Welcome to Economics!
This post was updated in October 2020, to consider the new global circumstances:
Welcome/freshers-week is here for most UK universities!
Usually in this period, we see universities getting populated with students, many returning, others joining for the first time. This year, not everybody will be able to come back due to the global pandemic. I understand this is not the best scenario and you may be disappointed about not having your dream experience. Don't let this upset you too much, we are here to support you.
First, let me say 'Welcome to Economics' from a lecturer's perspective. If you are joining university, very likely you are reading many of these posts. Generally these are written by fellow students, and university staff working on student experience, but I wanted to add few notes from the lecturer's point of view. You may or may not find these useful and my points may or may not add anything to what you have already read, but if this is useful to at least one student, I am happy to have spent couple of hours writing this. I spend far longer repeating these points during welcome week (and later) in any case.
This is mostly written with Economics freshers in mind, but it may apply to returning students and non-Economics students too. I try to be as practical as possible, but joining university can also be a very emotional experience and we can't forget this.
Just arrived to campus? Enjoy welcome week!Most universities, in conjunction with student unions, put in place a series of events to help you to find your way and settle in your new life. I can't give too much advice on what social events to join, how to increase your popularity or meet many people this week. I am also sure other students can/will tell you more about this. From the academic perspective, we want you to enjoy this week.
I understand that these events may not be what they used to: big parties, super social sessions with many new people, long queues to popular clubs etc. The rules about gathering together do not allow for this. However, you can still join many of the online events, and if you are living in campus you can enjoy time with your new flatmates.
Please, do try to follow the rules. These are set to protect us all. Increase in COVID19 cases may translate into lockdowns. I know not being able to socialise as we used to is not easy, but the alternative in case of full lockdown is not socialising at all! There is also the potential of some getting very ill. Let's try to be careful.
Of course the current scenario may add complexity and increase levels of anxiety. Remember that we are here to help, but we cannot help is we don't know what is going on. Talk to us!
Most places will provide you with a 'To do list' for the first weeks. Make sure you do all the admin part of this list by the deadline. For the ones without a deadline, just make a deadline for yourself to do it that is not in the first week. This include registering for a GP (medical practice). We know you may have a doctor in your home town, but is is very important to register to one near university. Registering to vote is also another important one.
Please don't miss the 'Welcome to Economics' event. This is also packed with information, but what matters is that you will meet the key people to the department so, when you need something or are uncertain about something, you know who to ask. You will also meet students from your course, which will be very important for the future. I am surprised how many students don't know anyone from their course. Always try to make at least one friend from every subject you are doing at uni. This helps when you miss something from that lecture/tutorial.
During academic induction events, I receive many questions such as 'what is the best module if I want to work in XXX sector?', 'what is the average mark in XXX exam?'. You will find answers to this, but welcome week is not the best time to ask and you may be overthinking some things. Also, no one will say 'you cannot work in sector XXX if you have not done ECXXX' (because this is usually not true), and the average for any module tells you only that... the average. Where you are going to be in the distribution depends on how much you work! Which takes me to...
As soon as the term starts, start working!As mentioned, enjoy welcome week but once the term starts, please do start working. What does it mean? Attend lectures, do some reading, prepare for the tutorials, meet your personal tutor, engage with the academic life.
The teaching week at university looks completely different from the teaching week at school. There are less hours of lectures, and some empty hours in the middle of the day. This does not mean more free time! It is important to maintain a work-life balance and find things to do that are not strictly academia-related. Sports, volunteering, societies are the typical ones. However, be careful on not to tilt that balance towards these activities as this may have a negative impact on your academic career.
One reason why students feel they can work less in their first year is that usually 'it does not count' (or count very little) towards the final degree. Many of your senior friends will tell you this. I met one student few years ago that was in the exec board of 15 different societies because more senior school friends were in these societies. This student almost failed Year 1 and had to work very hard to catch up.
I can tell you a number of reasons why this is not a good strategy and I really wish I could convince at least some of you, so I see less struggling students in May (during exam period) and September (during resit period):
- Even if you did A-levels Economics and Maths (or equivalent), the way the material is taught at university changes (and at least for my course, the content changes too). So before you notice, you are going to be behind and this makes you upset.
- There is a high correlation between Year 1 performance and performance in the following years. I cannot say for certain why this is, but I can speculate that if you work well in Year 1, you acquire good study habits, confidence with the subject and also with what you can achieve. Also, in Economics, the subjects in Year 1 offer the basics for subjects in Years 2 and 3. Many concepts that you will study in Year 1, you will find them again in Year 2 and 3.
- Many of you will be applying for internships for the summer. Some employers do look at your marks in Year 1 (after all, it is all the information they have about your university career), so poor performance in Year 1 may not look great in your applications.
- Same goes for academic references should you need these. What can we say on a reference for a student that, without any explanation, has done not very well in Year 1?
