Siobhan Daley (Uses Accent Device): Attending University
I’m about a month into being an Open Foundation student at the University of Newcastle as an AAC user. This semester, I’m studying online but I am hoping to go face on face next semester.
While I’m enjoying the mental challenge of studying and learning about new things, it’s also been a huge learning curve and I’ve had to get into a lot of new routines and quickly find some self-discipline.
Here are some valuable tips for how to navigate university.
- Don’t take on more than you will be physically able to keep up with. I initially enrolled in two summer courses and two courses for semester one. Still, about a week into the summer courses realized that I had spent most of my time on one course so I could keep on track and completely neglected my other course. So, I dropped the course I hadn’t done anything on and lifted some weight off my shoulders.
- Find a note-taking system that works for you. I access my computer externally so I had a million options when it came to note-taking programs. I tried all of these note-taking programs for about a week because I was sure that OneNote didn’t exist anymore. While I loved the idea of some of the programs and would have totally used them if I wasn’t an AAC user, I’m a sucker for the simplicity of OneNote. That just makes everything faster, in my opinion.
- Ask for help. At first, I was determined to do my studies independently, didn’t want to ask for accommodations, and didn’t let someone important know that I had started university. However, I soon realized that there was no way I would sustain myself if I was going to do all of my study and notes myself. So not only did I engage with the accessibility team at the university, but I also sought help with note-taking. At first, I asked my support workers whether anybody was willing to help with notes. However, when this proved too inconsistent, considering I have about a million things to do every week, I sought other ways to get my notes written. While transcription sort of worked, that left me with pages of reading and the results weren’t fantastic. Then after much googling, I found a website called ‘Note Taking Express’ that I could send my lectures to and receive notes in a format I like. While I have to check the spelling and make sure the correct information is written, this still beats the other options for getting notes written.
- Find a way to engage with the content, even if it’s more work. Just reading the content and notes doesn’t cut it at university. You need to engage with what you’re learning, and everything you do is self-directed. When I’m reading the weekly readings, I write myself comprehension questions to work through. This means I’m reading my content once quickly to pull out the parts I need to write questions on, then another time to answer the questions. So I’m reading the content at least two times; definitely not the most efficient way to study, but it kind of works.
- Know your limits. I’m five weeks into Open Foundation while working two jobs and dealing with life. It’s getting real and I’m starting to burn out, so even if I have five thousand hours of work to do, if I’m not feeling it, I’m starting to allow myself to own that. Do I feel guilty? Of course. Am I trying to work through it even though I know I shouldn’t? Absolutely. I know I’m behind, so every little bit helps. However, if you need a break, take it. You will feel guilty, but sometimes you just can’t get your body to work anymore, and that’s okay.
Life was not designed for people who take a long time to do everything.
If you are burned out, own it and do what you need to do. You can always get help to catch up. I chose to use the limited spoons I had left to work, and I’m now two weeks behind in my readings. I own that, and I will now get help to catch up because that’s just what I have to do as an adult. I’m not ashamed to ask for help because I decided to do something that would help me pay my bills instead of study, and that’s okay. I can ask for help to catch up with study. I can’t ask for help with my job because it’s something only I can do. Typing notes? I can outsource that between my note-taking service and support workers if I’m still engaged with the content somehow.
University is rough on everyone. It’s not just you who’s struggling. You may have some extra challenges, but you’re certainly not alone in wondering how you will survive this. Ask for help, work out a system that makes studying as easy as possible, and know that you can’t do everything yourself.