend, or that summer road trip with friends just because they’re a poor student.

Budget for fun. And if that fails, beg, borrow or barter for it. Just make sure that it happens.

Making yourself employable

Reading stuff.co.nz this morning, I was struck by this article, about a recent uni graduate who’s now desperate for a job in the field that she studied in. Cherry struck a chord with me because her struggle is not in any way extraordinary. New graduates everywhere are in her position – newly qualified, highly skilled, willing to do anything, yet still out of work.

While we can’t help Cherry (unless anyone happens to know a digital media employer), we can learn a lot from her, and others in her position. I think that she hit the nail on the head when she said that, in terms of getting a job out of uni, “no matter how much knowledge I have picked up through studying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” She’s a prime example of how a degree is not a golden ticket to a job – as well as working hard on building your academic skills at uni, you have to work just as hard on building your networking skills. The sort of skills that get you noticed by people with clout in the working world. People who know people who can get you jobs. 

It all sounds very crafty, I know, but Cherry’s story is a timely reminder of how strategic new grads need to be if they’re going to stand a chance in today’s incredibly tough job market. Awesome grades are great, but they’re not enough anymore. Here are five easy things that you can start doing now to boost your chances of job success later.

1) Work experience. After having moved to Australia just for the opportunity to work for free, Cherry writes, “If I had real world experience as well as my education, I believe that I would have a much higher chance of being given the initial opportunity to prove myself.” She’s absolutely right – there’s no better way to prove your value to a position than by letting other people see you do it. But don’t expect other people to organise this for you. Get out there, sign up for everything, and don’t expect to get paid. Work experience gives you valuable CV material, priceless referees and a great insight into your chosen career.

2) Make the most of uni staff. I’m sure that I don’t have to remind you how much you’re paying to be a student. GET YOUR MONEY’S WORTH. The staff at uni aren’t just there to give you knowledge – if they were, they’d all have been out of a job when Google was invented. Never forget that they are highly respected members of their field of expertise, with great experience and fantastic contacts. Book a time to see them in their office hours. Talk to them about your academic interests and career goals. Email them for advice. Be assertive, positive and respectful. Don’t be stalkerish.

3) Revisit old contacts. Remember your favourite English teacher, who always believed in your brilliance? Well, I can almost guarantee that they still do, and would be happy to help you fulfill it in whatever way that they can. Same goes for past employers and managers of any organisations that you feel you’ve proved yourself in.

4) Make friends. Of course, having friends is important for lots of reasons. But the silver lining of a wider social circle is an increased chance of knowing someone who knows something about a potential opportunity. It’s fairly simple: the more people you know, the more info you get.

5) Live a balanced life. Get into stuff. New stuff. Take up a sport or a hobby, try your hand at volunteering, think about how you might be able to contribute to society. It doesn’t matter  if it’s relevant to your career path: employers always want to see well-rounded people with a broad range of skills. Plus, it can only help you with tip 4.

A message for new BA students

Today, six years ago, I was very happy. My boyfriend and I had just moved into our first flat. I had been accepted into a voluntary position as a counsellor at Youthline, and was working two paid jobs – one as a barista at a cafe in Christchurch’s beautiful New Regent Street, and the other as an administrator at a rehab centre. I was 19, with a gorgeous tan from my first OE in Europe, and just about to start my BA.

The tan faded in a couple of weeks. It was followed, each December, by another year of my youth. Four years after starting my degree, all three of my workplaces crumbled. After another two years, most of the significant architectural landmarks of my childhood, along with my relationship, had followed. Last month, I turned 25, and – according to the New Zealand government, at least – lost my youth entirely. 

And yet, today, six years after starting my BA, I’m very happy. While my youth is gone, my tan is back – revived by a trip to North Queensland to see in the New Year. As I write this from the lounge of my own flat, I’m looking alternately between the bush-clad, villa-studded hills of Wellington and the floor, where my cat is sprawled in a perfect square of sunlight. I’m running through my to-do list for the next few weeks: finish Term One lesson plans, sort second publishing deal, book next holiday.

