Do’s and don’ts of the first year: What I’ve learned as a Materials Science student

Written by Dawson La, Materials Science and Engineering (MEng)

Ten months ago, in October of 2022, I was nervous, scared and doubtful about what lay ahead. I was about to start my degree in Materials Science and Engineering as a first-year fresher. Throwing myself into the deep end wasn’t exactly something that my formerly shy and reserved self was used to doing. Looking back, I see an academic year full of self-development, challenges and plenty of fun! But what has this year taught me, and where am I now? 

 One of the first and most nerve-racking challenges I had to face was making friends. This is definitely one of the more daunting things about starting university, and if you’re reading this as a prospective student it may be one of the things you’re worrying about the most. On my first day moving into my accommodation, a few days before term started, I spent an entire day hiding in my room because I was too intimidated by the idea of leaving and going to say hi to people. Sitting here today, however, I’m in a position where I can confidently say that I’ve made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, here at this university and in this course. I have made a second family here at Imperial, and all it took was making some small talk with people in similar positions to me. So, what did I learn? I learned that it’s always going to be best to take a leap at the start of the year. If you don’t feel quite ready or comfortable, don’t worry! There will be plenty of ice-breaker opportunities and events that will help you engage with others. I also learned that if you can be one thing, be yourself. There are so many different people across the course and university; you are bound to find people like you. 

Another hurdle that I had to jump was the workload and content difficulty. There definitely was a jump up from A-levels, and in some ways an even bigger jump from the first-term to the second. Being thrown into an environment like that isn’t always going to be easy for your confidence; you might see others studying and feel as though you aren’t good enough. There were a few things that got me through that feeling, one being the reminder that everyone is in the same boat as you. If you don’t understand something, I can almost guarantee that there are at least a few others who also don’t understand. So, ask for help. This may be the single most important thing to learn to do in first year. Ask for help from your peers and the staff! 

 That brings me on to my next point. The staff in Materials are amazing. They want you to thrive and they know that the students struggle. They empathise with students and have constant communication with us throughout the year about our issues. I didn’t really utilise the pastoral support until the end of the year, but I wish I had sooner. I spoke at the start about taking leaps – I did take one at the start of the year in that I became a year well-being rep. Having this position enabled me to get to know the staff members, which is an extremely valuable thing to be able to do. There are plenty of ways of getting to know staff, and it’s definitely one of the best things you can do for yourself! My main takeaway from this particular aspect of university is to take advantage of the help you’re being offered. You can never have too much! 

Broadly speaking, this year has taught me that nervous feelings, both leading up to and within university, are almost always unreasonable and can be helped with the myriad of support options available from staff and other students. It’s taught me that I’m never alone, and it’s taught me how to enjoy myself alongside sources of stress like exams and deadlines. 

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