This is a post for you. The you that came to Cambridge a few weeks ago and has now had their first full week of lectures and supervisions. Maybe you have already decided which societies' meetings you will continue to attend. And you probably already have a group of people to hang out with during breaks. At this point, you might be in the process of realising that while you may love your degree, reading thousands of pages on a complicated theory can nonetheless be exhausting. Now that Freshers' Week is officially over, you are expected to simply cope with the workload and find your way around a place and academic system that is probably still new to you.
When I was in your position at the beginning of the last academic year, I felt like everyone around me was doing fine and I was just drowning in work. That is the duck effect (yes, that is a thing!) - a duck paddling through water feels how it is struggling to keep going forward, but then it looks to the side and the other ducks seem to just glide over the water. In reality, all of them are paddling hard under the water to get forward. But we do not necessarily see others' struggles.
I wish someone had told me this at the beginning of my degree, so I am telling you now: It is okay to struggle with the workload and it is also fine if you are not always fine. Adjusting to Cambridge sometimes feels like being a deer in the headlights, but I promise you that being here will also feel magical. During my first year, I was not fine and I struggled a lot with my mental health, ultimately deciding to take a break from university to come back with a more positive attitude. I received support from the college than I could have ever dreamed of and they have proven to me that you do not need to be perfect. And now that I am back, I have really fallen in love with this place.
As much as I hope that you will not struggle in the same ways, I want you to know that even if you do, things will work out. And when you got through it, you can appreciate how wonderful this place is. And how crazy this place is - you can stop by Stephen Hawking's former office, grab a beer in the pub where the discovery of DNA was announced, or walk through buildings that look like castles and are older than the United States of America. Cambridge has so much to offer and it is easy to forget about all that when you are drowning in readings. But my best advice is not to forget about it - take some time out of your schedule on a regular basis to get to know the place.
And most importantly, take some time to yourself. Whether it is by writing a diary, taking yourself out for ice cream, re-reading your favourite book for the hundredth time, or watching your favourite TV show. My biggest regret of my first year is that I did not do that. But checking in with yourself is so important. And if you realise that you are not doing well over a longer period, talk to your tutor, the University Counselling Service, Nightline, a family member, or a friend you trust. It may feel like no one else is struggling, but you might be surprised how many people can relate to your struggles.
I wish you all the best! And no matter how close a deadline for an essay gets, put yourself first.
Lots of Love,
The wonderful drawing for this article was made by Kaitlyn Pyle. It is based on this photograph by Howard B. Cheek. You can find more of her amazing art on her Instagram page.