how to ask for help at uni

This piece was originally published on the UOW Digital Media Society website.

Asking for help in any situation can be intimidating. It can be difficult to face the vulnerability of admitting that you can’t do something alone. But, the great thing about university is that nobody expects you to have all the answers.

When I was in high school I was sold a lie by many of my teachers. I believed them when they said that my future university lecturers and tutors would not give a damn about me nor my personal struggles. That to them, I was just a number, just another face in a crowd, just another paper to mark.

After three years studying a Bachelor of Communications and Media at UOW, I can safely say that none of this is true. University is supposed to be a place of learning and growth and the academics here understand that journey. They are our advocates and we can trust in them to do right by us if we put the effort in.

Despite this, showing up at an academic’s door to ask a question can still be a challenge. So here are some tips to nudge you in the right direction:

Send an email

Sending an email can be a lot less scary than asking a question face to face. When you write an email, you get acute control over every little detail from the wording to how you frame your situation. If you’re anxious about not communicating exactly what you’re issue is then this is a great option. Alternatively, using an email as a prelude to a face to face meeting can help lay the groundwork for an easier conversation.

Ask after class

If your main concern is intruding on your lecturer or tutor’s time, then asking a question after class can be a good way to get around that. Most academics invite questions during or after their classes which makes this even easier.

Make sure you’ve covered all bases

Sometimes you might worry about looking naive for asking for help from a lecturer or tutor. Often this comes from a place of self-doubt about our own abilities as a student and budding professional. A good way to combat these feelings is to make sure you’ve searched for the answers elsewhere first. This includes looking in the subject outline, double checking Moodle, and looking through your lecture notes for any helpful hints that might have been dropped by your lecturer. This is also a good way of seeking help without actually having to talk to anyone, so if you’re a hardcore introvert then take note.

Try asking at the Library

A lot of the library staff are students like us. They have a lot of knowledge about the best ways to research, reference and do all manner of academic things. If you feel more comfortable talking to someone who is also a student then the library could be your best option.

The door is always open (during consultation hours)

The consultation times you can find in your subject outlines are there because your tutors and lecturers genuinely wan’t to see you. They wan’t you to ask for help if you feel stuck and they wan’t you to have the best chance possible to thrive. I can guarantee that you will be welcome should you choose this course of action

So if you need help with your studies then take a deep breath and consider which path to take. The only bad option is not asking for help at all. In the words of Albus Dumbledore from J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts UOW, to those who ask for it.”

what I wish I could tell first-year me

When I was a first year BCM student, I thought I knew who I was and what I wanted from life. Looking back at that girl who used to be me, I realise that she was adorably naive. If I could tell her a few things, some gentle words and hard truths, then maybe she would have more effectively used her time at university.

Alas, I can’t do that. But, what I can do is share my advice with the newest crop of BCM students who may be just as in need of help as I was.

Don’t get intimidated 

If you don’t know how to do something then thats okay, you’re here to learn. Nobody expects you to know everything about graphic design or film editing from day one. If you’ve never done it before then TAKE THAT SUBJECT. I can’t blame you for thinking that everyone else will be better than you because they might have done it before, but that’s their journey. You’re here for YOU. First year subjects are designed so that even the most novice of beginners can learn from the ground up. Over time you will get better – so much better than you would have been if you just let the opportunity to learn pass you by.

Try something different

Variety is the spice of life. A diverse skillset on a resume will add some spice to your job prospects. So use those electives to try something new. It might be outside of your comfort zone, it might be something that you would never have thought to try… but you might absolutely LOVE whatever it is. Even if you don’t then you will have gained a new skill that will give your resume an edge.

Get help with your resume (the one you wrote is way worse than you think)

There is so much conflicting information out there about how best to write a resume. It is very important that your resume makes a great first impression because thats your ticket to a job interview. As soon as I got help with my resume my luck with getting internships changed. It was like a switch had been flipped and I was suddenly a desirable candidate. There are so many people you can ask for help with your resume – a careers adviser, industry professional, an older student or graduate – so please, please, PLEASE ask one of them as soon as you can.

Get involved with everything and anything ASAP

Opportunity is everywhere at university for a reason. It is important to understand that university is not all about study and good grades, everything that happens in-between also matters. Your best chance at getting a graduate job is to have experience doing something. Getting involved with volunteering, clubs, UOWx, and special events shows recruiters that you have initiative and a great work ethic. These experiences can also often be tailored to your professional interests and are a good starting point for networking. On top of all of that, they are so much fun and you can make some great friends. 

Attitude matters

The truth is: the more effort you put into your studies, the more benefits you will reap. There’s no shortcut to get around it – hard work pays. The first step to get the most out of each of your subjects is to have the right attitude. Each time you enter a classroom you have to be primed and ready to absorb new information and level yourself up. Even if you think that the subject is not relevant to your future. Besides, being enthusiastic makes even the most challenging or boring of classes a little bit more bearable.

Be an advocate for yourself

There is a lot of stigma around the field of communications and media. Many see us as inferior or insignificant, and this has been reflected by the Australian government in the recent price hikes of BCM degrees nation-wide. But they don’t understand. They don’t know how important our contributions are to Australian culture, arts, commerce, news and so much more. They also don’t know that there is a crap-tonne of money to be made in our field. So don’t EVER let an engineer or a lawyer or anyone else walk all over you because their degree was “harder”.

Things don’t always go to plan

Finally, you need to know that things won’t always happen according to your well-laid plans. Life is irregular and so too will your journey be. So stop bloody stressing and enjoy this beautiful, hectic time while it lasts!