....Whilst keeping your sanity intact.
By Edwin Chen, Bachelor of Arts
EAGx Conference 2016
This blogpost is written for those new to GLP and based on my reflections of mistakes and optimisations that I made during local completion of GLP (with Merit) and what I’d do differently if I did it again. Some of the insights here have also been distilled from discussions with other students, GLPers and friends. I will be sprinkling relevant aphorisms through this article, which I want you to keep in mind whilst completing your GLP journey. Sometimes to get started on your journey, you want to “look before you leap”, so it is beneficial to understand the opportunities and hazards involved in the GLP project. Whether those challenges are external or internal, getting passed them is character-building and adds to your sense of achievement and self-worth. So persist through them, but do so with an eye to learning the lessons of life, beyond CV building. There will be occasional setbacks and disappointments with yourself and others, but remember this is common to all of us except for the lottery-lucky few. Through reading this blogpost, I hope you gain experienced-based insights of what you need to consider for GLP completion and avoid any major traps. After all, “fore-warned, is fore-armed”. But sometimes, you have to be in the experience to absorb the importance of the learnings.
First, remember your priorities in that you are at MQ to learn and complete your studies and that GLP is a bonus. So, identify your hard deadlines such as assessments, exams and tutorial times to build your time management skills. Remember to schedule regular reflections, rest and recovery times, and be wary of packing your schedule too tightly. I strongly suggest you include time buffers to deal with surprising events - as life is unpredictable and these surprises can be stressful, mind-consuming, time-consuming and energy-draining to deal with. Add this buffer no matter how long you take to complete your time at MQ. If you want to really challenge yourself, complete GLP with Merit and your studies whilst achieving a high academic average.
What happens when you pack your schedule too tightly is that you lose reflective processing time of your studies and activities. You find that you that your brain insists that something needs your attention and these processing thoughts can intrude on concentrating on other tasks . Thus, this can impact your performance and the quality of the projects you are undertaking. It is really easy to lose track of what is important in life when you don’t have enough time to reflect on your circumstances or experiences to learn life’s lessons.
Another thing you notice about yourself when you pack your schedule too tightly is that you start cutting things out when prioritising and finding efficiencies, and perhaps, are even severely tempted to take shortcuts. One efficiency insight offered here is focused around reducing cognitive workloads and in this spirit, try and do things in batches of like-with-like tasks to reduce switching of attention and concentration. Also try and get your GLP admin paperwork in promptly after activity completions as this will help relieve anxiety, give a sense of closure and progress when you see it approved. There is also less risk of missing issues with your activity when it is still fresh in the mind of co-participants. Additionally, it can be highly problematic if those shortcuts are social and communication niceties, because it affects relationships in your personal life and in the projects you are contributing too. Overall, this is counter-productive to you both personally and to the projects you contribute too. You need to remember that other humans are animals too and that you need to make accomodations for both your (and their) animal selves. This is extremely difficult if you are time impoverished, as human relationships require time and effort. This is an important realisation if you are trying to develop soft skills through completing GLP. Also, by over-packing your schedule, you can’t pursue opportunities for deeper and worthwhile connections and friendships that offer themselves during your studies or GLP. However, all may not be lost as the more mature connections you develop will understand what it is like to be young or new at this type of journey and perhaps, offer you other chances.
If you pack your schedule too tightly, you risk running out of mental energy to perform decently in assessments near the end of semester or worse, burnout and having symptoms of stress-born anxiety and psychological distress. Remember, we are not machines or programmable computers that follow the dictates of our “rational” selves and that don’t need rest. We are limited in our animal natures and thus, you need to make peace with these vulnerabilities and hard boundaries. And yes, humans beings as Homo Sapiens are animals too, but with most likely the most evolved brains on this planet. So, while you may be ambitious in what you want to achieve, do not be too hard on your self-expectations and accept that you are human like the rest of us. Welcome to the human species and the realities of the human condition. Further, understand there is no shame in taking time off studies, taking a lighter workload or taking longer to complete your time at MQ. So what, if you failed to live up to your ideals of perfection? This is common to all humans.
