Ah would ye look! It's the......
As a newbie, (albeit an old newbie), to college, one of the things that I had looked forward to was the long Christmas holiday break. I had for years been jealous of my kids seemingly interminable breaks throughout their college life. I used to have to make do with a couple of days off, depending on how many of my annual leave days I had managed to save throughout the year, and what way the public holidays fell. Then, before I knew it, I was getting up and trudging back out to work in those dark cold wet and miserable January mornings, while the rest of the household remained wrapped up in bed, warm and oblivious to the world. And this went on for the first few weeks of the new year!
Well now it was to be my turn. I had recently started back in college as a, (very), mature student, and I was enjoying the new experience. After a bit of natural trepidation at the start, I had worked well throughout the first semester. Results of assignments were going well and I had been involved in a group assignment that we had submitted just before Christmas. Celebratory drinks had been shared, in the best traditions of student life, and we all looked forward to the extended Christmas break. We didn’t have to be back until well into January. Roll on those lazy mornings in bed while the January weather did it’s worst on the outside of the double-glazed bedroom windows. I didn’t care, I didn’t have to get up for a change, and I intended to make the most of it. I wasn’t even going to think about college until I had to go back for the first day of semester two.
Eventually the lazy days of the college break did come to an end, and so it was back to college for semester two. A few new subjects, a couple of new lecturers, but much the same format as we had experienced before Christmas. However, I found that there was one big difference. I just couldn’t seem to get motivated? Last time out, every new lecture and every new task seemed to provide a bit of a buzz. Getting into doing the reading, research and assignments came easily enough. There was a satisfaction in getting stuff done. But now, I just couldn’t seem to get going. I couldn’t figure it out. I spoke to a few of my class mates about it and to my surprise, everybody that I spoke to was having the same issue. Everyone agreed that there was nothing wrong with the subjects or the lecturers, I guess we were all just finding it difficult to get back into the rythm of college life again.
We are three weeks back now and things are getting back to normal – maybe the looming deadline of our next assignment is helping to focus the mind? But if you are planning on going to college, just be aware of the potential slow start after a long break. My advice is to enjoy the time off fully, but plan to hit the ground running after the break and don’t let the lethargy set in.
A feature of our course was recently introduced to us. “The Group Assignment”. This is where you get thrown together with a few of your, (still mostly unfamiliar), classmates and told to work together and produce a report on a subject you know little about, in a ridiculously restricted number of words and have it done by next Friday week, - or some other random date in the very near future! Oh and by the way- it’s worth 75% of your overall course mark, so it better be bloody good!
One major issue with the group project is the fear about who you will end up with on your team. Will you get saddled with the class swot, who will look down and sneer at, or dismiss your best efforts? Or will you end up with the class dunce – who hasn’t a clue about anything that’s going on? Or perhaps you’ll get the class ghost – you know the guy who was seen at the first lecture but hasn’t been seen since and the thought of having him on your team is just scary! Maybe you’ll get the control freak who has to be in charge of everything or the know-it-all who re-writes everybody’s input because “they know best” - or at least they think they do! Then again you might get the lad who is so laid back he is practically horizontal, and as for deadlines - what the hell are they?
The reality is that you could end up in a group with any one, or even several, of these folks! Indeed, you could be one of them yourself.
But you also have the talented wordsmith, the artistic genius, the clever and insightful editor types and highly organized and supportive collaborators. The reality is that I’m sure you are one of these, as opposed to the aforementioned.
I was lucky, I ended up with a couple of really good guys from the latter bunch. However, no matter who you end up with, I think that a there are a few key elements of trying to ensure success with your task and reduce the stress levels for yourself.
At the end, submit your efforts and don’t forget to celebrate. Making it through a group assignment, without blood on your hands, is worth celebrating! Funny enough, we found the pub very good for that too!
“Too slow old man" - are you automatically past it once you hit 50? The thoughts of a Grumpe oulfella.
My kids hate me having the TV remote control. They reckon I haven't a clue how to use it and I take ages to change channel / volume or record / recall a TV show! As for my smart 'phone, they just despair at the thought …"like what's the point, you haven't a clue". When it comes to social media the level of their embarrassment hits the stratosphere at the thoughts of their parents "liking" or "sharing" posts. If I ever ask for help on how the latest device or App works, they just say, "give it here & I'll do it – you wouldn't understand"! Bottom line is that in their opinion, we're just too old, too slow and we just don't get it!
