At university, the onus is on the student to make the most of his education.

AS a child, getting up at 6am every day for years to attend school was never an issue, but once I was at university, I found myself struggling to wake up for 9am lectures.

Even the most goody two shoes student will find himself occasionally skipping a lecture, or not doing a non-graded assignment. University life allows the freedom to do all these things, but at a price. And it is a price many do not notice until it is too late.

The transition from the rigid academic timetables of secondary school to the relatively flexible and fluid schedule at university can be a

culture shock for many students. At school, everyone attends classes at the same time and finishes at the same time every day. At university, coursemates may select different elective subjects, optional classes and workshops. Unlike

a small classroom where the teacher knows every student and an empty seat is a blaring

siren that someone is absent, in a large

lecture hall a lecturer will not easily notice

truancy. It is not uncommon if only half the class

shows up for some late afternoon lectures,

and lecturers just shrug their shoulders and

start the lesson. At university, the onus is on the student to make the most of his education.

After all, one is an adult and has to take responsibility.

How does one stay motivated to study when there are so many lovely distractions? After all, one has the freedom of an adult: drive a car, work part-time jobs and earn money, all without the nagging and the constant watch of parents and teachers. How do you push yourself to be dedicated to your studies?

For me, the key was reminding myself of why I was in med school in the first place. My family was a huge personal motivator. Making them proud on my graduation day always helped me to pull myself together on my laziest days. I used to change the picture on my phone and desktop wallpaper to a photo of my parents whenever I was feeling particularly demotivated. When that was not enough, I would call up my parents to “confess”. My mother would nag and scold, and I would be smiling through it, knowing it was my fuel for another day.

Some of my friends put their family pictures and stick-it notes with inspirational quotes and daily prayers on the wall. You can put up a picture of a role model who inspires you with his achievements. Everyone has a driving force that keeps them going; find yours and surround yourself with reminders of that every time you feel tempted to slack off.

And there is no better reminder to work hard than hardworking friends! Avoid toxic people and surround yourself with good vibes. Peer pressure is intense, more so at university when you are far away from family and you spend lots of time with your friends. If you hang out with students who skip classes, plagiarise their assignments and go clubbing every night, chances are you will be doing the same things. Surround yourself with students who are passionate about their course, who fulfil their duties as students and are responsible for their education. Create a study group, hold regular study sessions; even once a week is fine as long as you are consistent. Have fun after studies, probably with the same people. You will find that they will enrich your university life and help you make the most of it, and you will be friends for life.

Reminders, role models and friends are powerful tools to help motivate you but your biggest enemy is yourself. Exercise self-discipline and manage your time. You do not need a rigid hourly schedule, but setting aside time for studies every day is a good start. Set yourself daily tasks that you can tick off for that feeling of satisfaction. I used to be obsessed with to-do lists. They helped me to focus on productivity and gave me a visual measure of my daily achievements.

Some of my friends used planners to keep track of their weekly targets and schedules. Another way to keep yourself on track is to reward yourself when you have achieved a target, or “punish” yourself whenever you stray. For example, if I score 80 per cent in an assignment, I will reward myself with a present or a weekend getaway. If I skip a lecture, I add two hours of studies for the day. It is a good way to hold yourself responsible for your actions.

Find the method that works for you but you will need to inculcate the habit daily to make it second nature. As a student, learning to be accountable to yourself and ensuring you make the most of university is going to be one of the biggest lessons you will learn. Do not let your time at university go to waste, enjoy it and get the best out of it!

The writer is a doctor at Hospital Enche Besar Hajjah Khalsom, Kluang in Johor. The secondary school national champion of the inaugural Spell-it-Right competition in 2008 is passionate about education and sharing her journey in medicine. Email her at education@nst.com.my

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