Advice for Second Years

The second year of Computer Science at Bristol is a tough one - here’s a thread of valuable tips from students who’ve seen it through.

Note to my younger self: advice for thriving in second year

Ok so if I was to give advice to my younger self what would it be……..hmmm good question.

Here goes…….Don’t feel overwhelmed. Focus on a small problem, solve that and find your next small problem. Repeat. Understand that not everybody gets it even though it may seem that way. The lectures don’t always relate to the coursework, google is your friend, stay calm and take one step at a time.

Figure out what you enjoy and be the best you can at it. You won’t always find every subject easy but when you find the one that gives you a buzz, take it by the horns and immerse yourself in it. Find a good friend to talk to about a problem that you are struggling with even if they aren’t on the same course as you. As you are discussing the problem you’ll find that things will become clearer, you’ll spot how to break it into down into bitesize chunks and usually figure out a simple answer and wonder why you were so worried about it in the first place.

Use your mentor if you have one or someone in the year above. If you don’t have one already (or want another one), just ask. They will have already gone through what you are currently facing and have come out the other side. Ask them for guidance, support or a gentle nudge in the right direction, maybe over a Dominos pizza in MVB atrium (I fondly miss their student discount!).

And finally, if you don’t already, set yourself a goal for something you want to achieve after graduating and finding work. I told myself that I wanted my name to be in the credits of a Hollywood movie before I was 25. I still remember the amazing feeling staying till the end of ‘John Carter’ and seeing my name up on the big screen. All the hard work and struggles you will have faced to get this far will feel so so worth it.

Sophie would also like to add that for the girls especially (but not exclusively) that it might be worth having a quick read up on stereotype threats She also went through some struggles in second year and wish she had known about this at the time.

(I hope it helps) and if anyone has any more questions feel free to get in touch through Caroline.

- Chris Priscott - Double Negative


Awesome advice Chris! A couple of other things that also sprang to mind: There’s absolute no shame in asking for help! Sometimes it can be really daunting putting your hand up in lectures when the lecturer asks if there are any questions and the whole room is silent, but Bristol has a really great open door policy with their lecturers. If you’re confused over the content of a lecture or a coursework then from experience I found they were all usually very happy to sit down and discuss it with me after the lecture - if nothing else I found that most lecturers just really like talking about their chosen topics of interest! If it’s too intimidating going on your own grab a friend who’s also confused (because there is no way you’re the only one, even if it seems that way) and go together.

Software development is a collaborative effort, even if it doesn’t feel like it at uni. When you hit the “real world” pretty much everyone accepts that open discussion leads to better developers. I’ll preface this bit with ‘Don’t copy each others code because that’s plagiarism and I don’t want to get you into trouble’ but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with closing the laptops, sitting down with some other people from the course and going “Right… What the hell is this coursework asking of us?”

Finally, find something you enjoy outside of your course. Join a society or two and give yourself evenings off - there’s more to university life than just your degree subject and besides, that error message you’ve been staring at for the last 6 hours? Not going to happen now. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to step away from your computer and come back to it later.

Second year was the worst year for me too. I never particularly enjoyed the hardcore theoretical units that we got taught in first and second year, and only really started to enjoy the course when we got to third year and could pick modules that actually interested us - there’s more than one way to be a Software Developer, and if one specific area doesn’t interest you then that’s completely fine, there are literally hundreds of other areas that might suit you better!

I also found this article a really interesting read:

- Tess Conway


Just to quickly reiterate some of the really good points made above! Ask plenty of questions, speak openly to your lecturers and try and get excited about the topics you’re studying. In my second year I had no idea what I wanted to do, I was on a joint honors degree (Maths & CS) that I wasn’t enjoying (and borderline failing) with no job ambitions. Second year was tough, I had no say in what I wanted to study. However, I knew making a move to Computer Science would allow me to study new and exciting things in my third year. A year later, it was a totally different story. I was in the middle of the Games project with a great group of friends and enrolled in modules that really interested me (mainly Computer graphics). From this point I started to have some idea about what sort of career I wanted once I finished at Bristol, and this sort of motivation really helped! So, what got me through my second year? Cider, hard work and a good group of friends. There was a core group of us all in the same boat, struggling along, but pushing through the year together. Of course, plagiarism is bad, but like Tess said, discussions are healthy and extremely productive. At the end of day, it’s all about understanding the problem, not necessarily writing perfect code. Getting a second (or third) opinion on something is common practice in my day-to- day at Double Negative! Second year is tough, but it gets better. Looking back at my time at Bristol the best times were in years three and four. So keep your chin up and power through!

- Ian Lawson


Everyone’s points are so true! Ok, mine would be: Definitely find yourself something to do outside of your course ( preferably something that takes you out of your working environment, so going to see movies or going on walks, join a sports team, go sketching etc.). I know what you’re thinking, there is literally no time to do anything but coursework, and if I ‘take a break’ I’ll fall behind. This is not true! It’s so refreshing to have something other than your course to spend time and effort on, and it’ll help you avoid burnout too. I wish I had done this, I know now it would have reduced my stress levels massively and also meant I would have spent time following other interests at university too.

Secondly, find someone within the department that you can talk to, your tutor, or Caroline, or anyone you feel comfortable with. You are not alone in what you are going through, and if you talk to someone in the department, they could help you if you are feeling overwhelmed. It’s also a good idea because then you’re offloading a lot of what is going through your head and this takes some of the pressure off. Even if you don’t like talking to people, or discussing any of the problems you may be experiencing, I would really encourage you to find the time to send an email or talk to a friend about your stress, it does help!

Thirdly, divide and conquer! Everything seems overwhelming, the never ending coursework, the exams, the looming deadlines. But break this down into your priorities for the current period and build yourself up a schedule. Look at a coursework as a series of goal, e.g. ‘Rig the model’, ‘Draft 7 slides for HCI presentation’, just small steps that will lead you to where you need to be. We all know what you’re currently experiencing, I have been there before too, so I would really encourage you to set aside time for yourself and break down your workload into achievable chunks. Don’t compare yourself to your peers, they are on a different journey, what matters is making sure you are doing what’s best for you. Make sure you make time for you and that you’re taking care of your health and your mind, I can’t emphasise that enough! Good luck! If you want to pass on my email, that’s fine too!

- Harshna Patel

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