Here are some rather informal hints and comments that may be helpful. Remember your Director of Studies and supervisors will be happy to help you.
Learning and Understanding
Do I need to know this? It is very common for students to ask ‘do I need to know this?’ You shouldn’t see lectures and practicals as giving a list of items that have to be ‘learnt’ in the sense of memorised in totality. Often lecturers will include topical examples of general principles, or mention a recent discovery that’s just been published – this is not for you to ‘learn’, but to excite your interest and transfer their enthusiasm to you.
Your first priority should be to concentrate on ‘understanding’, on building a mental framework that you can tie ‘facts’ to. That will help you prioritise what you really do need to know well, as part of the vocabulary of the subject - whatever it may be. After a while you’ll find that ‘facts’ stick to the framework without conscious effort on your part to ‘learn’ them.
Lots of stuff will be useful in many contexts. It’s much easier if you can relate new material to a framework of understanding. Tie information and understanding together.
There’s too much to learn! If it seems like that, assess your priorities. Understanding is the thing! Try to communicate your understanding to others. Nothing like having to teach something to get you to understand it: students ask very sharp questions!
Horizons: Lift your eyes to them from time to time. What would you like to do in your third year? As you move through the course, you’ll become more intellectually self reliant and an image of what sort of career you want will gradually come into sharper focus.
Fear of calculations: Sometimes encountered! It’s seldom difficult, for example, to convert raw data into a useful format. But there may be many steps to perform. Be clear about what you have to do, and why. Understand the algorithm. Make sure that you keep track of the units that you are using, that you don’t confuse amount with concentration, and can deal with dilution from stock solutions into mixtures. Practice helps of course, as do yellow sheets. Seek help from your supervisor if you have problems with numeracy and calculations. See the Essential Maths exercises on Camtools for extra practise.
Procrastination: I’ll do it tomorrow - really! Well - you might. But if you don’t you get chased eventually. Edward Young, an 18th century poet, wrote ‘Procrastination is the thief of time’. Make a start today, decide how to go about it. Make a plan. Then you’ll feel better, and get off to a good start - tomorrow. Here’s another quotation: ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’ – today’s problems are enough for today!
The essay crisis: Don’t let a backlog of set work build up, supposing you can catch up in the vacation. You’ll have consolidation to do then. Do a decent job on the essay, but don't spend ages trying to go for total perfection. There is a ‘law of diminishing returns’ that anyone tempted to spend their resources on high-end HiFi should be well aware of.
But I’ve got to - train, row, rehearse, go home/Oxford/London, make up, break up etc. Yes - life has to be lived. But work is part of life. Plan and prioritise. Sometimes unexpected urgencies have to be coped with, and people will understand. But try to plan your commitments - keep a diary /appointment book (and don’t lose it!)