Monday, 17 September 2012

Start as you mean to go on

Soon many of you will be embarking on your study programmes; many of you will find that time rushes by and the first assignments will be upon you before you have barely settled in. In this post  I will share with you some advice to help you through your first weeks . .  .

The first of my suggestions may not be popular but it is intended to help you achieve your goals:
Put aside all your travel plans - I understand that you are in a new country – possibly even a new continent and that you have a strong desire to explore it, but it is important that you focus on your studies from day one. If you succeed early on and remain organised and on top of your workload you will find time for travelling at the end of your course whilst your colleagues are still struggling to meet deadlines!

Second, as soon as possible start reading: Most university libraries have a limited supply of books, so once you get the reading list for your course, go to the library check out some of the books on the list and immerse yourself in your subject. If you do find you need to spend money on books it is not a waste; but it is a good idea to see if your student union or course director can put you in touch with good local suppliers of second hand books, or former students who have stayed on for further study and might be willing to sell you some books at a discounted price.

Third, from day one – record all your notes and opinions about what you read in a notebook or on a Word file -  marking them with full reference details.

Fourth, do not underestimate the requirements of assignments; every year people fail essays and drop out of courses because they have overestimated their academic abilities. For most foreign students, even if you have a high score in IELTS and many years of work/study experience, academic writing is a challenge.

Fifth, when you begin you assignments think about finding a professionalproofreader to proofread your work before submission. Proofreaders can help correct your grammar mistakes and make your work more academic sounding and reader-friendly. If you look at your proofread work carefully you will acquire a deeper knowledge of how you can personally improve your own writing. I would say this as I am a proofreader – but many of my students have told me that they have benefited from seeing the changes I have made to their work, and that they have learnt how to write better as a consequence.

Sixth, make friends! Everyone on your course is fighting to succeed, but this is a shared battle and not a competition! So as you and your classmates suffer to achieve your goals you will hopefully come to realise that one benefit of your study abroad time is the fellow students you meet who will share your ups and downs.

Seventh, keep healthy. If this is your first time away from home, don’t be tempted to skip meals or lock yourself in a room studying – to succeed at your degree you will need sustenance – food, daylight and a social life!

Enjoy your time in whatever English speaking country you are, and remember if you work hard you will deserve, and achieve your goals, and have a great time too!


  1. Perhaps you should also remind students to check the regulations for their institution. For example the University of Edinburgh's current Taught Assessment Regulations make it clear there are limits to what a student may ask a proofreader to do:

    "Proof-readers should only comment on the vocabulary, grammar and general clarity of written English. They should not advise on subject matter or argumentation." 24.3

  2. The above comment is quite true - and I would add (having just finished supervising dissertations at the University of Edinburgh) - that as well as checking University guidelines it is also important to check with your department about their proofreading policy, as these can vary. Some Universities' contain departments that distribute lists of approved proofreaders that you can ask your tutor/supervisor for, and others that ban proofreading completely.

    In general proofreading for international students is being accepted across the board and the majority of my 'non-graduated' clients are international students so proofreading is about 'levelling the playing field' - although as recent news items have been debating the necessity for this throws into question University entrance policies (something I do not wish to debate on my blog – regardless of my strong opinions on the subject!!)!