Graeme is one of the first friends you can look forward to making when you sign up to a university degree through Open Universities Australia (OUA). One of a team of Student Coaches who reach out to first time students in their first weeks of study, Graeme loves helping students to succeed and is available to chat any time afterwards about the unique pressures and challenges of online study.
We decided it was time we got to know Graeme a little better.
Graeme is a man of many interests and talents. When he’s not playing the role of Student Coach at OUA he’s in his art studio, working his paintbrush overtime on eye-catching, abstract works. He’s worked here, there and everywhere- from retail to hospitality, to painting houses, to academic publishing. Yes, Graeme would identify himself as someone who loves variety, but he admits that sometimes, life just takes you where it takes you, and you don’t have much of a choice in the matter.
Graeme has helped many of OUA’s students to work through the stress, confusion and insecurities of university life, helping them to come out on the other side with an organised and strategic approach to taking on their course. For him, it’s about changing the way students look at a problem. If students are able to break a large task down into small, manageable chunks it no longer seems like the great impossibility it was at first glance. Graeme finds his role enjoyable and rewarding, and what he loves most is being able to dramatically shift a student’s mindset in the short space of a phone call.
Let’s face it. The word ‘university’ can be a daunting one, but that’s okay- Graeme is here to help. He believes his role as a student coach is centred on “normalising” the university experience. It’s not easy to attain a degree- in fact, it’s a great achievement. But for many people such as those who are the first in their family to consider university, it can feel like an achievement reserved for a certain kind of person. Graeme disagrees. Anyone who is willing to put their mind to it is capable of earning a degree. He believes that once people get a firm grip on what university is and how it works, it loses that intimidating, slightly ominous vibe, and becomes a normal part of the week.
Graeme’s job is to get students to that point, using ideas and strategies that help students take it one step at a time, one day at a time. Here is some of his best advice.
On managing your study load
Take it easy, tiger! When you’re starting a degree, Graeme suggests keeping your study load down to a minimum, even if that means one unit at a time. You’ve got to keep it realistic in your first few months of uni, because if you bite off more than you can chew, it’s likely that you’ll fall behind and start asking questions like “Am I cut out for uni?” and “What am I even doing here?”. You don’t need the added burden of self-doubt, so keep your study load manageable. Two units per study period is a full time load, says Graeme, as each unit requires 10-12 hours per week of study time. First time students are better off starting slow with just one unit.
On time management
Much like a tantrum-throwing child, a university degree demands a lot of your time and attention. On top of that, you may have an actual tantrum-throwing child, or multiple, or a full time job, or another hefty commitment. To avoid a mental fistfight over what gets your attention and when, you’re going to need some strategies in place for managing your time.
Using a calendar is helpful in both life and study, and Graeme suggests you mark in all your important dates so you can visually see them coming. One tip he often gives to students is to open the LMS (learning management system) on a Monday to get a bird’s eye view of the week ahead. If there are any surprise changes, you’re better off finding out on a Monday than on a Friday, when you’re about to kick off a jam-packed weekend.
Creating a daily or weekly schedule is important for people who lead a busy life, and it’s not just limited to study or work related activities. You can schedule time for all your daily activities, including spending time with your family, cooking, or even showering. While it may feel a little calculated (especially for activities that should feel fluid and organic) you will save yourself a lot of mental energy from day to day. For people who are extremely busy, this level of scheduling is essential to staying afloat. Plus, you’ll find that because you’ve anchored down your thoughts, you’ll have the clarity to give your whole self to the present activity (which your family will definitely appreciate).
On essay writing
If you’ve never written essays before, you can be certain that: A) they’re coming for you, and B) they can be tricky (to say the least). The good news is, it doesn’t have to feel like a hard slog if you know how to tackle it. Graeme suggests that before you do anything else, be clear about what the assignment task means. Ask your tutor if you’re not completely sure, otherwise you may find yourself going down a rabbit hole that is both time-consuming and irrelevant. To research your essay topic, you’ll likely need to consult online academic journals, which can be time-consuming to wade through if you’re faced with hundreds of search results. Learning how to search your library database is key, says Graeme, and if you restrict your search parameters, you’ll find that your results are much fewer, and far more relevant. Student coaches can help with searching, structuring, referencing and a range of other essay-related struggles, so make sure you take advantage.
If you’re being haunted by a bad exam memory, Graeme will tell you that you’re not the only one. He’s got a few tips and strategies up his sleeve to help students shake off that anxiety. He suggests that you don’t wait until exam time to revise your unit material- set up your own personal system that ensures you can revise as you go. To feel thoroughly prepared for exam day, you could access available exam papers from the past, or even practice the exam by setting yourself time limits to answer questions. One thing you shouldn’t forget, mentions Graeme, is the logistics around getting yourself to the exam. Consider transport, traffic and other such elements, so you don’t waste your energy freaking out over a late bus.
On keeping motivated
Working toward a university degree is quite a long haul, and like any lengthy undertaking, there are highs and lows. Motivation goes up and down, and focus goes in and out. If that sentence alone is making you dizzy, Graeme may be the person to call. He knows it’s hard to sustain motivation over a long period of time, but says that it helps to remember your original intentions for starting the course, to reflect on how far you’ve come, and to think about the prize at the end. When it’s just a short-term focus boost that you need, it helps to treat those little distractions such as social media, Netflix and hilarious cat memes as rewards rather than ‘anytime’ activities. Graeme suggests making a pact with yourself- when you get that essay in, you can treat yourself to a meal out with friends, or a decadent few hours on Facebook, no guilt attached.
Studying online may feel lonely and difficult. That’s because it sometimes is; but there are hundreds of wonderful people you’re yet to meet on your university journey, and a student coach should be one of the first new friends you make. Having a quick conversation with someone who knows the game like Graeme does can really work wonders. If you find yourself stuck, don’t hesitate to give the OUA student coaching team a call or email. Everyone gets a little lost sometimes, and coaches like Graeme will equip you with some tried-and-true techniques to help you get back on track.