From Platforms to Lectures: Thriving as a Commuting Postgraduate Student at UCL

27 June 2024

Charlie Jenkins shares their experiences and advice for commuting as a postgraduate student.

Make no mistake, commuting can be tough in any context. Delays and time constraints can make the prospect of studying for a postgrad qualification at UCL as a commuter seem daunting.

However, all is not lost. I have commuted into London as a student full-time for four years now. I have had plenty of time to streamline the art of commuting as a student here in the capital.

The main question I get asked when discussing my three hour round commute is “how do you manage to get all your work done.” It is a valid concern, given the work which comes with studying at this level. However, you will soon learn that this travel-time can be used as effective study sessions.

Most students bring a laptop or larger portable device to university. Make use of this to get work done, especially if your public transport has seats with tables. Lighter travellers may prefer a simple smartphone and notepad setup. Some other essentials include: noise cancelling headphones, a portable charger, charging cables, and plenty of food & drink. A refillable water-bottle is also a must for longer days on campus.

Another point to consider is that not all public transport has reliable internet connections. Downloading any study materials you need is a great idea to avoid disappointment when the train WiFi inevitably goes down… again!

Working on the train isn’t for everyone, especially if your service is usually busy. Streaming a show or reading a book are two excellent ways to pass the time. Downloading a couple of episodes of your preferred show or your favourite music playlist are always advisable.

Time management is another key skill to learn as a commuting postgrad at UCL. Blocking out your day can be an excellent visual way of seeing how you can best use your time. Mobile apps such as Google Calendar or TimeTune, with their notification features, are both great options to help manage your work-life balance.

One misconception many have when it comes to commuting to university is that you can't have a social life. However, this is a myth.

I advise you to take part in all the activities put on for postgraduates and through your department during welcome week. My department did a departmental picnic, welcome talks, and so much more, which made it very easy to meet likeminded friends on my course.

Societies are another great way of meeting new people. Many of them will have WhatsApp and Discord Groups to partake in additional activities and conversations. A full list of societies can be found on the Students Union website.

Lastly, it sounds cliche, but everybody is in the same boat as you, commuter or not. So with a little time management and forward planning (especially making sure you don’t miss the last train home after an evening social…) you can have a thriving social life as a commuting postgraduate here at UCL!

Key takeaways

  • Study or keep busy on the train.
  • Come prepared with everything you might need.
  • Manage your time effectively - find what works for you.
  • Take part in as many activities and societies as you can.

My best commuting tips & tricks

  • Invest in a railcard. It slashes all single and return journeys by up to ⅓, and pays for itself incredibly quickly.
  • Do your research before buying season tickets. If you commute every day, they are more cost-effective. If not, research the cost of your commute using railcard discounts and daily tickets. This could save you lots of money.
  • National Rail Travelcard tickets,which combine your train journey with unlimited TFL travel (Zones 1-6), can save you money. This particularly applies if you take two or more journeys within Zone 1. It also reduces the trouble of switching between using a ticket and a contactless card at stations.
  • Use a separate debit card, with an accessible mobile banking function, to pay for your travel. You might also consider a TFL Oyster Card. This will make budgeting as a commuter easier, and is handy for tapping in and out on TFL services.
  • Booking your travel tickets ahead of time can save you a tidy sum on your commute. Also look out for seasonal travel offers such as Greater Anglia's HARE fares.
  • External booking apps like Trainline can save you money on your tickets. However, many of them do not provide seasonal offers only available when buying tickets direct from travel providers. Some external booking apps also charge extra for 'booking fees.'

I hope this guidance serves you well in your new and exciting journey as a commuting postgraduate student here at UCL. All of this will come naturally to you once you start doing it on a regular basis. With a little preparation, you will thrive alongside the quarter of UCL students who choose to commute.