- Utterly important: You still need to pass Year 1! It depends on your degree regulations, but at Economics at Warwick you need to pass the core modules and get an overall mark of 40+ to proceed to year 2. Fail to do this and you may be requested to withdraw.
Time management is key! Whatever you organise your time, please learn some time management. The typical advice is to work 9-5 on uni stuff, and then feel free to do whatever you want with the rest of the time. Of course, not everybody is the same and some of you work better at different times. However, when planning your time, consider that most societies and sports events take place after 5 or 6pm. If you really want to engage with all those extra-curricular activities, consider what study patterns you need to change in order to allow yourself enough time for non-academic activities. After all, you came to university to get a (good) degree and this should not become a second taught.
Use the support provided
Economics departments usually have many students. Our department has around 600 undergraduates starting each year, and I have around 700 people registered in Macroeconomics 1 module only (I am involved in four different modules). I can't follow each student individually and see what is their progress and provide help when needed (as it was the case at your school). We ask students to take more responsibility of their learning.
First, understand the structure of teaching. Teaching is structured in lectures, small groups, and office hours (Advice & Feedback hours at Warwick).
Lectures happen weekly. The aim of the lectures is to deliver the key concepts of the subject. Before joining the lecture (usually online), please do revise all the asynchronous material available (mostly videos but not only). These go through the key concepts you need to learn.
I don't expect everything to be clear to you after the lecture and neither you should. Every module offers you a series of readings (textbooks but not only) that you can read to understand the key concepts (even better, you could read these before joining the lecture, so it may be easier to follow the discussion). If things are not clear, it is not your fault and it may not be anyone's fault (including the lecturer). You just simply need to ask for clarifications. The only mistake you can make is not to ask!
After the lectures, you usually have 'tutorials' (at Warwick, we call these Support & Feedback classes). These are small group sessions in which you go through a given problem set. The best way to make the most of this, is to prepare in advanced. If you prepare, you know what is not clear to you and you can ask questions during the tutorial. If you simply go there to get the answers to the questions, this may work, but you have wasted an opportunity to get feedback on your work and get.your doubts cleared. Very likely, these will come back during the revision period but tutors or lecturers are not really around during this period.
This year you can choose to follow the tutorials online or face-to-face (f2f). Online they will take place through Teams. For f2f sessions, you are requested to follow specific rules i.e. maintain social distance (2mt in the UK), wear masks, clean your working station, enter and leave the classroom maintaining safety distance. I am sure we can provide an enjoyable online learning experience and if you are worried about your safety, I strongly recommend you to opt for online teaching.
Most lecturers have put so much extra effort in creating resources for their modules. Many have given up annual leave and time with their family to prepare these. Many have spent their own money and resources to buy the required material to create these resources. Those with families and small children had to work in less than ideal conditions (i.e. with no childcare), no access to the office, not adequate working spaces, etc. This while facing increased workloads due to cut in university budgets which included firing teaching support staff.
We have done this to support students' learning and decrease disruption as much as possible. Be kind and be patient. The global pandemic is affecting all.
Second, look for support when you need it. Office hours can help (Advice and Feedback hours at Warwick). Every week, each lecturer/tutor sets two hours to see students in a one-to-one basis. You can go and ask questions. Whether it is about the lecture, or about the tutorial, you can always ask questions. Some of you think that some questions are too 'silly' and don't ask. There are no silly questions, silly is not to ask! Some feel that you should not use office hours when you have fallen behind. I would argue to use these even more if you feel you are falling behind. Sometimes, we can help you to get back on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed by all the material that you have to catch up. We can put together a plan and see how you get along with it, or I can point you to extra resources that may help.
Finally, take care of your wellbeing. At universities in the UK, there is not just academic support. Universities are increasingly worried about supporting students' wellbeing. I really hope you all have a great time during university and that nothing unpleasant happens. However, life is what it is and things may happen. Please talk to us. It is important to know what may affect your studies. Usually the first point of contact is your 'personal tutor' within the department, but there are so many other ways that you can find support. One thing that I have observed is that many students leave during wellbeing and pastoral support induction talks. I understand that you may feel nothing will happen to you (although you don't know this), but if you don't want to engage for yourself, do it for your friend. You will make many friends during university and you don't know when your new friend may need extra support. Knowing where to find this extra support for them may be one of the best things you can do as a friend.
For some people talking about wellbeing may not be easy. But if there is something bothering you, please do talk to someone. More on where to find support below.
How to communicate with your lecturers
This may not apply to everybody, but I have found that students may find difficult to communicate with their lecturers. Factors that may affect this: the change from school to university, the large lecture theatres, lower number of contact hours. The fact is that communication does not need to be difficult. Here some basic tips:
When you talk to your lecturers:
- If you meet your lecturer in the corridor/campus, you can say 'hello/good morning/etc'. If they only teach you in large lecture theatres they may not immediately remember you, but they will say 'hello' back.
