This is a copy of an address I gave to 1700 students at the 2018 Official Welcome to Undergraduate Students at UNSW. Other for the night included Vice Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs, Professor Richard Buckland.
I recently returned through a road trip through India, so I can’t help but think of everything in terms of car metaphors.
You are here tonight, on the first night, of the first week, of your first year of your university degree. That is incredibly exciting because you are at the steering wheel of the rest of your life.
Give that fact, instead of talking about myself, I want to give you my top 5 tips for going on a road trip. Turns out they make pretty good advice for getting through university too.
Tip 1 . All roads lead to Rome
One thing I’ve learnt from travelling is that it doesn’t matter if you make a wrong turn. You’ll get there in the end.
At university many things may not go according to plan. You might not be enrolled in the degree you wanted, it might take longer than you expected or you might get side tracked along the way. It’s okay. You’ll get there eventually.
But when you’re on your journey, don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions. You have amazing lecturers, tutors, and admin staff who are all looking out for you. So ask them for directions, and advice on where you should go in life. They’re literally experts in the field.
Equally, it’s also important to make sure you actually want to go to Rome. There’s a whole world out there – you could go to Paris, London or New York – or even Dubbo if you wanted to. In fact, you might not realise you want to go somewhere until you start the journey. That’s okay – run with it, and follow what feels right.
I studied computer engineering, and although I loved it, it was just one of my many passions and skills. At the time, it felt like I had to choose from all my skills which one I wanted to pursue.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The industry I am in is something I had no idea about until I started uni, and the work I am doing involves a lot of education and outreach – something I’ve had a passion for since day one. However, if I’d never started, I would have never known.
All roads lead to Rome… or Dubbo.
Tip 2. Get off to a good start
Good beginnings are important for a road trip, and especially so for university. News flash – university is confusing… so get off to a good start. Attend 0-week, get involved in the activities, join a club, and make friends.
And do a campus tour – because I still get lost!
Tip 3. Road trips are always better with someone in the passenger seat
Make friends while you’re at uni. Making friends is one of the hardest things to do here at uni, but now is the easiest time to do it.
I’ll let you in on the secret of how to do it. Turn to your neighbour and say “Hello, my name’s Adam… how weird is this lecturer’s tie?”. Say hello, ask their opinion, complain about an assignment… or a tie.
I never did that when I first came to uni, and it made things twice as hard. But its never too late.
In second year there is an electrical engineering subject that is notoriously hard, and suffice to say – it was not going well.
We were getting a test back, and I saw a classmate make the same face I did. So, what did I do? Well, I hung back and we got chatting. We ended up becoming study buddies and without that I would have never passed that subject.
And not only did I pass – but I made a new buddy.
So put yourself out of your comfort zone.
If you’re a local student, make friends with an international student, and if you’re an international student, make friends with a local student. Do that, and you will have friends all over the world.
Tip 4. Enjoy the journey – it’s not all just about the destination.
Some of your best memories will be formed at uni – so live it to the full. Don’t just show up to class and then leave.
Get involved. Attend a BBQ, join a club, volunteer. It’s incredibly fun, and very rewarding.
At the beginning I didn’t get involved much with uni and I wasn’t enjoying myself. Because all work, and no play isn’t much fun at all, and that was what I was doing.
Make sure you take time out to get involved and have fun . Plus it has benefits too – I helped run an organisation called the Young Scientists of Australia. I got great at talking to people, organising things, and presenting to groups. Turns out when I started applying for jobs – that’s exactly what they were looking for.
In fact, if you’re worried that you won’t get the greatest marks at uni, then make your uni experience about more than just marks.
In my job interviews, they didn’t quiz my knowledge on computers or ask how many HDs I’d received, they wanted to see my communication skills, and if I could work in a team.
So Get involved and Enjoy your time at uni – because you never know how it might help you in the future
Tip 5. There will be issues along the way – and you never have to tackle them alone.
Road-trips are long and complicated, and uni can be too. Maybe things won’t be going according to plan with one or more of your subjects, and you fall behind. Maybe you might have difficulties with English. Maybe you just have trouble adapting to the uni lifestyle.
Maybe you might have financial troubles. Or a family member falls ill. Or your have mental health ups and downs
It’s okay. You don’t have to tackle it alone.
You have lecturers, tutors, classmates – all of them there to help out. The uni is here to support you – there are language services, Academic Study skill support, medical services, psychological and counselling services – to name a few. But its important to ask for help, and to ask early – because they won’t know unless you speak up.
Get on your way!
So those are my 5 tips for road trips and also for getting through university.
I would like to leave you with these parting words of advice from the prominent 20th century sociologist, Dr Suess-
You have brains in your head,
You have feet in your shoes,
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose
And will you succeed? You will indeed! 99 and 3 quarter percent guaranteed!
You’re off to great places
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting – so get on your way!