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final year

If you are a final year student in a hurry, it might just pay you to take a moment to sit down and read this. The most common problem a final year student encounters is stress. It comes in many forms. This page is largely devoted to avoiding stress and remaining creatively supple.

lack of time
Many students feel they do not have, or will not have enough time to finish everything. At the beginning of the year this is more an attitude of mind than a reality. Feeling there is not enough time, is different from not having enough time.

Here are a couple of remedies. Both require that you come to grips with the actual amount of time you have.

We all list things we need to do. Unfortunately, these lists by themselves can produce anxiety. They can be too long, and too detailed. Try making a “double list”. It takes a little longer to do, but is far more effective and rewarding. After writing a list of all the things you need to do, write a second list. This time, only include the really important items and list them in order of importance. Because you only note the most important things, your list will become shorter- and consequently you will feel better. Things like feeding the cat will still get done, you quite simply do not fill your head with that irrelevant detail. When you have done the thing at the top of the list, cross it off. This is very important. It makes you feel good, not only because you have done something, but also because you have done the most important something.

Make “countdown wallpaper”. Stick one piece of paper up on your wall for every day to your show. There needs to be enough room on each piece of paper to put the date and how many days there are to the show, plus space for a list of goals. There are going to be lots of bits of paper aren't there? Psychologically this helps because you change a feeling about time into a reality that you can see and deal with. It also helps you plan clearly. Use the "double list" method in combination with the “countdown wallpaper”. Plan your list(s) on the wall. That way if something you wanted to get done, does not happen, you simply move it along the count down. This way you avoid the stress of a"failure", because you can easily plan a "next time". It will also help save you making unnecessary repeat trips to specialist shops/services, by allowing you to see what is needed and when.

Plan some “playtime” too. This is important because it lets you enjoy both your work and your play. If you do not allow free space for your play time, you might start to feel guilty about "playing", feeling that you should really be working. Similarly if no play time is planned, you might resent working, wishing instead that you were playing. If both are clearly allocated some time, you are more likely to enjoy both.

All of the above depends on you fairly accurately estimating the amount of time it takes you to complete projects. It is a good thing to practice estimating how long a particular task will take. In the business, this time is the basis for your charges. At first it might seem a daunting task, but if you break it down into individual elements then it really is not that hard. If you estimate how long it will take to get your portfolio in order you take away the hidden disquieting feeling that there is not enough time and replace it with something real that you can deal with.

Supposing we were making a poster. We could break down the time like this: 1. Research and initial ideas. 2. Make roughs of selected ideas. 3. Choose the best idea and make artwork. Those areas could be broken down some more. The above will do for a rough calculation (you can revise 2 and 3 later if your chosen idea needs more or less work). Initially calculate in terms of half days, and be very honest. There is no point in fooling yourself into thinking work will take less time than it actually does. In fact, it is very energy sapping to have something take much longer than you originally estimated.

Some methods of working will chip away at your energy, others will enhance it. Avoid trying to do too many projects at once. This saps energy because progress is made very slowly, and almost invisibly. Go back to the double list method- do the most important first. Tick off your achievements, make them visible.

Try to finish projects by rotation. An ideal is to have one project at an early stage, one in mid development and one near complete (also see end of "second year " for notes on how do do this from the start of the final year). When you finish a project, it gives you a very good feeling that boosts you energy. Celebrate your achievements!

Beware of “substitution” activities. These are things done unconsciously to fill time and avoid decision making.

For instance, have you ever felt that you will start a piece of work... “after I have cleaned my room”... “after I have done the shopping”...“after I have had another cup of coffee”... etc. Variations on this theme are easily created. It is a good idea to remember the Chinese saying "even the longest journey starts with the first step". Put another way, you cannot alter something you have not begun. Next time is not always the best time. Do what you can today.

Do remember to sleep. It may do your ego good to stay up into the early hours, but ultimately it is inefficient. A law of diminishing returns sets in, where you spend more and more time, doing less and less. Sorry to sound like an aging grandmother, but you will benefit from going to bed and getting up at reasonable times. Likewise, do remember to eat. Not too much junk food. Drink lots of water and watch your coffee intake. Coffee is great, but also a depressant. If you drink a lot of it to keep you awake, ultimately you pay by becoming tired all the time.

If you become ill, seek medical advice. This may sound obvious, but many students ignore symptoms until they have got to a critical debilitating stage (we once had a student who nearly lost a foot because he ignored for months an ingrowing toenail that eventually went septic!). Please remember keep your personal tutor and/or your year tutor informed, they care about you. They can give practical help and advice if you are going to have to take substantial amounts of time out.

Stress can bring on psychosomatic ills. You can try to avoid some by knowing about their symptoms. There is evidence to suggest that often the common cold is really a manifestation of a mind asking for sympathy. It is amazing how many "colds" start just before the degree show. Short term memory loss is often a product of stress. Likewise "clicking jaws", micro twitching eye lids, unexpected neck, back and shoulder aches and an inability to get to sleep. Sudden bouts of clumsiness or "bad luck" can frequently be traced to a worried brow. However, if symptoms persist, see above “If you become ill,...”

Lastly on the subject of energy, here are a couple of tips on saving the physical kind. Most people hold their breath unconcously when they stand up. This hinders the simple act of standing. Try this instead, it works. As you begin to stand, breath in. This helps you stand up naturally and saves your energy. Do you ever find that your breathing increases as you walk upstairs? This is because you are asking your body to do more exercise and therefore it in needs more air.

