Third year home truths
So, we’re about two thirds of the way through term one, and the fact that I meant to write this in week five but couldn’t find the time gives you an immediate impression of what third year Discrete Maths is like. Yep, you guessed it- it is BUSY. I’m on the three-year course so as a finalist the pressure of this year is hard to put out of your mind for any amount of time (even a well-timed trip to Kasbah doesn’t help much- that’s when you know it’s bad). From the work load, to job applications, to trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, it’s been a pretty intense month and a half.
The big difference between this year and my last two years has been the project work. Discrete mathematicians, computer scientists and most (or at least a lot of) subjects require students to produce a project/dissertation as part of their final year. For me this involves producing an actual product as well as writing the accompanying documentation, and it’s worth a quarter of my final year (it’s also worth more than all of my first year put together… no pressure). This project is a massively independent piece of work- we were basically expected to come up with an idea and run with it.
We have project supervisors, and staff in the department have been more than happy to help where they can, but in general it’s basically down to you to make sure you’re making sufficient progress, something which I’ll be the first to admit hasn’t been one of my strengths in the past. In first and second year, I was always the type to spend time on the assignments with deadlines and worth credit but often completely ignored recommended reading and formative problem sheets in favour of.. y’know… having a nap or something. This has all had to change this year (seriously, I nap so much less these days). The deadlines for the project are few and far between, and if you don’t progress on your own time then you don’t progress at all. It’s been a tough adjustment to set time aside to work on the project, but I also think it’s an invaluable experience to have- the time management and organisational skills needed to keep on track are super employable qualities.
Anndd there’s a nice segway into the other thing that’s taking up SO MUCH of my time this year. Job applications. As someone who has been dedicated to avoiding thinking about Life After Graduation, I’ve managed to pretend a job isn’t something to concern myself with for the last two years. Even last year when a lot of my friends were looking for internships for the summer, I decided that employment was something future me would have to worry about. Well, future me is now and she is not impressed.
So now, here we are- in third year counting down the weeks of university (23 and a half!) before I am officially a graduate and need to find a job. The best advice I can give for this is to use the networking events in your department. Computer science has been good for bringing in a variety of employers throughout my time at university and while I’ve been avoiding these events like the plague up until this year (why was past Charlotte so intent on making my life difficult), I decided to finally be proactive and go to one this year. Obviously, a lot of the companies invited are going to be ones you’ve heard of before- in the Computing your Career event I went to there were people from Morgan Stanley, Google etc., big companies that you expect to see, but there were also smaller companies and ones you hadn’t necessarily thought of applying to before. This is where the events are useful- they open your eyes to jobs you might never have heard of (or at least that’s what it did for me) and it gave me a real taste of what’s out there rather than being convinced that I was going to end up in a career in finance whether I liked it or not.
But even once you’ve found a job you like, you still have to do the actual applying. Who knew you could sit in front of a blank sheet of paper for two days trying to write a cover letter and making little-to-no progress (because trust me you can). Again, job applications are a really independent thing- no one is going to MAKE you do them but I really recommend getting as many in as possible as early in the year as possible- not only is this because the deadlines for a lot of the big companies are around November/December time but also because taking time to complete applications will get harder and harder as time passes and you’ve got other course deadlines and exams to prepare for.
Overall, I think the biggest thing I found from third year is the independence- the change from A-Level to first year of uni was a huge step towards independent study and I feel like the gradual increase into final year really cements that attitude. You’re growing up (whether you like it or not) and the uni really emphasises that by making you pretty much entirely responsible for your own education. The main thing is appreciating this and adapting to it- you’ve gone from having someone on your back making sure you get things done to being that person, and the stakes are pretty high.