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10 suggestions to prepare for university – Graham Kendall

Updated: 20 Dis 2022

Former University of Nottingham Malaysia provost/CEO shares tips to get you ahead when entering an institution of higher learning

AS the provost/CEO of the University of Nottingham Malaysia, I was often asked what advice I would give to those entering university. Here are some suggestions:

1. Pre-reading Look at the textbooks you will be using. You may not understand everything, but it will give you some insights into the topics that will be covered.

Search the press for articles related to your discipline. Set alerts so that you know when something of interest is published.

Watch YouTube videos related to your discipline. Different content providers will look at your discipline in different ways, which may give you a broader understanding and appreciation.

Access scientific papers associated with your discipline. It will give you some insights and make you aware of researchers who are active in your discipline.

2. Study the curriculum Which modules of your degree course are compulsory and which ones are optional? Specifically, look at the optional courses in later years and make sure that you will have the necessary prerequisites.

Try and plot a route through the entire degree that not only matches your interests but also provides the best opportunities for your career plans.

3. Final year project It may seem a long way off, but your final year project is a significant contributor to your overall degree, and not only the marks that it represents. Potential employers may ask you to present your final year project and use it as a way to ascertain your fit within their company.

Make sure that you do something that interests you. This could be the only time in your studies, or working life, that you can do a project that is entirely your choice. Once you start work, your focus is likely to be dictated by the goals of the company, rather than your personal interests.

4. Internship Think about whether you want to be an intern during your studies. It will enhance your CV and give you access to a potential employer.

The downsides are that you need to find a suitable internship and it will restrict your holiday opportunities. The careers service and your personal tutor are good starting points for a discussion about internships.

5. Part-time work Carefully consider whether you want to work during your studies. It may be a necessity that you do – but, if you can, try and focus solely on your studies.

It is not just about getting good marks, but also about enjoying the university experience. It is also stressful balancing the demands of study and work, especially when the timetables clash and you have to decide between work and study.

6. Add value to your CV Think about what interests you with regard to corporate social responsibility (CSR), environmental, social, and governance (ESG), or what causes you would like to champion.

Find out how you can help and interact with your chosen cause during your time at university. Clubs and societies are good starting points, and knowing which clubs and societies exist might be a good way to spend a couple of hours before you arrive at university.

Consider serving the Student Association by becoming one of its officers. Serving your fellow students in such a capacity is a good way to add value to your CV.

7. Social media accounts I have two Facebook accounts: One is under my real name, and another is under a nickname.

The “real me” presents the professional side of myself. The other account is for friends and family.

The intention is to separate my professional life and my personal life so that when a prospective employer searches for me, they will see the professional persona. They may see the personal account, but it will be obvious that I keep these two things separate.

You might consider doing the same so that anybody searching for you will see what you want them to see, rather than seeing a glimpse of your personal life.

8. Move out of your comfort zone Showing that you are willing to move out of your comfort adds significant value to your CV. One of the most powerful ways of demonstrating this is to undertake part of your study in an international setting. This could be done by attending a Summer School or studying abroad for a semester, or even a year.

Employer’s value this type of experience, not only as you have shown your willingness to move out of your comfort zone but also because of the additional experiences and cultures that you would have been exposed to.

9. Time management At university, you will take more responsibility for your own learning and, as such, will manage your time, possibly, better than you have done previously.

You should know the difference between “urgent” and “important”. Urgent things need to be done now. Important things need to be done at some time, but they are not yet urgent. Some things will be both urgent and important and these have to be your top priority.

Try not to let things become both urgent and important (such as an essay that is due at midnight). Work on important tasks, so that nothing ever becomes urgent. You will never totally achieve this, but if you can limit your urgent tasks, you will reduce your stress levels.

You can read more about urgent versus important here.

10. Questions not to ask Do not ask "What are the easy modules", "Which lecturers give the best marks", “Which modules are my friends taking”.

Choose the modules that attract you, not those that give the route of least resistance. Indeed, what modules others find difficult, you may find easy, and vice versa. Choose the modules that match with your career goals, rather than trying to make current life easier.

Finally, a bonus suggestion: Don't expect marks greater than 70% (or the GPA equivalent) unless you have put in the extra work that is required. A mark higher than 70% equates to a first-class degree and shows that you have gone the extra mile by reading around the subject.

It is by showing that you have gone above and beyond what the lecturers taught you that demonstrates that you have read around your discipline, and which will provide those additional marks that identifies you as a first-class student.

Final remarks Your aim – in preparing for university, and while at university – is to add value to your CV so that you give yourself the best chance of getting the job you want.

Your CV gets you an interview – not a job – but to get an interview, your CV must stand out from the crowd. Many people will have a good degree. You need to add value to your CV to set yourself apart. You can start preparing that high quality CV now, before you even start at university. – The Vibes, July 27, 2021

Prof Graham Kendall is the CEO of the Good Capitalism Forum. Prior to this, he worked at the University of Nottingham for 21 years, with the last 10 years being in Malaysia where he was the CEO/provost and a pro-vice chancellor of the global university

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