It’s the conundrum of uni existence – how can a student handle coursework and balance it with a part-time job, society involvement, a decent social life and enough sleep? Annoyingly, super humans seem to exist who can successfully juggle it all – but is this really the case? In the end, has something always got to give?
Before coming to uni, the thought of having only 12 contact hours a week instead of the 6 hour daily grind at school made me think that undergraduate life would be far more relaxed than the evils of A-levels. And it is to some extent-studying English and Theatre means I don’t have any lectures before 10am, and Fridays can be totally free if there are no rehearsals on. But what I didn’t factor into my pre-Sheffield calculations was the time that goes into the boring stuff – cooking, washing and cleaning – along with managing a part-time job and getting involved in societies. And if you also consider nights out and occasional trips home, your average week at uni can dash past quicker than a deadline.
In November I realized the immense effort students put into running societies alongside their degrees through working on SUPAS’ autumn musical. As an Assistant Stage Manager for ‘Sweeney Todd’, I had little responsibility (I moved props about, created an excessive amount of smoke using the fog machine and attempted to look like I knew what was going on), but despite this the 13-hour Sunday Get-In and the 6 nights of runs and shows meant I found it tricky to keep up with my reading, along with an essay due during show week. Before starting that essay I’d long decided it was doomed, as I’d lose a whole week of evenings to work on it. But, through surviving this time of stress, I realized that having limited time to do a task can mean you ultimately produce better work. The time constraints forced me to plan ahead, stop faffing about and generally focus on writing with a ‘that’ll do’ attitude, rather than talking myself out of decisions. Weeks later, I was actually shocked to find out that I’d done better on that essay than on my previous one, where I hadn’t had any other pressures on my time.
I used to wory that doing extra-curricular stuff and having a part-time job would have a negative impact on my uni work, but so far it’s helped me to schedule writing time where progress needs to be made, rather than being faced with a time frame that seems to stretch on forever. Before Christmas I got a job as an English and Maths tutor, and my 8 hours’ work a week offer a great little break from essays whilst being flexible and really good experience. I’d advise anybody else looking for part-time work to consider applying for posts at small companies rather than big chains; they’ll probably be more understanding of changing uni timetables and course commitments, especially if their workforce is mostly made up of students. If you’re not local to Sheffield like me, also find out whether you can transfer to a different branch over the holidays, or compromise on a working pattern in Sheffield that suits you.
As for the ‘super humans’ of uni societies, in reality they don’t really juggle it all; hardly anybody has a part-time job, and several of the tech kids in SUPAS are postgrads, or undergrads doing subjects with low contact hours, like Politics. It seems people accept that show week will be work-less and plan ahead when it comes to assignments (or just skive uni and write during the day!). The ‘juggling act’ is more of a crafty selection technique – make a temporary change or sacrifice here, make up for it elsewhere. First year is the obvious time to try extra-curricular stuff, as on most courses level 1 work doesn’t count towards your final grade. But realizing that a range of small commitments and a ticking clock can actually help you succeed has made me hopeful that the fun won’t have to stop once I’m no longer a Fresher.