We’ve all had that one friend during our uni career who, either by attitude or behaviour, has been… less that helpful in our academic quest. You know the type: suggesting going out on the night an assessment is due, derailing group work meetings with the latest happenings on The Bachelor, relying just a bit too heavily on your study notes. The kinds of things you’re often happy to oblige in the moment for friends, but that really start to take a toll towards the pointy end of the semester.
If you haven’t had that friend, you might instead be experiencing a wave of suspicion that you are that friend, and are preparing to ride off into the countryside for the sake of your social circle. But there’s no need for self-imposed exile just yet. We had a chat with Alison Hillier, Student Transition Officer from Academic Learning Support, as well as a couple of students to discover the behaviours of supportive peers. With these hallowed techniques, you can make the uni world a better place, or at the very least a place with less end-of-sem breakdowns.
Beware Peer Pressure
Under Pressure is a popping 1981 hit from rock band Queen and David Bowie. Undue pressure, on the other hand, is something you strongly want to avoid placing on your uni friends in their time of need. According to Alison, there is a particular danger when personal relationships are intermingled with study of “being critical without being supportive.”
Many people react well to a little bit of friendly competition, but the key words here are ‘little’ and ‘bit’.
“You can be someone who challenges a person to do better,” Alison said, “but if that develops into negativity and putting people down, it can be very detrimental to peoples’ relationships.”
With that said, being around driven and supportive people who share your interests can do wonders for a person’s academic and interpersonal prospects. “My entire honours year was the most supported I felt during uni,” said Katrina, a newly graduated Uni of Newcastle student. “Even though we were all working on different projects I never had so much help and support from so many people.”
Hugh, another Uni of Newcastle graduate, agrees. “Having a tightknit group to just be there and talk stuff through with is super invaluable.”
Stick to the Plan
As a wise Professor Oak once said: “There is a time and a place for everything, but not now.” You might have lucked out with a team of close friends when it comes to group work, but when you have so much to talk about as friends it can feel like a 50/50 shot at being productive.
To this end, it can be important to go into group work with a plan. This can be something explicit like agreeing on an objective for a group meeting – and even coming up with an agenda if you’re feeling particularly determined – or more general mindfulness like being aware of your team members’ differing abilities and perspectives.
Some helpful strategies include “setting down some rules and guidelines early on, talking openly, and working out the different strengths everyone has in the group,” Alison said. By having a solid plan of what is supposed to happen during group work and when, you can avoid some of the temptation to spend the time merely as a hang-out session. Similarly, going into a collaborative project with a clear idea of what the group needs to achieve can also be helpful when working with people you might not know that well.
Get Down to Business (defeating Huns optional)
As much as university is a melting pot for social interaction and new experiences, it can also be considered training for the world of professional employment. Uni offers you an important opportunity to learn how to develop and maintain relationships that are both friendly, and able to get down to business when the time comes. “When you’re studying for three, four, five years in a degree program to become a professional,” Alison said, “you need to think about it as developing a professional network.”
“Developing co-operative behavior helps you in the workplace, so it’s almost a workplace employability skill.”
Think of the people you interact with at uni as the contacts and business partners of tomorrow, and the last thing you’d want to do is be remembered as someone who doesn’t pull their weight. According to Hugh, “Some parts of group assignments were glaringly obvious when people weren’t supporting you.”
Whether you feel like you’re not getting the support you need, or you feel like you could be doing more to be supportive of someone’s uni experience, the answer is the same: reach out.
Alison notes that sometimes a lack of support networks can be somewhat self-inflicted. “If you set out with the idea of not making friends because you’re worried they’re going to distract you, that can be one of the biggest dangers.”
There can also be a tendency to remove yourself from interaction with other students for fear of rejection. The biggest thing you can do is to make the opening line.
“It’s important to be open to the possibility of making new friends,” Alison said, “going up to someone and saying ‘Do you have a break after this? Want to grab a coffee and talk about the lecture?’”
On top of all this, there is a huge amount of resources you can access to learn about how to be a more supportive uni friend, as well as to forge those bonds for yourself. The student mentor program run through Student Central is designed to put new students in contact with senior students, learn more about uni life, and get their foot in the door in this new social circle. Learning Development under the Centre for Teaching and Learning has a number of resources for handling group work. Finally, you can also reach out to the University counselling services for advice on building and maintaining relationships during uni, and how to build a supportive network of friends and colleagues.