Rather than waiting for your body to become short of air, try this. Before you start to climb the stairs take a deep breath. This prepares the body for the exercise ahead and means you are less likely to be out of breath when you reach the top. Simple but effective. Some physiotherapists say doing the above can save you 20% of your daily energy!

Try to be as adventurous now as before. Just because you are nearing the end of your course does not mean you have to become overly practical or plodding. There are no real maximum or minimum "pieces" of work, just be sensible. After all does an entire book design equate to a poster? You will know if your portfolios is thin. If you are worried. Ask your personal tutor for an opinion.

Finish your thesis early. Often it is left till the last moment, when really you should be producing your best graphic work. It is also unfair to expect the VCT staff to be able to give their best if they have to plough through vast quantities of late essays, you could also be penalized for a late submission. NEVER plagiarise your dissertation, it is easy to do and even easier to detect! When working on computer backup your work regularly on a different disk from the one you are working on. This might seem expensive, until you think how it would feel to have your hard drive crash and all of your work with it. Work has and does "get lost" in many ways. Backing it up is the only sure way to be safe. Use a variety of reliable methods, hard drives CDs and DVDs-but don't rely on USB data sticks-they have a bit of a reputation for suddenly not working.

This is a good time to delegate. If you are lousy at 3D, but have an Uncle or Aunt who is great at it-do some drawings and get them to make it. Don't waste your time typing your own thesis if your brother can do it for you etc. My father was great at cleaning things, a job I gave him at all my shows. That left me with one less thing to worry about and everything was always ultra clean. Use the assets you have around you, this will give more time.

degree show
First you are asked to put up your work for internal assessment (exact arrangements vary from year to year on this). You may be allocated some wall/table space and should you should also have your portfolio present along with all of your research. Take care and think creatively about how your work is presented right from the start. The assessors have to wade through a great deal of work - make sure yours is easy to get at, and clearly explained so they spend time assessing not opening. It is a very good idea to have list of all your projects with your folio along with short descriptions of each project.

The descriptions need not be long (about 250 words) - short outline on your approach, reasoning and if necessary explain the outcome. It is there to help the assessors not as an advert, so avoid superlatives about quality.

Try to make sure that there is one piece of work in your show that is, in your own terms, extra ordinary. So often in shows people forget names but do remember distinctive pieces of work. Prepare your portfolio well in advance of your degree show. It takes some time to do and it should not be rushed.

Generally, before the show areas are allocated so that students can see exactly how much space they have. Use this time to roughly plan your show layout in advance. This will ensure that you do not come across any otherwise hidden obstacles (for instance do you need power). Start to assemble a "tool kit" of things that you might need to put your show up. It might contain some of these:

Bluetac, masking tape, Spraymount, double sided tape, cellotape, glue gun, sticky fixers, velcro, lighter fuel (which is a solvent for spraymount and the glue on most tapes), box of tissues (for cleaning and weeping), a 10a scalpel blades, a Stanley knife (and blades), a steel rule for cutting, plastic ruler for measuring, set square, a tape measure, felt pens, pencils, string, wire, invisible thread any special hanging equipment. Computer stuff. Disks, CDs, hard drives. 3D tools. Spirit level, plumb line, pliers, hammer, screwdrivers, drill, drill bits, extension lead, plus screws, rawl plugs, nuts bolts, washers, cup hooks, nails. Lastly snacky type food (food, not sugar) and drink, a couple of plasters and some paracetamol, rescue remedy (you never know), a personal stereo plus quiet music can be beneficial too. Any other special items?

Make quick, but size wise accurate, roughs of everything you plan to put up in your degree show. These might be photocopies, draft printouts or even a pieces of coloured paper cut to size. Use these to plan your display layouts on the exhibition boards. This will both save time and preserve your work, as you can try out very many options quickly without fear of spoiling your best work/printouts.

A note here for those showing screen based work. Making a mini website site of your 2D and 3D work is a good idea, important pages from sketch book look great online. Load this on the assement computor-and make sure it works. You then can be sure that the assessors will not miss the hard work you have put in.

Do be creative and clear with how you represent your online/website work. It is a very dull and inefficient cliche to print out small screen grabs from browsers and stick them in your folio. Think of what makes your sites unique and show it. If you have burnt a CD with your sites on it check the sites all work! It the past, sites presented this way often have not. Don't forget showing "versioning". You could have worked for a month on a site and have only the final outcome to show for it. Keep stages of sites/multi media to show how it progressed. Some students make Quicktime movies, or flicker books of the work as it progressed this too, this can be a really useful tool to showing off your wares.

Focus your degree show on what it is you feel you would like to pursue in the future. The shows are now set in option groups, but how do you relate to that subject? The decision as to whether to have a general show or use all of your space for one project is up to you. If you do the latter you must remember to allow some space for your portfolio and back up work. Try not leave putting up your show to very last moment, no matter how tempting that might be. You must leave time to adjust it after you have hung it, because it can only really be judged once its on the wall. The show is, after all. a shop window of your wares. Take pride, and care about it.

The London Institute runs a Careers service, which offers one to one interviews, CV writing, job hunting strategies and a fortnightly vacancy bulletin. This service is available to all students and ex-students for up to 3 years-use it!

Last updated May ’06

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