University of Portsmouth's History Blog

‘Step outside of your comfort zone’: How to get the best out of your second year at university

Are you just about to start your second year studying History? This blog, written by Eleanor Doyle, President of the University of Portsmouth Students’ Union History Society, offers great advice on how to get the most out of your second year of studies. Eleanor is just about to start her final year.

My best piece of advice for second year is to be brave and have the confidence to step outside of your comfort zone. My second year at Portsmouth University flew by and although it might feel as though your summer was gone in a blink, second year goes by even faster.

One of the most exciting parts of second year is that you have the opportunity to choose the units you study and so you can tailor your degree to your interests. For me, this meant I spent most of my time flitting between crime and punishment in early modern England and social relations in London’s urban slums in the 18th and 19th century. While this might not be everyone’s idea of a great year, I really enjoyed the variety that came with these units. However, random chance meant I also spent my time studying post-war Germany. This was well and truly out of my comfort zone! I felt quite daunted at the prospect of studying a unit I knew nothing about, especially when I was aware most of my friends had a head start from their A-levels.  However, I am very happy to say that this unit turned out to be fascinating and I had some of my best results ever! My experience in this unit makes me convinced that stepping outside your confidence zone is one of the best things you can do in your second year.

When it begins, second year can feel a bit like a limbo between the nerves of first year and getting stuck into your dissertation in third year. However, second year is great in its own right! By the time you start your second year, you feel more comfortable with how seminars work, the way you work best and the types of things that interest you. (Although, don’t worry if you haven’t figured all this out yet, as you go through second year your skills and confidence will grow and you’ll realise you were better than you thought.) Also, the type of work and assessments you do in your second year give you a fantastic opportunity to get really stuck into topics that fascinate you. I wrote a blog post on Jane Austen using the surviving letters she sent to her sister, Cassandra, to look at how Jane understood herself and her world. Attempting something like this was certainly out of my comfort zone when I started my second year, but I can confidently say it was one of the most enjoyable pieces of work I’ve ever written.

Second year is also a perfect time to try something new or develop your extra-curricular skills by taking up some of the great opportunities around. I enjoyed being one of the University’s student ambassadors at our last Open Day and I had the chance to take over the department’s Twitter page to have a chat about my experience at university. I also took a big step and became History Society President and I can’t wait for the year ahead. However, there are also a huge number of opportunities outside the University that you can make the most of during your second year. I took on new roles in my job at the Mary Rose and took up rock climbing as a hobby! These completely different things really helped me in my second year because they made sure I took time to step away from my work and focus on something else.

Finally, second year is also the time when people start thinking about their dissertations. I found this rather daunting at the start of the year but I now know I was definitely not alone! I would strongly advise you to approach all the reading you do for your seminars and essays with an open mind, even if you think you don’t find the topic interesting. For me, this mind-set helped me decide to write my dissertation on gin palaces in 18th and 19th century London. This was certainly not an option I had even considered before my second year!  You never know what might inspire you and the earlier you start being open to new ideas, the easier it is to decide what you really like.

Overall, second year is wonderful. Like anything, it has its stresses and its deadlines but having the confidence to take it on and get as much as you can out of it means your second year is one you’ll never forget. My experiences across my two years at Portsmouth University have prepared me well for my next challenge: third year! Now I can’t wait to get started.

Good luck to everyone starting their second year – I hope you’re brave and bold and get as much out of it as you can!

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