How my academic story changed from average to cum laude

Having completed high school with low marks and staying at home for 3 gap years, a lot of people ask how I eventually managed to obtain my degrees cum laude and obtain various accolades. I wish I could give a classic copy-paste solution to overcome some of the challenges I faced, but everyone is different and there is no specific formula to tackle various challenges. However, in this blog I aim to provide some tips on how to avoid some of the difficulties I faced, and various adjustments I made when I got into university. I believe some of these lessons I learnt could be beneficial to young high school students seeking to pursue university education in future, or current university students that need to make adjustments to maximize their academic performance.

Apply for as many programs and universities as you possibly can

One common mistake that many students make is limiting themselves to a specific area of study or just specific universities. I personally had an interest in Pharmacy, and I applied for that area of study at only two universities. Little did I know that it was a very competitive space, and I could have maximized my chance of university acceptance by diversifying the degrees I applied for and applying at more universities. When one has lower marks, they could apply for a related program that a has lower entry requirements, then improve their marks during their first semester, which could then improve the chances of being accepted into the degree they wanted to get into. In my case, I started off with a BSc degree, and chose science-based modules that provided good scientific knowledge required for post-graduate studies in Pharmacology. In my undergraduate studies, I worked hard, and eventually graduated with high marks that allowed me to pursue post-graduate studies in Pharmacology.

Be watchful of the company you keep

There’s no truer statement than “you eventually become the company you keep”. One therefore needs to be wary of the kind of people you surround yourself with, as they will eventually determine who you become. The university is a social space, and you are bound to meeting individuals from different backgrounds. If you surround yourself with playful friends, you eventually become playful, and the opposite is true regarding determined individuals. In my case, having experienced the disadvantage of having playful friends during my gap years, I carefully chose the friends I surrounded myself with, and this indeed help to keep me inspired and focus on my academics. Additionally, it is important to have a mentor to assist you throughout the journey, you should check with your faculty on how to obtain a mentor, as some universities do have free mentorship programs, such as the STARS Mentorship Programme at the university of Pretoria.

Your mental health matters – take care of it

The university environment can take a toll on one’s mental health, it is therefore important for one to carefully take care of their mental wellbeing. Staying far from family, failing some tests and general academic pressure can all cause various mental health problems. Fortunately, Universities have free student counseling units to assist with mental health issues that students may be facing. These are safe spaces, where your issues will be kept confidential, and you can obtain the best assistance regarding mental health, I highly recommend that students use such facilities. Finally, for you to make it, it is important to believe in yourself despite the challenges or failures you may face along the way, a made-up mind is a powerful mind!!

I recently participated in a live interview discussing some of the issues addressed in this blog, you can watch the video here:

Am I different? I am a post-grad student but also just a young person

I know a lot of you think that post-graduate students have it all figured out. They have everything under control. I used to think the same thing as well. But it is not the case. We do not have it all under control. I know for sure that I do not have it all figured out. My life is not as perfect as you would think. I don’t think anybody has a perfect life. I go through the motions of everyday life like any other 26-year-old guy. I would like to believe I grapple with all sorts of issues, problems, or challenges that other people my age have. These include issues with romance, economic independence, and so forth.  Today I am just going to share in passing my romance journey.

I have a grandmother who is in her late 70s. She is a typical grandmother with typical elderly comments every time I give a call or visit her. I last saw her recently during the Easter holidays and she asked me two questions that I did not know how to answer. The first was “where is your wife, or at least a lady friend”. The second was “and what about kids”.  These are the two most annoying questions, and I just cannot bring myself to tell her that romance-wise it is just not working out for me. I know if I say that she would probably say “it is because of the big books you are always reading and that computer you treasure so much”.

And that is the problem, romance is not working out for me. I do not think it is my fault though. I buy roses and chocolates, open the door for her, hold her hand in public and I always text “good morning/night”. I think of myself as modern gentleman, if there is such of course.  However, it seems there is always something I do wrong or just cannot get right. I am not sure if it’s the fact that I am 26-year-old man who sill watches WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) or there is something else. But then come to think of it, no woman can stand a 26-year-old man who still watches WWE and gets sad when his favourite wrestler loses a match. I am not sporty and WWE bridges that gap for me, but it is just a lot for her to understand.

My point is, there is nothing “different” when you are an academic. The truth is we are all still human. I feel what others feel. I do what others do. Do I go partying? Yeah, I do.  I also like paintball shooting and quad bike riding, it is super nice. Most of the time I enjoy the company of those who are not academics. It is in this company that I get to take off my academic helmet and engage in debates about what really affects us and how can our societal problems be addressed.  Most importantly I get in touch with the truth. Those who are not guided by academic code of conducts but are yet still morally upright always remind me that at the end of the day, I belong to a community of different people with different hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It reminds me that there is more to life than sitting on my laptop the whole day and thinking about academic conferences, journal publications and critical theories. It keeps me in touch with the fact that not everything can be solved through academic research and approaches and not everything is taught and theorised. All these reminds me that, we are all human at the end of the day.