Student Challenges

graduateI’ve been asked quite a few times what I think the challenges are of being a student, so I thought it might be a good topic to share with others. You might be asking what this has to do with leadership, and that’s a good place to start I guess, because what we’re talking about here is Self leadership, in what can sometimes be a confusing difficult time.

I know from my own experience how difficult student life can be, and I’m not even talking financially as I was lucky enough to go to University at a time, when not only did the government cover the costs of the fees, but they also gave you a grant to go, I mean they put they put money in my pocket, rather than putting me in debt.

When I went to university, my goal was to go to university, I had studied hard to make that dream come true, but that was the full extent of what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after university, which then makes it difficult to know what to study, i didn’t really have a long term goal.

And at 17 18 years old, when you’re making these choices it’s not surprising, we have so little of life’s experiences for us to clearly know what we want to be doing for the rest of our lives.

I know some do, my daughter Lucy is pretty clear she wants to be a Doctor, she even knows which branch of medicine she wants to work in, but in my experience that type of clarity is uncommon.

So we often arrive at university lacking a vision, and as Joel Barker says ‘…action without vision, just passes time…’. 

I know that when I arrived, I’d chosen to study Chemical Engineering because it seemed to have a broader scope than just Chemistry, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about, or something that I truly thought I would end up working in for the rest of my life. So yes I just ended up passing time.

For many of us going to university it is also our first time away from home, and this gives us a level of freedom and independence we may never have experienced before, plus we also have to do so much more for ourselves: ironing; washing; cooking; etc, etc, the list goes on. So it can be a very exciting and scary time of our lives.

It gives us the opportunity to throw away our old persona and reinvent ourselves. I remember the guy in the in the room next door to me dyed his hair electric blue. I asked him why the dramatic change and he said his parents were strict and now he could do what he wanted, and he wanted blue hair, and this was 1979 so it was pretty radical.

So university is a key part of our personal development, one where we may reinvent ourselves, discover different things about us such as we never wanted to study Medicine that was my dads idea, and now I am going to study History of Art because thats what I want to do.

When we start university we have a level of  freedom that many of us have never experienced before and this can be a significantly life altering time.

University is different to school, in so many ways, butI think the biggest is the attitude of the lecturers. In school teachers would want to know why we were not attending lessons, why we hadn’t done our home-work, why we were not getting the scores they would expect.

Whereas the lectures just lecture, its up to you to attend, do the work achieve the grades, there is no one chasing you up. It’s almost as if you chose to come to university, so you should be motivated to do the work.

I remember this being quite a big surprise for me, and certainly for some of the tougher courses and poorer lectures it made not attending way too easy, with the result that the grades slipped, but the only person that seemed to care about that was me.

There was an increase in freedom, the opportunity to just opt out of things i didn’t like or didn’t want to do, but what this is really is a greater degree of accountability.

So in my day the challenges I found I had, and I don’t think I was alone in this, were

  • lack of vision
  • increased freedom
  • a need for self determination

which at a young age, and possibly without the right level of maturity was a disaster.

I remember in my exams at the end of the first term I finished 75 out of 78.

I had skipped lectures, I’d spent my time playing rugby, drinking and socialising, and I had zero interest in being a chemical engineer, I was clearly on a road to failure, and with no one to challenge me about the results, or chase me about homework that was not done and I ended up failing my first year.

For me this was a blessing in disguise because it got me to think about what I was passionate about and make some changes, which resulted in me changing to do a degree in Mathematics, which was something I was interested in, and although I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished university, I was much clearer that Maths would be important to me, no matter what i was going to do.

In todays world, especially in the UK, students now need to find the funding for the fees, living and enjoying university. Whilst this might help bring some more clarity, it does leave many students with significant debts of at least $50,000, once they complete university, with many owing much much more.

The job market has changed significantly too, and a degree no longer guarantees a good, job so significant investments can be made which might not achieve the return, which is a risk.

However, I would recommend anyone to go to university and get a degree, you cannot really put a price on education, learning is one of the best gifts we can give ourselves.

But we need to be aware of the challenges that we might face in order to get the best out of it.

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, or your experiences on going to university and the challenges that you faced.

Gordon Tredgold

#Leadership Principles