Featured illustration: Esther Howard
Returning to the university lifestyle after a long summer break can be tough. Many of us are still struggling to establish a routine, even though the Christmas holidays are already fast approaching, and first term is coming to end.
Going back to university in January (and the looming exam season), might be the last thing on your mind right now. However, the start of a new year can be an apt time to think about establishing routines that work for you, as well as finding a new sense of balance in your life.
Whether you’re in first year or final year, and whether managing your work-life balance comes naturally to you or you find it challenging, sometimes it can be difficult to know where to begin. Fortunately, there are a variety of useful resources to help navigate this, including academic support, and beyond that, opportunities to exchange ideas with fellow students, and take part in skill-building sessions and workshops facilitated by student Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) leaders.
We caught up with PAL leader, aAh! Magazine subeditor and final-year Textiles student, Lucy Vincent, to find out about her experiences tackling these issues and her advice on balancing self-care, creative work, and studying.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and any university highlights so far?
I am a final-year textile student at the Manchester School of Art. I am originally from Cheshire and I love studying close to home in a city full of culture. Throughout my three years at Manchester Met, I have thoroughly enjoyed experimenting in a variety of different workshops. Having decided to specialise in children’s textile design, I am currently working on my first project and dissertation. A highlight of my time at university would definitely be working on the last edition of aAh! Magazine’s The FRESHERS Issue or the School of Art’s final-year project, Unit X, which is a collaborative unit in which students from the design school can explore, experiment and develop projects, in association with partner organisations in Manchester and beyond.
What advice would you give to students trying to get into a routine now that we are finishing off the semester?
Don’t put pressure on yourself with the idea of maintaining a perfect routine right from the start. This tends to evolve naturally as you settle in and discover your interests. As a design student, (and this applies to other courses), attending tutorials is particularly crucial. That might sound obvious, but even if you think you haven’t completed all the required work, showing up is still important. It can allow the opportunity for you to receive guidance and support from your tutors and peers, helping you to navigate the next steps. While this can feel overwhelming, simply showing up is a good place to start in getting back on track, and gaining the support you need.
How have you been helping students this year?
This year, since becoming a PAL leader, I’ve assisted with hosting drawing workshops, guiding students in idea generation and discussing potential ways to develop their projects. A significant focus has been on helping new students settle into their environment. First-year students often grapple with uncertainties and concerns about university life, and engaging in conversations beyond their academic work has proven to be highly encouraging. Recognising the importance of digital skills, I’ve helped students by teaching some of the key digital skills which I found useful throughout my time at university. I’ve realised the importance of prioritising, and have actively cut back on non-essential commitments in my life. Having occasionally taken on too many commitments in the past, I’ve become mindful of not overloading myself. I think that trying to achieve what might typically be considered a ‘balanced’ approach is sometimes unrealistic. So instead, I’m trying to allocate time for self-care while ensuring equal investment in my written assignments and creative work.
What is PALS and how does it work?
PALS is an internationally recognised academic support service for students at Manchester Met. Students can use PAL sessions to go through course content, share knowledge, and develop skills as a group through various activities. PAL leaders, typically more experienced students, from higher year groups, facilitate these sessions. As well as supporting students academically, we also connect students with social opportunities, facilitating the formation of learning communities. Being involved in this type of programme can enhance both academic and social aspects of your student experience, creating a supportive and collaborative environment.
Why did you sign up?
My interest in teaching led me to PALS, which I viewed as a great opportunity to lead sessions and gain first-hand experience supporting students in their learning journey. I strongly believe in the importance of engaging in conversations with fellow students, which I am also able to do through my role as a student ambassador. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed assisting prospective students during open days and providing valuable advice as part of this.
How can students become PAL leaders?
PAL leaders are recruited every year via the Jobs4Students website. It’s a good opportunity to support other students, revise course content while you work, and create professional contacts – whilst being paid for your time. PALS helps students by supporting them with revisiting things that they have covered in their course, but would like more time and support to understand.
If you’d like to hear more about PALs or you need some extra help, email PAL@mmu.ac.uk or visit mmu.ac.uk/student-life/course/learning-communities/peer-learning
Register your interest to be a PAL leader here.