On a Wednesday evening at the end of August, four student influencers and leaders took time out of their busy schedules - in the midst of practical placements for their degrees - to speak to an audience of hundreds tuning in to hear their diverse perspectives. The event - "Connection and Balance at University - a National Student Forum" was the first of its kind, bringing together these student speakers and audience to unpack some of the biggest topics students are concerned with in 2022.
The panel consisted of
- Jean-Baptiste (JB) Philibert, a fourth-year medical student at WSU, and Chair of the National Rural Health Student Network, who chaired the session
- Greta Gercovich, studying Psychology in her sixth (and final) year at UNE
- Zeenath (Zee) Zareen, studying Education with Swinburne Online
- Kavan Patel, studying Nursing at ECU
Registered for this panel were over 600 students from 76 different institutions, mostly in Australia, but also New Zealand, the UK, Singapore and Canada. The session was recorded, and you can watch the full 45 minutes here:
We also wanted to share some of the key themes and insights from the event, and how setting aside this time for a student-led panel created a space for more connection and open discussion that students don't normally have.
Balance, the juggle, and time management
The biggest theme was definitely the time management or 'balance' aspect, which is unsurprising when according to recent research, 78% of students are juggling study with some form of paid employment too. Tips around time management was the most common area students wanted to ask the panel about upon registration. So JB kicked things off by asking the panel what their best advice for time management were.Greta said that in her six years of studying, she has managed to develop various strategies and learned from her mistakes along the way. She talked about the importance of putting solid boundaries in place around your work vs your studies, even having that difficult conversation with your employer potentially, if you're able to. She also talked about having (and sticking to) a schedule of when things are due.
"For me, making a schedule of the specific assignments that I have due throughout the semester and having that from the very beginning really helped set up the time that I was dedicating toward different activities throughout the week."
In fact, Greta made a TikTok about this very schedule not long ago, and generously created a downloadable PDF template for attendees of the session to receive for free. 🙌
Zee admitted that she feels she has 'made every mistake possible' in her study journey, to get to a place now where she feels on top of things. As a mum with a young family, when she signed up to study she felt very out of her depth. But Zee's biggest learning was around open communication with her family and workplace, as well as asking for help. So again making sure that her family knew where her priorities were and what she needed at any given time.
Kavan admitted that he finds it difficult having too much on his plate. He was playing four different sports, as well as going to the gym, social life and catching up on lectures. One approach he learnt over the years was to 'trim the fat' off his schedule - drop the things that he didn't feel strongly about doing, and prioritise study and activities that made him more satisfied. JB agreed that it is difficult, but necessary, to say "no" to some things.
One person in the chat, Shehed, said "I use this productivity method - There’s 24 hours a day so I divide my time by 3. So, 8 hours of study, 8 hours of “life”, 8 hours of sleep. 🙂" Another attendee, Louise, wrote "I love the pomodoro technique. It's great for overcoming procrastination."
Stress management and self-care
The second most popular topic students wanted addressed was managing stress and avoiding burnout. Greta kicked things off by saying that her boundary-setting and scheduling practice was key to avoiding stress, because those things are what make sure you don't feel overwhelmed by study. She also mentioned the importance of tapping into your university's free resources, as they all have services available like counselling, mental health support, GPs you can access at a subsidised rate, and more.
"So in the same way that you might utilise Studiosity for your assignments, utilise the health services that are available too because they're there for you."
When it comes to self-care, Greta emphasised the importance of scheduling time for yourself, making sure you're taking that time each day or week to do things just for your own mental health too, whether it be getting a massage or taking yourself out to dinner, just taking time off study.
Kavan's strategy was around exercise, and taking half a day on Sunday every week to just do a stress-relieving activity, whether it is the beach or a martial arts class. He also suggested writing down everything instead of allowing things to build up in your brain - writing them down means you can stop thinking about them and come back when your mind is rested.
JB then mentioned that while those were all great tips, not everyone has the luxury of all that extra time, for example parents of very young children who are also studying. He called upon Zee to share her tips for time management when there's not really such a thing as "spare time".
Without missing a beat, Zee explained a technique she learnt from listening to Jay Shetty's podcast. Tiny moments - taking just one minute each day to "take your brain outside" (even if that's just looking out a window), take a deep breath, have a sip of water, and count to five.
"It really helped me when I had those full-on days, having those really tiny moments just to have this mindfulness and restore myself. If you do it every day for a week, those little moments actually really count."
She explained that this technique is what worked for her, but the important part is really figuring out what 'self-care' looks like for you, and then finding a way to do it every day.
A comment was then made in the chat: by Sandra: "Thanks for sharing …Sometimes I feel bad if I take some rest from work and studies 😢"
Connection with others, and with the uni
The next big theme the panel discussed was making the most of your university experience. Universities can be complex systems, with lots of options. So the question was post, what are unis doing to help students in 2022 have the best experience?
The first perspective, from Greta, was that what students want from uni might change over time. As a high school leaver or first year undergrad, you might be most interested in socialising, clubs, travel, sports and events, but a mature student may have a different mindset, and simply have the finish line in sight. She reiterated the importance of taking advantage of your university's support systems. In the chat,
"Now I'm like, yeah, I will be making the most of whatever university has to offer."
