There’s no denying that Physics is a demanding course. In your first year, contact hours will be high from the start and there will most likely be times when you can physically feel the weight of your problems sheets pulling you down. But it is all manageable! That’s important to keep in mind.
I struggled through my first year and at times wondered if it would just be kinder to myself to quit. Perseverance held out though and I’m so glad that it did because I really feel like first year has set me up well with the tools to succeed so here’s what I’ve learnt and what I wish I knew about Physics in my first year.
Stay on top:
This seems like an obvious piece of advice but it’s also the best piece I can think of. If you get swamped by assignments and deadlines, it can be hard to dig yourself out (not impossible though so don’t despair if this does happen). My advice, get tasks completed as soon as possible. Don’t leave them to the final evening and then panic, up all night trying to get them finished.
In an ideal week, I would always aim to have at least one day off at the weekend. As nice as the break itself would be, what really pushed me on was just having this goal in mind all the time. Even if I fell short, I could always guarantee that I would have made decent progress by the weekend and know that it was possible to reach the end.
Again, this is probably a piece of advice that you will hear from every lecturer in first year and it took me far longer than it should have to take this advice on board. But reading around a topic covered in lectures is almost always the best thing you can do to solidify your understanding of a specific subject. The library is at your disposal. Get in there and make the most of it. It will most likely boost your confidence in areas you already feel pretty sure on as well as those that you may have previously been struggling with so it’s a win-win in the end.
Nine AM lectures may seem like an impossible task some mornings but attendance to lectures is really the best way to be introduced to a new topic and attending problems classes I found to be a massive help in securing my knowledge afterwards. By the end of each term it’s impossible not to notice all the empty chairs around you but I still believe that attendance was key to my success in first year.
If nothing else, I like the structure that attendance gave to my day. I wasn’t constantly at a loose end because I had things to occupy my time, pushing me on to stay on top of everything throughout the week and lectures are normally very well planned, keeping you on track and progressing at a good pace.
READ the lab script:
My worst fears in first year were all lab related. It’s fair to say that I prefer lectures to labs and have never felt that confident in my practical skills in science. That being said, reading the lab script properly and not just skimming over the key points the night before the experiment was a great way to boost my confidence going into the lab and also a way to be much more productive in the sessions.
You will probably find that labs are tight for time (and that never seems to change, sorry) so reading the lab script is really a vital step. If you know what’s coming in the experiment and have given it some real thought, you can maximise your time actually working on the experiment and not just come out at the end of the day with a random page of numbers that you don’t actually understand. It will make these lab sessions much more effective and a better use of your time.
Attempt all the questions:
Towards the end of last year I got very lazy with my problems sheets. I always completed the assessed questions but my initial enthusiasm for looking over the extra questions soon faded and then disappeared entirely. When it came to revision though, I found that these questions were an excellent source of additional context to new topics and I only wished that I had come to this conclusion sooner. The extra questions will push and challenge you but this is a good thing.
We all come to university to learn so it’s great to have this mental stimulation. Going through these questions with tutors in problems classes was also really helpful and gave me a great sense of achievement in first year even when I could only complete the questions with lots of help and guidance.
Overall, I’d say that most of these tips are ways to boost confidence as I found this was often one of the biggest challenges I faced. I was constantly questioning my admission into the university in the first place so it was great to utilise these simple steps to keep my moral high throughout the academic year. Hopefully, you can take something away from this post that will keep your head up when the work load grows and here’s to a successful first year of Physics for you all!