Looking back, looking forward: starting the new year

5 January 2022

As we look ahead to the new term and the new year, UCL second year student Nicholas Ng considers some realistic ways to approach the new term.

student at computer

Before we delve in, I hope everyone has had a fulfilling Christmas/festive period/break and new year! Regardless of how you chose to spend it, hopefully it was a chance to chill, have some fun and reflect on a challenging past year that has taught us much.

As term starts, there's often a tendency to fall into a "here we go again" mindset - but as embrace this new term, my goal is to try to encourage you to recognize that the start of term is a chance to reflect, re-energize and reset, and hopefully give you some guidance on how to hit the ground running as we plunge into the second academic term.

Obviously, this post won't be covering everything. But, to try and keep it holistic, I'll be discussing how to begin thinking about the new term from an academic, personal wellbeing, and extracurricular perspective. Not everything below will suit you, but feel free to extract from this what fits your needs best.

Looking back

With regards to wellbeing, probably the biggest thing here is the mindset we choose to adopt heading into the term. There are many ways to view the term, but for me, I think of it as a obstacle race marathon: many different hurdles (not just academic), but if I can remain balanced, remain focused what I'm trying to get out of this term (e.g. handing assessments in more than 5 minutes before the deadline), then I'll end the term tired but satisfied. While recognising things won't be easy, this way of thinking at least gives me the confidence to do what needs to be done, with an eye on the bigger picture to prevent burnout.

Another aspect of reflection could be how you'd like to learn and live better. The productivity narrative can get overwhelming sometimes, but trying out an app or two could be an investment with huge long-run payoffs that save you time, energy, and effort in studying and organizing. Whether it was using Notion (free) to manage to-dos and chores, Monefy to track finances, GitMind for free brainstorming or Evernote for saving interesting articles, it may be worth rummaging around on the web to see if there are any app-based solutions for parts of your life you think need to be automated. But, there's a fine line between efficiency and overload - you won't want to go overboard and split your attention across too many unnecessary apps. Pick a few and stick with them.

Academically, it's worth having a brief reflection on topics from previous terms that interest you to get excited about what you can do with that interest. As a student doing some data science, learning how to write functions that automate spatial data analysis seemed like a great way to automate complex assignments and for future work - which led to me exploring some firms specializing in geospatial data analysis and modules for future years. It's less about me writing a list, but about getting you energized on the things you liked studying (or most preferred) using a maximum of 5 - 10 minutes of your time. Who knows? You might follow up those thoughts in the near future.

For those of you doing a few extracurriculars, it's similarly worth reflecting on which of these you enjoyed and why you liked them, to further refine and draw energy from your interests. Joining a pro-bono political risk consultancy let me apply my geopolitical knowledge to the work of organisations like the World Economic Forum, and really sold me on the idea of working in a consulting environment - but also told me that I'd enjoy using data science methods to political analysis. A quick reflection may not take much time, but clarifying what you like and don't like can go a long way - whether it's identifying next steps to broaden your university experience, or evaluating how you're doing.

Looking forward

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, below are some tips to get fired up for the term ahead.

  • Decluttering: tidying, clearing paperwork - making yourself comfortable
  • Arming yourself with new stationery (take full advantage of those bargain deals)
  • Mark out time for lectures, sports, assessments, extracurriculars and considering any extracurriculars worth your time
  • Fixing your sleep schedule (e.g. setting alarms, creating a routine)
  • Goal setting (nothing big, perhaps just getting over 60% in one module!)

You can also get ready for study with the following: 

  • Reviewing upcoming modules 
  • Borrowing textbooks
  • Noting classes and deadline dates

With the pandemic still rampant, expect plans to go awry or that tasks, progress may take longer than expected. But, reflecting on the past to look forward, grow and get excited about the future can go a long way to fight against the tough times we're in.

Nicholas Ng, BA Geography (International) with Social Data Science