A survival guide: transitioning from high school to university

You're now part of the UNSW Engineering community!

You’re excited about the possibilities of starting your career, getting a fantastic pay packet and living the high life. But before that there’s a big mountain to climb  - uni itself.

In 2010 I remember jumping online at 8:30pm to see my university offer – the stress of 12 months of HSC all came down to this very moment. To say I was ecstatic would be an understatement. I ran to the bookshop and recall purchasing every textbook, made sure I had stocked up on the finest stationery, and there was my student ID card that I would flash in front of all my mum’s friends.

My not so perfect first day

Then came the first day. Navigating bus routes to make sure I was on time for my first ever 9am lecture was no easy feat. It was my first experience of peak hour and I was shattered that I was 20 minutes late! Then there was the unfamiliar journey from lower campus to upper campus; it was not like walking across the school yard to get to another class, and to make it worse, loneliness had started to set in. My perfect start had been ruined and the realisation that there would be at least five more years – half a decade – was starting to sink in.

With confidence came tenacity and the courage to take on responsibilities, one of which was becoming the President of the Biomedical Engineering Student Society. This was a step I could only have taken with the backing of my friends, who encouraged me to do so because they thought it would be “cool” and an “opportunity for power”.  Although I had little experience in steering a committee, the challenges involved are not as big as you would imagine; yes, it is a lot of management but it is not like heart surgery and did not come with the dangers of driving a car. It was an opportunity to build my network of people in the Faculty and in industry. It also let me get to know the students in Biomedical Engineering, what their needs were and what they wanted to see happen.

Biomedical Engineering Graduate, Zeina Tebbo

After having worked out the technicalities of Moodle and Zmail, I came across peer support, a group of first years coming together to talk. It was a great help. When you hear about everyone else’s struggles and difficulties, it is a chance to reflect, to realise you aren’t alone and, to this day, it is probably the reason why I became more confident in approaching people and asking questions, and the catalyst for meeting all my friends on campus.

Finding support networks

Probably as a result of my loneliness in first year, my vision was to create a more inclusive environment and that was enough to partner with Dr Lauren Kark to kick start the first Australian chapter of Engineering World Health. EWH has been a great way to build team spirit and utilise engineering skills to help improve the living conditions of people in the developing world, in countries like Cambodia, Laos and Honduras. 

There were two streams with EWH: an educational stream where we designed and published educational resources to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and; a technology stream to build low-cost medical devices that can be mass-produced. 

At the start, Lauren and I thought we would use this as an experiment to see how students take on the ideas. However, after our first launch party, we were equally surprised and happy at how well it took off.  The first year proved to be a success, with the launch of our mathematics text book and ranking third place in a global design competition (congratulations to Nathan on great leadership!). I think it is a safe bet that EWH will continue to grow to become an exciting and rewarding student-led society.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone at uni is to have balance. Balance work, study, extracurricular activities and a social life. It is what employers look for

Zeina Tebbo

The realities and my advice

If you don’t arrive on time then so be it. Arriving at 9am was still a task I failed to master in my final year of university. Also, don't be disappointed if you're not scoring 100% like you did in school. It's a big leap from high school to uni. Like any first thing that you experience, there may be feelings of fear, stress, anger, occasional disappointment but eventually the feelings of triumph, achievement, happiness and pride will follow through.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone at uni is to have balance. Balance work, study, extracurricular activities and a social life. It is what employers look for.

Make the most of what university has to offer you, aside from the quality education, the friends that you make and the people you meet, it all adds to the richness of your experience and will shape you in ways you would have never thought.

To get involved with UNSW Engineering World Health student-led society send them an email or talk to the very friendly Dr Lauren Kark at the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering.  

It is free, great for your resume, there is international travel, and it’s stacks of fun.

-     Zeina Tebbo, Biomedical Engineering Graduate

We need your help! If you have any interesting stories or experiences from university that you would like to share with your fellow engineering students, please send us an email. Published articles will receive a $70 Visa voucher.

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