In Which I Share Some Wisdom

There is one week left of the holidays (sorry medics, I know you’ve gone back already….) and I am feeling the stress. If you are studying at Imperial then there is no doubt that you had a stellar academic record before you came here. You got all of the A*s and did all of the extracurriculars and all that jazz, which is great, and you probably thought that university wouldn’t be much different. I don’t want to sound too depressing, there are many people in my year who I really admire for their intelligence and their ability to understand difficult concepts and write nuanced essays and hold down positions on various different committees. But I really would be lying if I said that my experience at Imperial has been completely plain sailing.

The simple truth is that university is hard. I love my subject and I love to learn but I’m not naturally good at taking in information and commiting it to memory. The exam style of writing multiple essays doesn’t suit me and I find labs really hard work. I made good grades at sixth form and I performed very well in all of my exams, but coming to Imperial really knocked my confidence as I realised that biology is actually pretty hard and I was, in fact, a small fish in a very very big pond. For some, university is just a it more challenging than it is for others and I’d hate for anyone to feel ashamed if they’re finding this out right now. So let me make it slightly easier for you: My name is Izzie and I find Imperial tough.

For one thing, I did not set good habits from the off when I arrived in London. It took a long time for me to figure out a good note-taking process in lectures, I did not study as I went along and when faced with having to code for early pieces of coursework, I was utterly clueless. I fell behind pretty easily and never really caught up until exams were staring me in the face and I had no idea what was going on. In addition, I struggled with undiagnosed health problems during my first year that made life a bit of a nightmare. All things put together? I failed the first exam I sat.

There it is. I failed an exam. I was heartbroken. My entire academic career thusfar had been building up to my coming to Imperial, the best university in the country to study my subject, and I’d let myself and everyone who had supported me down. I just wasn’t the kind of person who failed anything, ever. I passed my resit that summer and things have picked up since then, but let me tell you a few things that I have learnt through all this drama:

1. Sometimes, life gets tough and that’s not your fault. I couldn’t control the fact that I was poorly a lot and that those problems affected my study habits and my exam performance. Your health is so important – you don’t need to sacrifice it for the sake of getting a first every time.

2. Life will go on even if you fail. As someone who has always placed a great deal of pressure on myself to perform academically, failure, at the time, seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen to me. Turns out, I know a fair few others who also failed exams that year and had to do resits. It happens, it’s not the end of the world and it won’t completely ruin your degree.

3. It’s important to ask for help when things are going south. Your tutors and lecturers aren’t just cold, emotionless robots who teach you course content and then run back to the labs and never think about you again. If you are struggling, it’s important to reach out and ask for help, whether that means going to their office hours to get help with coursework, sending an email to clarify something you didn’t understand, setting up a meeting to figure out why your note-taking is so bad or seeing your DUGS or senior tutor to get help with mitigating circumstances paperwork. It doesn’t make you weak or less worthy of your place at Imperial to ask for that kind of help. (I hope it doesn’t anyway. I’ve done all of those things I just listed!)

4. You’re not letting anyone down as long as you do your best. Yes, that’s a cringey statement. But seriously, if you give it your best shot at come out with a 2:2 at the end, then you still know that you did everything you could have and that getting a lower result than other people isn’t something to be ashamed of. You do you, let others worry about themselves.

Be kind to yourself, work hard, relax often and never suffer in silence! Life at Imperial is hard work but I promise, it will also be some of the best years of your life.

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