So look after yourself as your first priority, because you cannot contribute to projects and help others if you are overly distracted and dysfunctional due to your own unresolved problems. However, you may wish to still try to contribute even though not everything about you is okay and this is fine and speaks well of your intentions. But understand that you are a lot more effective in the long-term if you keep your own problems under control and work on resolving them as your first priority. Remember that reflections, rest and recovery, healthy diet and exercise are essential features of functioning wellbeing. When you are in a good place, your studies and the projects you are contributing too are far more likely to be of good quality and be successful.
So, I strongly suggest you plan and prepare your GLP sooner rather than later, and remember that, "Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Start off with planning a loose flexible timeframe over the years of completion of your degree that includes potential activities that you are attracted to. Try to avoid the temptation to pack it all into one year, whether this is earlier or later in your degree. At this planning stage, brainstorm and be over-inclusive and then when the start of each new semester comes around, be realistic around the workload that you can handle and be disciplined in eliminating the less attractive or unworkable options. Remember the truism, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” and that, “Good enough is good enough”. At the beginning of each semester, construct a regular schedule of essential activities that you can satisfy comfortably, then realistically pace your GLP activities within this structure. When you receive results at the end of each semester, do an honest self-assessment of how that semester went in terms of academic results, learnings of GLP activities and importantly, adherence to your values through your demonstrated behaviours and how you coped with challenges such as mental health.
To reduce cognitive workload, take advantage of modern technologies like calendar apps to schedule your activities and send automated reminders. I suggest you schedule calendar email notification reminders at 4 weeks and 2 weeks before major assessments. Used efficiently and appropriately, these calendar notifications will mean you don't forget about your assessments, don't miss appointments and any other essential activities, meet all the goals you have set for yourself for the semester, and do so in the least stressful way and not worrying about forgetting things that need doing.
Try not to schedule major activities or Colloquia within 2 weeks before a major assessment, this should be reserved for reflections, study, revision and/or assignment completions. It is better to get uni assignments (and the thinking around them) started early, rather than later or at the last minute. Try timing Colloquia participation for the quieter times during semester, such as within weeks 1-4, mid-session break, or the few weeks just after mid-session break. This may be more difficult with activities but can be done with creativity, planning and willingness to negotiate with co-participants in those activities.
If you have a procrastination problem when it comes to study and assignments, be aware that a major temptation in GLP is that it offers a lot of easy wins when it comes to feeling like you are achieving something. So you need to monitor this, develop discipline and if procrastination is bad enough, reach out for Campus Wellbeing support. Again, sooner is better than later.
Now to examine local activity opportunities - my recommendation would be to get involved in the MQ Peer Mentor Program, where you can potentially complete 70 GLP Experiential Credit points through this program alone [GL X23 - Mentor B (20 points), GL X32 - Mentor A (10 points), GL X16 - Peer Leader (40 points)]. For 1st years, start off by getting a Mentor to get a feel of what these programs offer to mentees, and join in later years as a Mentor, complete additional service and then try to progress to Team Leader. That leaves 130 experiential points to complete GLP (or 180 points for GLP with Merit).
