A Thought Piece by Naa Adei Kotey 11 December 2018

Earlier this year Naa Adei Kotey, a student at Heartlands Academy, had her essay presented at the Royal Society, the world’s oldest independent scientific academy. Having completed her studies at Heartlands, Naa Adei is now studying Cybernetics Engineering at the University of Greenwich.

In her thought piece for us, Naa Adei reflects on her first term as a university student…

At the beginning of September, I, like many of my peers, came to the single most horrifying realisation of my life so far – I’m an adult; a licensed, bona fide grown-up. And as an ‘adult’, society dictates that I need to get a job or start a degree.

While I wasn’t quite naïve enough to believe that university was going to be anything like High School Musical, I’ll admit that I had some misguided expectations. That said, here are a handful of things the higher education experience has taught me thus far:

1. I am the master of my own life.

While that sounds like the first line of a self-help book, you’d be surprised at how accurate a statement it is.

Contrary to popular belief, university isn’t just about studying. Make no mistake, studying is a major priority, but not the sole purpose of pursuing a degree. The entire experience is designed to equip you with the tools needed to support yourself in the world. Laundry, money management, cleaning and maintaining your sanity are very important things we often neglect or forget to manage.

Going from 18 years of living with my parents to being fully responsible for myself was intimidating at first.  If I truly wanted to stay up all night, eat nothing but ice cream or go skydiving, I could – it’s my decision, albeit a poor one. But with great power comes great responsibility and an even greater duty of care to myself. I now appreciate that the rules my parents put in place during my childhood had a purpose. Exhibit A: having a sensible bedtime is key to your wellbeing, particularly if you have 9am lectures. The novelty of staying up wears off rather quickly when you realise that sleeping at 4 am is remarkably impractical.

2. Student finance is an illusion.

Nothing compares to the glorious thrill of your first student finance payment…and how quickly that thrill turns to terror when you realise you’ve got 87 pence to live on for the day. I vowed at the start of the term that unlike every student to ever set foot on campus, I’d be sensible with my money. How wrong I was.

I remember making a finance plan with spreadsheets and bar charts galore…. I abandoned that plan when a large sum of money found its way into my bank account. As tempting as it is to go on the shopping spree of your life, for your own sake, don’t. When you deduct the cost of rent, bills, groceries, textbooks and course materials, you don’t have nearly as much as you think. For those of us still living in the comfortable bubble of the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’, life is expensive – a lesson I learnt the hard way.

3. Free time is an illusion.

See the aforementioned textbooks? They don’t read themselves. University threw me into something I wasn’t entirely prepared for – ultimate freedom… or what I thought was ultimate freedom.  What you assume is free time is secretly time best spent doing research and reading ahead.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered, after a week of sleeping 23 out of the 24 hours of the day, that I was supposed to be reading around fluid mechanics. With societies, sports, and countless other distractions, it’s easy to forget the reason you’re at university – the degree. You can’t rely only on lectures; you must be active in your learning if you have any hope of passing exams.

4. Social skills are imperative.

As one of the most anti-social people on the face of the Earth, the idea of being thrown into new surroundings, where the only person I truly know is myself is daunting to say the least. University is the ultimate soft skills development program; the scenario is orchestrated to force you to be sociable – or at least learn how to.  Whether you intend to or not, you’ll find yourself adjusting to new social and professional paradigms. This proves useful for group projects and other collaborative assignments where sociability is crucial.

 5. Female engineering students are still a rare species.

Being one of the few female engineering students in my cohort, I’m encouraged to see the lengths my university go to give us as many academic and personal development opportunities as possible. We’re frequently visited by external STEM companies and guest speakers seeking to increase their female workforce. Does it fix the gender disproportion in our lectures? No, but it’s a step in the right direction.

In all seriousness, I’ve learnt a tremendous amount in the past few months; some of it academic, some pragmatic – all valuable regardless. I’m looking forward to finding out what lessons I can learn from the rest of my degree!