To me, all this suggests that change is inevitable, and that the the most important thing we can do is to prepare for it. And that’s where the BA comes in. Every entry on my to-do list is exciting, but I couldn’t achieve any of them without my degree. As the haters will eagerly profess, a BA is expensive, time-consuming, and devoid of hands-on skills. What they don’t realise, though, is that a BA is also a powerful tool for change. By enabling me to meaningfully think and work, mine has allowed me to navigate the most changeable time of my life to date and to come out the other side with a smile (and a tan) on my face.

So, to the new BA students of 2013, remember: getting your BA isn’t about getting a bit of paper at the end. Sure, it’s a nice bit of paper, but even the snazziest bits of paper can be crushed, burned, or washed away. Getting your BA is about getting choices, freedom and resilience. So, while haters are always gonna hate, BA grads are always going to adapt.

Sort your enrolment, get the stuff you need, and prepare to change your life forever.

Merry Christmas

To the first years of 2012 – you’ve got it. You know who you are as students, and you know how to play those roles in ways that work for you. Next year is going to be sweet.

To the first years of 2013 – welcome. You’re about to become part of something amazing. You’ve got a lot to learn, but by this time next year you’ll be fine. Brace yourself for a wild ride.

To all students – I hope you have an awesome Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Kick back, enjoy the festivities and, if you choose to read at all over the summer, make sure that it’s something with no literary acclaim whatsoever.

All the very best,


End of an era

And, just like that, it’s done. Your first year as a BA student is over. You are no longer a newbie, you are a Second Year.

Look back to all of those essays and exams and lectures that you’ve worked on and stressed over and succeeded in. Look back to where you were at the start of the year – what you knew, what you didn’t know, what you feared. Look at where you’re at now, and how you’re really starting to get the hang of things.

Now’s the time to make sure that all the essentials for next year are sorted – courses, Studylink, somewhere to live. But it’s not the time to dwell on the future. Nope, as soon as your final exam is over and the basics for next year are in check, it’s time to kick back. Sit in the sun, have a drink, and think about something very novel for a while: nothing.

Enjoy it

We experience a lot of emotions over the course of our BAs. Inspiration. Stress. Motivation. Fear. Pride. Confusion. Energy. Exhaustion. I believe, though, that the defining emotion of a BA is the one that you feel when you push your essay through the hand-in slot and hear it drop into the box below. The one that you feel when you hit ‘submit’. The one that you feel when you walk out of your last exam. The one that you’re probably feeling right now. Enjoy it.


If you’ve been following my advice – do practice exams at home, over and over, until your real exams are done – you’ll be totally shattered by now. Your writing hand will be blistered, your legs stiff from lack of exercise, your brain aching. You’ll be missing your friends and family. You’ll be fantasising about the day that you can sit and do nothing.

Keep going. This will end. You will ace your exams. You will be so glad that you put in the effort. You will have no regrets, only pride. Trust me, it’s a feeling totally worth suffering for.

Being a doer, not just a knower

Yesterday my Year 10 class and I started decoding some quotes from Act 1, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice (awesome play – Google it if you’re not familiar with the story line). A quote that we talked about quite a bit was this one, from Portia:

“If to do were as easy as to know what were good to
do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s
cottages princes’ palaces.”

We worked out that, in a nutshell, it’s a fancy rewording of the cliche ‘easier said than done’. If doing the right thing was as easy as knowing the right thing, the world would be a better place. Lots of people have ideas but few people actually do anything with them.

There are lots of theories for what sets the doers apart from the knowers. I believe, though, that it all comes down to enthusiasm. From enthusiasm comes motivation and from motivation comes action.

To do well in an essay, you have to be a doer. It’s not enough to know that content; if you’re going to do something meaningful with that content, you have to be enthusiastic about it. All very well, I know, but how can you make yourself enthusiastic?

1) Relate it to you. What’s your view on it? How can it be applied to your life?

2) Relate it to people you know. Who do you know who does/thinks this? Who do you know who doesn’t? Once you’ve found a connection to your world, it’s a whole lot easier to give a damn. 

3) Pretend. Ever heard of method acting? It’s when an actor manifests themselves in the character – their personality, beliefs, mannerisms – and actually lives that role. They get inside the character and feel their emotions – not so much acting as actually ‘being’ that person. If you can’t connect to a topic in any other way, imagine what it would be like to be someone who’s enthusiastic about it, and try to be that person for a little while.

I’ll leave you with the other quote that we talked about a lot yesterday, from Antonio:

“I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;
A stage, where every man must play a part”