- If you go to office hours, remember to mention which subject you are there for. I would really like to remember all my students from the lecture theatre, but I can't. I can hardly see who sits in the back. So if you arrive to my office and say 'in the lecture you said XXX and that is not clear to me' it may take me a while to understand what exactly you are referring to. So please specify which lecture/tutorial you refer to e.g. 'I am in your Macro 1 lecture, On Monday, we went through this concept...'
There is a lengthy discussion in academia on how students write emails and how these may not feel/be respectful (and in many cases show a number of biases). Without getting into too many details (the SSLC reps will), here a template on how to write an email to lecturers/tutors.
1. Dear [title] [surname],
2. I am a Year 1 student attending your [XXX] lectures.
I am a Year 1 student from Economics (L100), interested in attending your XXX module.
I am a Year 1 student, writing on behalf of the Warwick group XXX.
3. I am writing to ...
1. [title] Rule of thumb: 99% of your lecturers have a PhD so, if uncertain, use 'Dr'. Avoid Mr/Ms or even worse Miss/Mrs. You can also use 'Professor', not all lecturers are professors, but I doubt someone will be offended if called Professor :D
[surname] Just do your research. You have been told your lecturer's full name, so just look for it. Likely, this will be written in the webpage, teaching material they have created (slides, etc), virtual learning environment, etc.
Some of you are used to 'Sir' or 'Ma'am', there is nothing wrong with this, but many lecturers are not used to it, so try to use the pattern above.
Also, some lecturers in the UK are much more informal, so they will be fine with Dear [First name]. However, to be in the safe side, start with the more formal version until you get clear indication that 'Dear Stefania' is fine.
2. Introduce yourself. This is just good practice for any email communication and provides a bit of context to your question.
3. Give the reason why you are writing.
- start an email with 'Hey'. Some lecturers don't like this at all. It is normal among students, but just avoid it.
- ask vague questions e.g. can you upload the material? can you tell me more about slide 2?
- be rude! This should go without saying, but it happens. We want to work in an environment that is friendly and in which all university members (staff and students) are treated with respect. If at Warwick, this is a good opportunity to have a look at the 'Dignity at Warwick' policy.
A template email:
Dear Dr Paredes Fuentes,
I am an EC108 Macro 1 student. I cannot attend your A&F hours this week due to a medical appointment, and wonder if there is any other time this week I could meet to talk about the last lecture on 'Monetary Policy'.
Remember to use your Warwick email as other emails may go into the Junk folder, and we may be a bit reluctant to answer some questions to non-university emails.
Finally, remember to be nice and polite with everybody, including Professional Service staff (PSS). PSS people are lovely and really try to help students as much as they can. They love their job and are very supportive towards students. No need to unload any frustration onto them!
Finally... emotionsYou worked hard to get here and you are at university now. Congratulations! Whether you got in your first choice university or not. You may have made the grades for other unis, but they still reject you. We also have to reject a lot of students even when they made the grades. The reason why we accepted you is because we believe you are a good fit to the department. You may not have been a good fit for other places which means you may be in the right one after all! You are going to spend at least three years at uni, so make these happy ones. A lot of you are very happy indeed, and make so many good memories of their time at uni.
Happiness comes in many forms, but generally happy moments happen in good company; so make friends, talk to people, find things to do that you like and people to do these things with. Don't try to fit everywhere: that generally does not work and make you tired.
You may also feel scared. This is very normal too. It may be the first time you live on your own and you are away from your family and friends. Universities can be huge places in which you can easily feel lost and scared. It is possible to be happy and scared at the same time. Many of you are (even if don't admit it to each other).
This year more than ever we are all scared. Let's try to find positive things to think about and maintain a good spirit.
Some of you may also feel not happy at all. Maybe you expected something a bit different, maybe you didn't realise how much your life could change, or any other reason. I have met few of you who feel this way and if this is the case, please reach out. Find someone to talk about this. Don't believe you are the only one in this situation and this doesn't mean you don't belong here. Sometimes the start is difficult but a bit of help may take you a long way. If at Warwick, check the wellbeing services (or our pastoral support in Economics). If somewhere else, please look for the support your university provides.
By Week 4, when you are more settled, there are less parties and few more coursework, you may start feeling homesick. This also happens more often than you imagine. Call your parents/family, chat with your school friends to try to feel better. If you feel nothing works, please contact wellbeing services. A bit homesick is normal, but if this is affecting your studies and normal life, wellbeing support can help you to overcome this. If at Warwick, check here.
A bit of motivation? See graph below. In 2025, less than 1 in 3 people in the UK (aged 15 or older) is expected to have a degree (and the shares in other countries are not much higher). You can be one of those people.
With this, I wish you all the best for the new academic year!
This Guardian article explains some of the differences between school and university.