They sit watching the TV or laptop while plugged into their 'phones, thumbs working away furiously texting, (r shud dat b txtn? - after all, let's not waste time typing extra characters)! For them, everything needs to be "on demand, always on and available everywhere". They can't wait, their attention span is short, they want it, they want it now, and once consumed, it's "next"! According to an article in The Telegraph in May 2015, a Microsoft study of 2,000 Canadians showed that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, (around the time the mobile revolution began), to eight seconds. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.
So what does this mean in the context of going to college as a mature student? Well, I think that to survive in the environment of working and studying with people that may be a lot younger than you, it is important to understand that they do things in a way that is natural to them but which might seem alien to you. For example, the first time we were presented with a task in class, I saw my fellow students racing off typing, texting, tweeting and posting like mad yokes, I thought to myself... oops, I'm in the wrong place here because I cant keep up with that pace. But you know what? When the exercise was finished, we had all ended up in more or less the same place.
So don't get intimidated by things that are new or different. Things are different – that doesn't always mean that they are better, and it doesn't mean that you can't cope. Keep an open mind, keep trying, have faith in your ability and you'll get there.
P.S. I still haven’t mastered the remote control, ... but I've hidden it on the kids!
One thing that is inevitable upon returning to college is that you will have either projects and assignments or exams. Or both! In my case it’s continuous projects and assignments with no exams. That does mean that there is continuous work that must be done outside of your lectures. As someone who tends to get his train at Procrastination Station here are some tips to insure you are not pulling an all-nighter to get an assignment completed last minute with 5 litres of Monster and Red Bull to hand.
OK that may sound obvious but if you are like me you may think that due date is so far away that you can leave it until the week the assignment is due. Well don’t! Lay down the roots of your assignment early.
Pen & Paper
What I found that helped when I got my first assignment was to carry the brief and a small notepad around with me. If I am on the train or stop somewhere for coffee or lunch I would have a glance over the brief and write down my thoughts. Then when you get to your laptop later you have all these little nuggets that have built up over time.
Lecture & Lecturers
Don’t skip lectures. Don’t be late. Be a little early and chat to your classmates about your assignment. Helpful tips will come from your peers! Ask questions in class and listen. Your lecturers are there to help you and you are there to learn. Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and ask something that may help you succeed in your assignment! Also, sit closer to the front of class. Lecturers don’t bite. Well mine don’t anyway. I find I get more easily distracted sitting at the back.
Assignments are hard enough when it’s just you. But throw a couple more people into the mix and things really start to get interesting! No one is the same so you need to be aware of how other members of your group work and respect those differences you may have. Constant communication over WhatsApp will make things a lot easier and less confusing and try to meet in person as much as possible.
Healthy Body Health Mind
As mentioned in my previous blog entry, eating healthily will help you succeed. If you eat the right foods it will help your concentration, you will feel better in yourself and you won’t be inclined to feel so sluggish.
Where am I going to get the time to do assignments/study? Like most Mammies I’m always running around the place trying to fit everything in! Now I had to find some quiet time for me… UM how was I going to manage that?
My daughter started senior infants in September and my 2-year-old was going to Naionra in the mornings. The plan was the morning was my time for college work!
This sounded easy, the house would be quiet, I could get stuck in with no interruptions!
But the breakfast dishes were staring at me, the laundry basket was full, the dog needed a lil walk and so on – Distractions pulling and dragging me away from my plan and it is so easy to let yourself fall into that trap, as they are easier that sitting down and applying yourself to something new and challenging that are out of your comfort zone!
Luckily for me my younger brother had just finished his masters so I called on him for help. We both would struggle with concentration. We discussed ideas, what worked for him, and here is what I found helpful – Hope the tips can help you too
Being in college as a mature student is normally really interesting, sometimes it can be challenging, (in a good way), and often it’s great craic! But sometimes it can be challenging in a not so good way.
Mature students are by definition “older”. Older can often mean that you have managed to accumulate additional responsibilities, additional stresses and worries. If you are like me, (male, in your mid-50’s and unemployed), you might be married, have a mortgage, kids in school / college, and feel a sense of responsibility to provide for your family. When I was growing up, we were taught that men were strong, men didn’t show weakness, men were responsible for looking after their wife and children and for providing for them. Men didn’t talk about their worries and concerns, and they certainly didn’t cry!
Well today it’s different. Sometimes it can all get a bit too much. It’s important to realize that it is OK to feel a little bit overwhelmed sometimes. But if that feeling is taking over or if that knot in your stomach won’t go away, if the feeling of dread or just being low for no reason is persisting, - talk to somebody – ideally face to face. Most colleges have excellent student support facilities, use them. Or contact one of the many other support groups that are available. Don’t let that feeling drag you down.
Two things I know from my own experience is that I can’t do everything myself, and that things don’t often stay the same for very long, so look for help, if and when you need it. I promise that it won’t be long before your back on track!
