The first few days at university are both exciting and terrifying. When you transition from high school to an undergraduate programme can be challenging. You may come from a small environment and find yourself in lectures with over 300 people. If you attended a smaller school and your class was not crowded, the number of students with you can overwhelm you. How can you engage with lecturers when you sit among hundreds of undergraduates?
I’m originally from a small coastal town in the north of Italy of only 25,000 people. When I realised the students at the University of Southampton were around 26,000, I seemed to be like a little ant crawling in an oversized anthill. Dramatic statement aside, I found myself catapulted in a world that seemed too big compared to my former provincial life.
I come from a small high school. The “top students” stood out from the rest. Although I have always been taciturn, I still made myself noticed. First, I was the student who had travelled to the other side of the planet and had stayed in Argentina for an entire year. Second, I was the girl thinking about moving to the UK as an undergraduate student. If you followed my journey to Southampton, you know these two factors put me in the spotlight, especially with teachers. Even though I can’t find anything wrong with my academic journey, the local culture deterred me from breaking the boundaries set by the small society I lived in.
You can only imagine the astonishment when I entered the lecture theatre for the first time: hundreds of students sitting in an enormous room. After two or three weeks, I got used to the amount of people around me. But there was a lingering question I did not have an answer to: how could I get involved with the lecturers?
Go to lectures
One thing I understood during my second year at university is that lecturers recognise who is attending their classes. I had never thought they could recognise us through the crowd, but they do. Let me explain.
I often sit at the front. My eyesight is not the best and it’s difficult to hear at the back, so I sit as close as possible to the board and the lecturer’s station. Most of the students who sit at the first desks are the most engaged with the lecture, so professors notice who is there on an average day. Sometimes, while looking at the cohort, they commented on who was missing. Before you say they will single you out, I’ll elaborate. They will make comments on the line of “some people today decided not to come”, but they won’t point out who didn’t.
For these reasons – apart from the benefits to your understanding of the different modules – going to lecture helps you engage not only with other students but also with lecturers.
Ask targeted questions
In my article How To Study Effectively: My Method I underlined the importance of having a look at the content before going to lectures. This will not only allow you to pick out which areas you need to focus on, but it also gives you the chance of asking targeted questions.
Lecturers want you to engage with the material, so they will appreciate you having quires about specific topics. It will not only show them you are taking your time to prepare, but it will also highlight you are trying to understand the concepts in depth. Don’t feel shy about going up to them. The first times you do this, you might be embarrassed and out of place, but this will change as soon as you make it a habit.
Get involved in societies and uni activities
At the beginning of each new academic year, society and clubs hold a fair on the University of Southampton campus. This opportunity to meet people and make friends is also an excellent way to engage with kindred individuals. I touched on this topic in my article Building A Community Abroad. What I didn’t mention there is the importance of being a part of the school community to engage with lecturers and faculty members.
I’ll give one example. The Wessex Scene is an online journal run by the students at the University of Southampton. People who write for it have an author’s page and their name appears at the end of their articles. As the Wessex Scene website states, writing for them is not only an occasion to build points for your curriculum, but it also connects with people who share your same interests.
If you think student are the only ones who read the journal, you couldn’t be more far from reality. Lecturers and faculty members are always up to date with the news the journal publishes, so they know who is writing the articles. Don’t worry about sharing opinions that might diverge from theirs. The same concept applies for all the other societies.
What’s relevant is you show engagement and interest in building a community within the university campus. This aspect is not required of you, but as a general suggestion I would give anyone starting university is to stretch out. By this I mean: don’t focus only on studying for your degree; build long lasting interests and hobby. The first year at university is the best to find pastimes, so take advantage of the fairs to branch out.
Become a Student Representative
During the 1st year of Neuroscience, I got involved with the Student Body. After reflecting about it, I decided to become a Student Representative for my course. My experience as an international undergraduate student who completed the Science Foundation Year had given me the confidence to stand up. And so I asked to become the 1st year Neuroscience Rep.
Throughout the year, I had to attend different meetings with lecturers and faculty members. In the beginning, talking was tough and I would often blush from embarrassment. At the time I’m writing this, quarantine is still up. Most of the meetings now are online, so there is far less awkwardness on my side.
Before you say becoming a Student Rep is not for you, read along. There is no expectation for you to attend every meeting. Not all the representatives attend each summit, so as long as you send other people’s concern to the School President you’re doing your job. Hear your fellow students concern, divide the personal issues from the cohort’s issues and then report on the problem. Once every semester, the School holds a general recorded meeting, so you get the chance to discuss those topics that deserve more attention.
If you are an introvert like me, speaking up is difficult. This is the reason I became a Rep. I wanted to give a voice to those who didn’t feel like it and improve my ability to communicate at the same time. When I was in high school, I thought exposing myself was the wrong thing to do, but at university I realised it’s important to talk about the problems students are facing. Becoming a Student Representative will show your engagement not only with the other students in your class but also with lecturers and faculty members.
I highlighted the major ways I get involved with university activities. There are many more I can talk about, including being elected for important roles in your School. Keep this as a basic guide towards becoming more engaged with lecturers, faculty members and other students. If you find any other ways, let me know in the comment section.