University of Portsmouth's History Blog

‘There are ways to make your last year your best year’: How to succeed in your final year as a History student

Ever wondered how to succeed in your final year and still stay sane? In this blog Nia Picton-Phillips reflects back on her final year of studying History and offers tips on how to get the most out of it. Nia graduated in July 2019 with a first class degree and is just about to start a MRes in Humanities & Social Sciences with us.

Nia with Dissertation
Photo by courtesy of Nia Picton-Phillips

It is often assumed that your third and final year of university will be the toughest. Don’t get me wrong, it was by no means easy but there are ways to make your last year your best year – academically and personally.

Although I graduated with a first class degree, the start of my university life did not suggest this result. In my very first personal tutorial at the beginning of the First Year I was asked to establish a goal: “to graduate with a 2:1”, I said. Well, finishing my First Year with a 2:2 completely dented my belief in being able to achieve that goal. Initially I was disappointed but as they say: ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ – so I began searching for ways to improve how I studied.

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room … the dissertation. The first grade you’ll achieve this year is from the 10% Task (Dissertation Artefact 1) and it is the perfect opportunity for you to gather the majority of your research. It is a small but important assessment and while it may seem daunting, it allows your supervisor to give you guidance very early on. Speaking of which, do not be afraid to ask your supervisor for help! There were many occasions when I felt I was probably bugging mine (sorry Mathias) but your supervisor has been assigned to you for a reason. They are only an email away so make use of their knowledge and advice and be sure to schedule regular meetings to get feedback. Also set personal deadlines to motivate yourself and stay on top of the dissertation – you will come to appreciate this when the deadline for the final draft approaches much faster than expected. And do not forget about the ‘Dissertation (History)’ page on Moodle. It is there to help you navigate and successfully complete your dissertation. Finally, relish in the pleasure of completing the dissertation and be proud of yourself for such a huge accomplishment!

The greatest advice I can give is to always start early. Whether it is an essay or the dissertation, give yourself the time to succeed. Not only does this allow you to keep on top of the workload, it also allows you to have a clearer idea of the task ahead. As a rule, I would start researching for an assignment a few weeks before it was due and this gave me the foundation to efficiently convey my arguments. It also made writing quicker and that bit easier. The same can be said for the dissertation. Several of my friends thought I was insane for starting my research for the dissertation in the summer before the Third Year commenced (such an exciting summer right?) but I had already felt prepped to do so by the proposal which I had completed at the end of Second Year. For me, preparation is key.

It is very easy to become stressed and overwhelmed so remember to give yourself a break. Manageable workloads and study breaks helped to clear any clouds of anxiety, ensuring I completed work to the best of my ability whilst maintaining my sanity. One thing I did to aid this was to make a personal timetable – scheduling time off is just as important as scheduling your work. I often treated my university work like a job in which I always tried to give myself the evenings and weekends off (and sometimes more) to relax and do things for myself.

South Parade Pier
South Parade Pier
Photo by courtesy of Nia Picton-Phillips

In addition to taking time out for you, be sure to socialise as well. It is a year of lasts for many of you, so take the time to enjoy it while you can. I know it’s early, but around Christmas my friends and I often went to the temporary ice-rink at Guildhall Square which made for the perfect break amidst all the pressures the Third Year can bring. Enjoy going to local pubs too – it is a great way to socialise outside of the stereotypical student night out. The visits to local pubs with friends have become some of my favourite memories of my time at university. Summertime in Portsmouth is even better, in particular with the sunny Southsea Common and the seafront. Nothing was more relaxing to me than sitting down at the beach, letting my stress roll away with the sound of waves. Finally, attend the staff-student social at the end of the year. It is a great way to celebrate with those who have shared this journey with you and believe me they root for you just as much as your friends.

Your peers will become a huge part of your final year, if they aren’t already. ‘Coach Phillips’ – this was a running joke amongst my friends because I was always on hand to offer advice, help, or just a friendly ear to bounce off an idea (I was even presented with a jacket with the name on it). You are all going through the same thing so use this to your advantage. Having people around who agreed or disagreed with my arguments helped how I felt about those points myself. If you can verbalise your argument or idea, you can write it too! University is a journey you take together and it is a wonderful time to experience with your friends. The fun you will have with them will alleviate any pressures you may feel and challenges you may face. I met some of the greatest people during my time at the University of Portsmouth. Cherish them.

Finally, don’t let the pressure of the future get to you. It is acceptable to not know where you want life to take you. But if you are one of the many who are unsure, the university has a Careers and Employability Service which will help you. From CV guidance, to volunteering and job roles, to recruitment fairs and careers advisors, this service will help you with narrowing down your ideas for life after university. They are also available to you for five years after you graduated, helping you to navigate life.  

Remember, the satisfaction and reward of completing your degree will far outweigh any of its challenges. So enjoy it, have fun and good luck!

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