It is almost the time of the year when the euphoric-all-too-entitled-fun of fresher’s weeks has disappeared to let the stressful-metaphysical ‘how-am-I-going-to-successfully-handle-this-year-on-my-own?’-question star in the biopic of your university tribulations. If you have just started university 3 to 4 weeks ago, you may avidly be reading this blog post hoping that I will give you the perfect recipe that will prevent further moments of helplessness. If you are already in second or third year, you must be utterly discouraged to realise that after a year or two at university, you still feel overwhelmed and clueless. Although I can’t pretend I have the absolute and ultimate medicine to your distress, here are some pieces of advice that aim to help you make the most of your university experience. Read them carefully and apply them quickly, because university years go quicker, and you do not want to have any regrets, do you?
My advice could be summed up in one single word: TELOS. It is all about the telos. The idea of the ‘telos’ comes from the Ancient Greek and was one of Aristotle’s and Marx’s favourite concepts which can be roughly translated by ‘the end’ or ‘the purpose’. In other words, to make the most of your university experience you need to define for yourself why you are at university. Though these ends are idiosyncratic, I can reasonably think of three main ones, which seem widely shared.
1. You are at university to get educated and get your degree in the smoothest way possible (getting your degree being the tangible and quantifiable result of getting educated at university)
If this first telos is all too obvious, it tends to be forgotten until exam term arrives, when panic comes back again, and the degree to be missed becomes a real fear. The truth is that you will probably get your degree anyway. You would have simply caused yourself unnecessary distress. This is why I have specified ‘in the smoothest way possible’. For this endeavour, you need to develop a deep interest in your subject, one that goes beyond taking the lecture notes carefully and doing your essay on time. Deep interest involves passion, personal commitment and rigour.
First, do not hesitate to solicit your teachers and supervisors for clarifications, for more rooted examples, for other introductory readings on the topic you are studying if you find those assigned unclear. Second, you need to open your eyes and make your subjects relevant to your everyday life and your everyday life relevant to your subjects.
Lets take a very topical example. The other day, I watched the newest ‘James Bond’ movie entitled ‘Spectre’. Not only did I have a good time, but it also led me to an interesting reflexion about democracy. In the movie, Bond was fighting against the counter-democracy propagators Mister C and his boss, who sought to implement a very high-tech and infallible surveillance society. At the edge of the realisation of Orwell’s worst nightmare, here arises the first question: to what extent does technology hamper democracy? Does the internet strengthen the ‘kratos’ of the ‘demos’ or does it diminish it? Besides, if Bond was fighting for the preservation of democracy, the people, the ‘demos’, was fairly remote from this undertaking. Therefore, the last set of questions appears: what does democracy even mean today in the 21st century, when it is all too clear that the demos does not hold the power since the demos does not govern? What is the sufficient condition for us to call a regime democratic – the transparency of the voting system or the direct exercise of power? Indeed, as you can see, our democratic regimes are almost at odds with the Athenian democracy from which the noun ‘democracy’ originates. Perhaps now the relevant question is why have we decided to rebrand this Greek political word to make it ‘fit’ for our democratically ‘unfit’ regimes? As fundamental as these questions are, they can be triggered by watching ‘James Bond’ on a Monday night, or almost. As you will soon realise, especially humanity students, real life is full of what is written in your social sciences books. You just need to take a close look at it, and this will feed your passion for your subject as well as make you able to write original, sophisticated and grounded argument. Try it!
2. You are at university to get the opportunity to take your passion at a more professional level and/or to explore different career prospects.
Your degree is on its way, do not worry too much, add some confidence in your magic pot, follow my advice and you are bound to do very well! However, university is worth more than only providing you with a degree. It gives you the opportunity to carry on some exciting projects regarding your passion or your future career. That is what ‘societies’ are made for. With them you can get a real taste of how pursuing your passion at an almost professional level will look like in real life. For instance, when I was in Cambridge University, I thought that I would maybe want to become a musical director and producer. In my second year, I joined the Cambridge University Art Dramatic Club and I wrote, directed and produced my first musical. Although I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, this is not my wish to make it a career. This is not what I want to do since I want to be a tutor!
Some of my friends joined consulting societies, others simply attended a lot of different networking events to get inspired from people they thought they would like to become in ten years or so. Whichever your interest, join the most relevant society and properly commit for a year. Try to limit yourself with one or two, otherwise you will get overwhelmed again, and you will have to re-read the first part of my article to remember that you first and foremost came to university to get a degree!
3. You are at university to meet people and build long-lasting friendship.
As the length of my blog-post is soon starting to become ludicrous, for this third telos, I assume you know all too well how to do it!
… And this is the moment when you feel overwhelmed again because after all, these three purposes give you even more work than before. The only way you will get to manage these three goals is by following the triptych tool: organisation, prioritisation and bargaining! Now that you know it all, breathe, relativize, breathe again and start defining your ‘telos’!
Welcome to the first day of the rest of your busy-and-successful student life!