In the chat, Jinh-oh said "Totally agree with Greta. My first time at Uni was 20 years ago. I'm going through a sea change. This time my approach to uni is very different. For me it's all about engagement and using all the services available. Especially because I'm fully online."
JB gave his perspective too: "I went from being a first-year rep on a small student club to now being the Chair of a national student organisation with 12,000 members. And I found that was something that really connected me because I connected with people from across Australia in different universities that had the same interests as me. So mine is rural health, but it could be anything and I think that's a really cool way if you're feeling maybe a bit like lost or not connected to your class or your uni or whatever, that you can kind of reach out."
When asked about the online experience and connection, Zee said that the extra flexibility afforded from studying 100% online was very valuable to her. That she can study from the couch, and that the subject choices are also flexible so you can study what you really want to. She also said that Swinburne Online have excellent support staff who have helped her immensely.
A quick poll of the audience revealed the popular preference:
In your opinion, what's best?
In the chat, Jillanne said "I used to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, studying on campus, however, online has been study therapy for me. I have learned a new way to achieve my dream through online study at Swinburne [Online]. I have been producing some great work online. I use Studiosity as my gospel."
Academic integrity and plagiarism
Reflecting on the new legislation in Australia, and universities' management of cheating and plagiarism, the panel had limited knowledge about the sector's struggles in this area. In terms of how it affects students, Kavan spoke candidly about the importance of correctly referencing and citing anyone else's work, using a smart analogy about "complimenting the chef". The chat was filled with compliments for his clever perspective.
"Librarians are epic", was a follow-up statement from JB, who told the audience to definitely make use of their university libraries and resources, and learn what systems for referencing are available. Zee also mentioned that she had to train herself on how to paraphrase, because the education system she grew up in didn't have that kind of academic writing structure.
Interestingly, a student asked in the chat whether people use 'paraphrasing websites' for their assignments - and another student, Steph, quickly responded: "try paraphrasing yourself, see your library for grammar/literacy skills, or try the [specialists] at Studiosity, they really helped me format my writing when I had a very limited word count for a report". A great example of students helping each other to do the right thing.
The very best study tips and advice
Another highly-requested topic from students was tackling assignments and academic writing. Greta's advice was to start, just start. Even if all you do is dedicate 5 minutes to just create the title page, put your name, subject, date on it - start it. Momentum can build from even the smallest of steps.
Kavan's approach was similar: "I view the assignment as like a big big big wall, and take a chisel and hammer and start chipping away at it. I take the title page. I like to read the assessment outlines and just highlight and underline the main things that I have to discuss. Go to the rubric, what are they looking for an start finding articles."
When JB asked, Zee said that she reads her assignments out loud to herself (an excellent habit), and that she uses Studiosity a lot for feedback.
"My first assignment I only got 60. Then I started using Studiosity. What I did is, with every feedback, I highlight the most important part of the feedback and I screenshot them, print out them and I have like this whiteboard I stick things - and that's how I built my own self up. Because I'm in an online platform and I can't talk to people. So having, and like really listening to Studiosity feedback actually improved me and I got 87 for my last assignment."
After celebrating her amazing result, JB also echoed Zee's sentiments, saying that practice makes perfect and if you don't do amazingly well on your first assignment, that's fine (and normal), but the more you do it, the better you'll get.
The attendees were shown a quick poll about what the hardest parts of academic writing are, and their responses were varied:
Which parts of academic writing are the hardest?
Structure was the biggest area of difficulty, and certainly one of the most focused areas students can get feedback on with Studiosity. It's also the area you should address first when editing and proofreading your own work.
In the chat, students were also making recommendations to each other on books and ways to improve their academic writing.
Final advice from panelists - take care of yourself
After a little bit of live Q&A with the attendees, the 45 minutes came to a close. JB asked each panelist to give their final thoughts. Greta said look after yourself:
"University is not always an easy thing to be doing ... so the least you can do is be kind to yourself along the journey. Because you're trying to better yourself through education, so you're already doing something amazing for yourself in that sense. Keep at it."
The message from Kavan was, it's okay to fail:
"It's okay, I've failed, I've been given things to work on and and I've been working on it. So it's fine to fail, but definitely keep your mental health, which is a big component of how well you do in your degree. So keep it up."
And from Zee, the importance of asking for help:
"Just ask for help. Not every day is going to be the same, maybe some days you're just going to think this is a very silly question, but no question is a silly question. Just put yourself out there and ask for help."
JB then closed the session with a reminder that the very best place to go looking for help is within your university systems - Blackboard, Moodle, whatever the platform is. Those are the spaces where you'll find Studiosity, your PASS program, library databases, and more.
It's clear from the high registration numbers and levels of engagement in this session that there is a large appetite for these kinds of events from students, helping each other out, and finding connection with like-minded people.
In the post-session survey, we asked students what their 'biggest learning or takeaway' was, and the two main themes that came out were around "a feeling that I am not alone", as well as the useful study tips. 90% said they would be very likely to attend a similar event in future.
So future student-led events could be more focused on specific areas that students are requesting, such as connection with university services, researching or referencing specifically, or time management.
And of course, for fast ethical feedback today, students can log in to their university's Studiosity service :