Another fantastic opportunity is to get involved with Effective Altruism (EA), a global movement with groups in many universities and cities throughout the world that is coordinated by the Centre of Effective Altruism at the University of Oxford. EA’s focus is on solving the world’s problems effectively through combining reason, empathy and evidence. EA takes a scientific approach to societal problem-solving. So, part of the EA conversation is advocacy for focusing on 3 key concepts when prioritising causes to devote resources, thinking, time, energies and efforts towards. EA asks, how can we do the most good, given that we have limited resources? Whether individually or collectively? So these 3 core cause prioritisation ideas are, impact (or scalability), neglectedness (where “low hanging fruit” is more likely to be found), and tractability (or solvability). As an example, through the GLP, you can complete an EA Colloquium and 80 Experiential Credit points by completing a role as a Conference Team Intern - helping to organise EA Global annual conferences (EAGx) for the Australasian region (GL X20 - 20 points), being an Executive member (GL X15 - 40 points) of the Effective Altruism Macquarie student society and attending an EAGx Conference as a participant (GLX 18 - 20 points). You could gain even more than Experiential Credit points if you became the chief organiser of an EAGx but there is more competition for this role so it is harder to win. Overall, EA is a welcoming and inclusive community, both locally and globally, so don’t be hesitant in exploring and contributing. One EA project is movement-building - trying to reach a critical mass of problem solvers and contributors - so keep this in mind when evaluating whether EA is worthy of your attention. After all, “many hands make light work” and “the more, the merrier”. So that leaves 50 Experiential Credit points to complete GLP (or 100 points for GLP with Merit).
Did you know you can pick up a total 50 points by completing community courses with technical (GL X38 - 1o points), language-learning (GL X26 - 20 points) or GLP-criteria focus (GL X27 - 20 points)? And that this can be done quite easily, conveniently, flexibly and stress-free through free online auditing MOOCs such as edX, FutureLearn or Coursera? This is a great and low-stakes way to “get your feet wet to test the temperature of the water, before diving in for a swim” on projects or skills you are really attracted to trying out. For me, this was to confirm if Mandarin Chinese was really one of the hardest languages to learn for native Western language-based people (it really is and its tonal structure is totally alien to Western ears and mouth formations). Also, you can do refresher courses or explorations, such as introductory computer programming languages. Perhaps it is best to complete these during major breaks such as between sessions, or mid-semester breaks. All of the above, should you choose to follow these suggestions, gives you 200 GLP experiential points (or 50 points to still do if you want to complete GLP with Merit).
The rest of the points for GLP with Merit can be picked up quite easily (10 points here or 20 points there) through activities such as through MQ Careers programs, GLP Cultural and/or Innovation days, Conferences/Symposiums/Seminars and Foreign Affairs Speakers events, or completion of relevant MQ subjects. There is a weekly GLP opportunities email called Upcoming Opportunities and if there aren’t enough tempting ideas for you there, you can always approach organisations that meet GLP-critieria to see if they are willing to accept your help whilst documenting GLP activity participation. If you need further advice, GLP staff are helpful, inclusive, friendly and offer quality feedback and suggestions. So, don't be hesitant about asking for their assistance - that is what they are there for.
I hope you find this blogpost’s ideas, optimisations, warnings and tips helpful in getting you started and through to GLP completion. Importantly, try to have fun and enjoy your time at MQ and completing GLP. Try to make friends with other students, staff, alumni and/or co-participants in your projects. I have made some mutually-beneficial contacts beyond networking, which are developing into great and worthwhile lifelong friendships. Remember that your time as a uni student is rather unique in life and is unlikely to be replicated later. So make the most of the various types of opportunities this presents. Also remember that if you run into trouble then it is best to ask for help (don’t feel embarrassed, it is quite common) and that you have more than one shot at completing your university studies and GLP completion. So, do not place unrealistic pressure on yourself - particularly if circumstances throw a spanner in the works, or does this multiple times. Remember that it is quite common for people to face struggles in life, however the selfish norm is not to talk about these struggles. Perhaps we should put more effort into sharing these challenges and the lessons we learnt from them and help shift this norm - ideas for a future GLP blog by you!
Finally, perhaps like me you wish to test your limits, conventions and “received wisdoms” in order to better understand them and expand upon them. After all, these experiential challenges lead to deeper learnings. You may also be of the mindset that you want to see if you can rise to particular ambitious challenges, if only to test yourself and to see if you can do it. If any of this paragraph applies to you then I wish you good luck! But remember to keep things in perspective, that there are other worthwhile things in life beyond uni and GLP. Look after yourself, don’t be too hard yourself in self-expectations, and be careful!