A letter to first-year students

“Everything will fall into place”

Indy Ghuman, second-year student at Aston University, tells OT  about adapting to virtual learning and the importance of balancing work and rest

student journey
Laurence Derbyshire
After a demanding few months of online lessons, cancelled exams and grading challenges, a new cohort of first-year students prepares to embark on the university journey. With the start of the new academic year, OT has asked AOP student reps to share their own experiences and advice for surviving first-year.

 It was a proud moment, after studying incredibly hard throughout A-levels to secure my place, to know I was finally embarking on the next stage of life. However, the feelings of trepidation about whether I would adapt to university life, make friends and be able to cope with the intensive demands of the course soon grew.

I was apprehensive when starting university, as I didn’t know if I was going to make new friends. You often see university glamourised on social media, and you can be uncertain of how to navigate this unfamiliar territory. The best thing you can do to overcome this is to relax. Everything will fall into place, like a jigsaw. Just give it time.

Aston second year, Indy Ghuman

The first year of the course set strong foundations of the scientific and practical knowledge that is required to be a good optometrist. The practical nature of the course meant that in the second week, I had an ophthalmoscope in my hands, and was getting to grips with a fundamental part of an eye examination. This meant that I was never bored or disillusioned with theory, because of the exciting new skills I was developing.

I also found that through meeting fellow student optometrists at different stages of the course, whether graduates, mature or international students, it was rewarding to see that we all wanted to help others. To new students I would say, now more than ever, you need to step outside of your comfort zone and engage with others to make new friends. At my university there is a large cohort so now with limited campus contact, you might not get to meet as many people as you may have done before.

 I found getting to grips with a new mode of learning particularly difficult. What worked for GSCEs and A-levels might not work now. Rather than sitting in a classroom or reading a textbook, the variety of ways you learn new material makes it necessary to adapt. Particularly this semester, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, in-person contact is going to be reduced and getting to grips with online learning and resources is crucial.

I admit, it took me a while to find the right study style – even now I feel it is ever-changing. Ensuring you have enough time out is imperative, to allow you to grow as a person as well as academically. Especially in this next year, you might find yourself in your bedroom a lot more so it is also important to separate your study zone and your ‘chill’ zone. This is so you can switch off fully and recharge, otherwise you might find yourself burning out.

Most universities have declared online lectures and virtual learning a key strategy, with synchronous and asynchronous learning playing a key role. I know at Aston University, the optometry department made a comprehensive plan back in March 2020 which reassured students, with communication playing a key role in alleviating any worries.

Particularly this semester, to reduce the spread of COVID-19, in-person contact is going to be reduced and getting to grips with online learning and resources is crucial


I can say that studying virtually isn’t as bad as it might first sound. It is actually pretty handy to be able to morph your study schedule to fit around your other commitments and hobbies. However, it will mean that you need to be more organised when you plan to allocate your time. I know I definitely felt the days fall into a blur and lost motivation at times.

Despite this, I will say that I miss in-person assessments. There is something satisfying about leaving the exam hall knowing it is all done and dusted. The lack of practical work and assessment was a shame in the last term, but hopefully new alterations will be made to accommodate this moving forward.

To first-year students starting their courses this year, I would say: keep positive. The virus is going to accelerate developments in optometry and how it is practised. This will be reflected in the way we study and are trained, but don’t worry, this will lead to innovation and improvements in the long-term.

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