I’m good with analogies. I like connecting things – if a story can help explain something better, you can bet your bottom dollar I’ve got one. This week, as I saw Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, a famous Pakistani musician and an expert in the practice of Qawwaali, live in Manchester, I started thinking about distractions at university. Not following me? Never mind, I’ll break it down.
Qawwaali is an antique Pakistani style of music which, listeners claim, allows them to reach a higher plane of consciousness. Being a bit of a sceptic, I went along to have a listen, not expecting much but wanting the experience. By the end of the three hour set, I’d pretty much decided it wasn’t for me. Still, when Mr Khan began with a haunting opening number, he had my undivided attention. It didn’t take long, though, for my younger sister to start tugging on my arm – she was bored. Ignoring her, I tried again to listen to the music; I think by now I had abandoned any chance of reaching a higher level of anything, but there was no harm in enjoying the show. Little sis waited for another couple of pieces to play out before she started prodding me again – this time, she just had to show me her high score on Angry Birds. These little interjections continued and I eventually lost all interest in the concert, instead indulging her chit chat. During the interval, when she’d wandered off to refill her drink, this got me thinking. Distractions come hard and fast in all walks of life, even to those who begin with the best intentions – an analogy working in parallel with the many distractions that can present themselves to university students every year. The key issue is how best to handle them to make sure university really is one of the best times of your life.
One of the biggest distractions on hand to students is alcohol. While most students get their hedonism out of the way during Freshers’ Week, others are thrilled by the endless parade of bars and clubs offering cheap student nights, and indeed universities’ and colleges’ own parties. Having to wait a few more months before I can experience studentdom for myself, when speaking to older friends I’ve always been directed to the issue that arises with such revelry; there are so many alcohol-fuelled events taking place that it becomes very difficult to say ‘no’. For many, alcohol is certainly a large part of the student experience, and I seek not to patronise or proscribe its consumption. But students really ought to use their common sense – if you’re going out several nights a week on a regular basis and your course work is suffering as a result, you’re overdoing it. Balance is key.
It’s not just booze, though. Recently, I was speaking with a friend of mine who is studying at the University of Oxford. He’s intelligent and coping with his academic work, but has found himself committing to many more societies and clubs than he physically has time for. The temptation to join every single club that strikes your fancy is immense, but fight it! Picking a couple of societies you’re really interested in will allow you to spend more time enjoying them, as opposed to spreading yourself too thinly amongst a number of clubs, and will still allow you to work around your university assignments. As the competition for internships and graduate jobs is fierce, showing that you can handle your workload and be a key part of one or two societies will make you stand out as organised and efficient – definitely worth being selective for!
Then you have the internet… while an undoubtedly amazing resource for whatever research you may need to do in your latest essay or project, it’s also where most of us are probably losing more hours than we’d care to admit. Of course there are positives – lots of academic journals and periodicals are now available online, and keeping up to date with current affairs show your commercial awareness and interest in the world outside university. Even Facebook and Twitter, once those guilty pleasures nobody wanted to be caught on in the office (for example), are now such an acceptable way of getting up-to-date information that employers of all sizes are actively using them to communicate. But… not all that time we spend online falls into this category. Again, balance is key, and on this front those clever people over at Google have come up with StayFocusd – a way for you to take control and manage your online time.
The point that I think I’m trying to make is that it can be easy to get distracted, even when one has the best intentions. Of course, some would argue that university is as much about the social aspect as it is about the degree – I’m not disputing this. What I am reminding Bright members, especially students, is not to waste your time at university; it is one of the first chances you will ever get to meet a diverse range of people and expand your network among those with similar and new interests to you. Friends from university are friends for life and the skills you learn there, from your degree and extracurricular activities, will remain with you for just as long. Indeed, they will be the things which make you a truly outstanding, bright candidate for those first steps on your career path – the important thing is to focus and balance them, and not to get carried away. I cannot wait to get started!