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9 Things Your Uni Tutor Wants You To Know

Words of wisdom from an actual academic.

Hi, I’m your uni tutor.

Well, OK, maybe I don’t teach you personally. But I do teach media and communications at a few different universities across Melbourne, and after winding up a busy teaching semester, I’ve learned a few things that I’d like you to know.

#1 You’ll Get More Out Of Me When You Come Prepared

If you prepare by doing your readings and going to the lecture, you’ll come to class ready to get something out of it – not just to get you through the next assignment, but something that might spark your attention and interest too. I’m at my best as a tutor when I’m teaching interested students.

#2 Think About What You Really Want To Get Out Of Your Degree

In every subject, there are boring bits. I teach a lot of social media, which I think is fascinating. (Who wouldn’t want to talk about Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat?) But even when you prepare, listen, and engage, you’re not always going to find something that fascinates you.

if you can’t think of a clear purpose for your degree… think about whether uni is really for you

Remembering why you decided to begin your degree in the first place – whether it was to increase your employability, open you up to new experiences and options, or develop your critical thinking – can sustain you through the trickier times.

#3 If You’re Not Interested, Uni Is An Expensive Waste Of Time

Uni is getting more expensive in Australia, as the Turbull government has frozen university funding  – despite Malcolm Turnbull getting his own university education for free.

This means you might be paying thousands for a single subject. You’re an adult, and it’s up to you to decide if you’re going to come to class, do your readings, and put in effort with your assignments. Yes, you need to balance uni with a lot of other commitments – home life, work, friends, family, sleep. And not every class is going to be immediately engaging for every student. But if you’re spending every lecture on Facebook instead of taking notes, your assignments feel like obstacles instead of opportunities, and if you can’t think of a clear purpose for your degree, have a think about whether uni is really for you.

#4 There’s More To Life Than Uni

9 Things Your Uni Tutor Wants You To Know

You can get so much excellent life experience outside the classroom! You don’t have to go to uni this year, or at all. Work at a supermarket or a coffee shop or a bar, travel, take photos, be creative, meet people, get to know yourself, and come back to study later once you’ve worked out what you want to get out of it – or find a new path altogether.

#5 I Am Not Your High School Teacher

By the time you get to years 11 and 12, you’re being taught by full-time teaching professionals with a degree in teaching and years of experience.

I don’t have a teaching degree, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m doing. My skills are different to your high school teachers. I have a PhD, and expertise in reading, thinking, researching, writing, and most of all, being at uni. Having studied at uni myself for just over a decade, I definitely know how to help you with your class material and assignments.

#6 I Have A Lot On My Plate

Life as a sessional (what we call casual) academic is precarious. Full-time, permanent positions are hard to come by, which means that if your tutor is sessional, they’re likely to be juggling a whole lot of classes and commitments.

While sessionals are paid a rate while they’re in the classroom that’s supposed to compensate for the time spent on lecture attendance, doing the readings, tutorial preparation, or answering student emails, it rarely does. Sessionals usually don’t have an office, and they don’t get paid for holidays, being sick, or time between semesters.

When I’m marking your essays, I’m usually at home in my pyjamas. These conditions mean your tutor is often pressured for time – academic staff at the University of Melbourne went on strike over these kinds of issues in May. You can be a strong voice for fairer university education by joining the National Union of Students, who advocate for things like reasonable class sizes and against things like fee increases.

#7 You Can Let Me Know If You’re Struggling

Like this piece suggests, it can be a good idea to talk to the people who teach you if you’re having a tough time.

Uni is challenging, and balancing it with other priorities and commitments can mean it feels like you’re sinking instead of swimming. While your tutor probably isn’t a trained mental health care professional, it’s likely they can point you towards appropriate services, and give you an extension or help with your assignments, too.

I care a whole lot about my students and what they get out of the subject.

And you’re probably not alone. Rates of mental health issues are extremely high within the academy too. I’m an academic who has battled depression my whole life, and I know first hand that it can be exacerbated by the pressures of study.

Letting me know how you’re travelling – before your assessments are due – is the best way to make sure I can help you.

#8 Those Student Feedback Surveys Are Taken Super Seriously

9 Things Your Uni Tutor Wants You To Know

Feedback fatigue is real – but when you’re asked to fill out a survey about your subject and your tutor, know that the answers are going to be carefully considered.

Student feedback surveys can be important factors when making decisions about how to change and improve the subject, as well as key references for your tutor when they’re applying for jobs or promotions. Including comments with constructive criticism about where your tutor could improve, as well as pointing out what they did well, is incredibly helpful.

#9 I’m A Person Too

Sometimes we don’t love the weekly topic either. Sometimes we’re busy, or tired, or worried about how we’re going to fit everything in that week. But I do the job because I love it, and I care a whole lot about my students and what they get out of the subject.

Above all, your tutors are there to help and guide you in your uni journey. When you approach the process realistically, and understand what we can do for you, you’re already on your way.

Dr Emily van der Nagel is an academic who writes, teaches, and speaks about social media identities and culture. She tweets about research and uni at @emvdn.

(Lead image: University College London/Flickr CC)

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