Some Contact Details in case you, or somebody you know, ever need them.
Samaritans in Ireland. Whatever you're going through, call us free any time, from any phone on 116 123. We're here round the clock, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need a response immediately, it's best to call us on the phone. This number is FREE to call. You don't have to be suicidal to call us.
The Aware Support Line 1800 80 48 48 - Available Monday – Sunday, 10am to 10pm.
You can contact Pieta House at any hour of the day by phoning Freecall 1800 247 247. Or if you can simply text HELP to 51444. Or contact Pieta House at the following centres for the prevention of self-harm and suicide.
Healthy eating is a big part of my lifestyle and college life can really make you want to eat the worst of the worst and the next thing you know you are slowly turning into Jabba the Hunzo eating 5 spicebags a week and eating Mega Meanies for your breakfast!
I used to weigh 22 stone [308lbs/140kg]. Yes, you read that correctly. Twenty. Two. Stone. Here’s a lovely picture of my before and after on the left. I lost 10 stone [140lbs/64kg] in weight and now weigh a considerably lighter and healthier 12 stone [168lbs/76kg]. This didn’t happen overnight. A lot of blood, sweat and tears [sweat and tears mostly] went into it. I joined Weight Watchers and had a rollercoaster 8 years of ups and downs [mostly downs on the scales] to get to my goal weight and now am a proud Weight Watchers Gold Card member.
Upon returning to college I was genuinely concerned that I may slip back into old habits. Bad habits. It’s so easy to do!
You have an evening lecture. You go straight from work. You have no time to eat and you grab a chicken fillet roll and portion of wedges on the way for convenience.
This is a recipe for disaster! It will make you feel sluggish and is full of bad fats and carbs.
Apart from evening lectures being a problem there are numerous other scenarios which may make you eat for convenience and something that was a big downfall for me, comfort.
You may have projects and assignments that you are working on outside of your lectures.
You may have deadlines.
You may well even have exams!
You may think that you have no other option but to get through these scenarios without the hassle of trying to eat healthily, but you can! It is easier than you think and it will actually help you get through these scenarios. Here are my top tips!
Eat your feckin’ breakfast! I used to skip breakfast and what happened? I weighed 22 stone. The cliché is true! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It kick-starts your metabolism! Choosing eggs with wholemeal or seeded bread is a great option as is porridge oats. Full of protein and will keep you fuller for longer and energised. Stay away from stodgy white bread and sugary cereals.
Lunches and Dinners.
It’s OK to have dinner for lunch. In fact, I usually have dinner for lunch and then dinner for dinner. You just need to eat the right type of dinner for both. Oily fishes are full of omega-3 which help brain function. Chicken is full of protein. Have this with wholegrain or black rice and have a tonne of veggies with it. Leafy or green are best! Couscous is a quick healthy and cheap alternative to rice if you want to change it up. These types of dishes can be hot or cold. So there is no excuse. You can make these the night before and bring one with you to work and have another ready to have in between your lecture that night! Use garlic and spices with some healthy oils, olive or rapeseed.
Hummus with celery sticks and carrot batons are my go to healthy snack. Popcorn too and lots of fruit! Try to steer clear of chocolate and sugary drinks. These will give you a quick fix with a sugar hit but will give you and even more impactful sugar crash!
Drink it. Drink it all day. Stay hydrated. If you feel hungry it sometimes just means you are dehydrated. Try to get in a litre of water a day.
Like anything in college life, once you are prepared you are destined for success. The same goes for the healthy eating.
Go forth and eat like a healthy Oulwan!
The support services available from colleges nowadays are immense, the aim being to make the students experience fulfilling & rewarding on both a personal and academic level.
At my college of choice, The National College of Ireland(NCI) there is a Full-Time Student Support Officer. The services and supports available are
The Student Union is the representative body for students. On our induction evening in college, the President & Vice president of the S.U in NCI came down and welcomed us part-time and mature students to all college events. They seem to run a lot of events and nights out. It’s more difficult as a mature part time student with a lot of commitments to involve yourself in student life but the option is there!
Don’t every be afraid to ask your lecturer for Help, that’s their job and they want to see you do well, if you don’t it reflects badly on them too ;)
I’ve found my lecturers to be approachable, helpful, and generally good at their jobs.
This has made the whole experience so much easier for me.
When picking your college make sure you find out what supports and services are there to help you!
The other Oulwan’s and I made a pact that would part take in a few social beverages occasionally sure it would be rude not too. Apparently, the best brainstorming is done over a few drinks, well that’s what the Grumpy Oulwan tells us.