Best Apps for University

It’s getting to a tough time of term. The deadlines are piling up, reading week is a distant memory, and the Christmas holidays are pretty near – but not quite close enough. This past week for the first time since I’ve been back this year, I’ve genuinely missed home – the home-cooked meals, having a kitchen you’re not afraid to walk about barefoot in, my dog, being able to have a bath, and my family.

The events in Paris have cast a shadow over the past week, but they have also put everything into perspective. Deadlines and early starts might be a pain, but never have I been more acutely aware of how lucky I am to be studying at a world class university in such a safe and tolerant society. There has been significant debate about why the world media ‘cares’ more about attacks in France versus daily attacks of a similar nature in Syria, but in some ways it has served to highlight exactly what current migrants are escaping from, and if that brings greater understanding to their cause it can’t be a bad thing. The more I read and hear about the conditions migrants are leaving, and the ones they’re facing now, the more grateful I feel to have lucked out on being born in the UK. In light of it, all our various complaints and grumblings seem superficial and almost offensive, but in some ways, they’re just the continuation of human life. Awful news fills the headlines most days, and yet we still bemoan burnt toast. It’s just the way we are.

I started writing this post a while back, and though part of me thinks it’s tremendously shallow, I thought I’d post it anyway.

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice who spends a significant amount of time on campus that apparently the entirety of the Exeter student body seems to live with iPhones glued to their palms all hours of the day. Even with my now dated fourth generation, I am no exception to this. This past term I’ve been carrying out vague investigation into apps to improve my university experience, and I’ve discovered a number of truly very handy widgets for the iPhone (and possibly Smartphones in general – I can’t say I’ve done my Android research) that I thought I would share here.

iExeter – FREE

  • This is bit of an obvious one I know (and not a university endorsed plug), but the Exeter App, despite it’s occasional crashing, is a good’un. It’s easy to use, and has direct links to your timetable and email, transport and bus updates, food and retail outlets on campus info, maps, and even a system of telling you how many washing machines are in use in accommodation laundry rooms. I did admittedly use it more in first year than this one, but I’d say it’s an essential for all Exeter students to download at some point and see if it’s for them.

Wunderlist – FREE

  • Now I’m sure there are plenty of excellent ‘to do’ apps and the like out there, but Wunderlist is a good place to start. I especially like it as you can sort your ‘to do’s into folders, and that as you log-in, it automatically syncs between your phone and a nice little widget on your computer as you add or check things off. It’s aesthetically pleasing, and for an added bonus it makes a hugely satisfying little ‘ding’ every time you tick a to do off. (I have friends who’ve listed things like ‘get out of bed’ and ‘have a shower’ just so they can enjoy that minor sense of accomplishment.)

Duolingo – FREE

  • As I mentioned in an earlier post, I made the somewhat brave decision to resurrect my AS French this year and take an FLC module as part of my degree. It has been a bit of a baptism of fire, and on the recommendation of a linguist friend, I started looking into language apps to try and get me back up to speed (‘Mrs Vandertramp? Subjunctive? I’m sorry, what?’). Duolingo was widely recommended (it won Apple’s app of the year) and my goodness I can see why. It offers a huge range of languages to learn, and operates by prompting you to do a little bit of practice every day. Through a combination of listening, reading and speaking translation exercises – all in super simple phrases – it has gradually built me back up from ‘le chat est gros’ to a standard vaguely on a par with my module. It has been really helpful to have on the side as a daily 20 minute consolidation of my language learning, is very easy to use, and I honestly can’t recommend it more to anyone wanting a language app.

Focus Timer – FREE

  • Focus Timer has been a new venture for me. I have a tendency to be an appalling procrastinator (to the extreme) when it comes to actually getting down to putting pen to paper for my degree and it was reaching a dire situation by reading week. Instead of vaguely faffing for an afternoon therefore and claiming I’d done ‘about 3 hours work’, Focus Timer encourages me to, as the name might suggest, genuinely focus. It essentially acts as a timer – it begins as soon as you turn your phone face down, and stops whenever the phone is picked up. As a result it’s handy to keep track of how long those little ‘breaks’ to check Instagram actually are. The app allows you to have different timers for different subject specific areas too, and you can also keep track of your week’s progress and make goals for what you’d like to achieve. Of course, time is no real measure of work achieved, but it’s a start!

1 Second Everyday – £2.29

  • Devised by Cesar Kuriyama, ‘One Second Everyday’ is pretty self explanatory, but for the real inspiration behind it, Cesar’s TedTalk on the project has over a million views. A one second video, every day, for as long as you like, with the aim to compile a short video capturing a brief snapshot of your life. I first heard of it when it was suggested to me as a student project for my blog, and although it took some getting used to, I’m now hooked, and am consistently taking a mini-video each day. Although it’s at a cost, I think the app is a very valid investment for a really nice idea. I like the fact that it captures all aspects of daily life, not just those special events you get the camera out for – but the dull days and the rainy days too. You can set reminders each day so you don’t forget, and at minimal effort, I think the final result is going to be a wonderful way to look back on how I spent second year.

Bring on Second Year

The first week of term has flown by already in an exhausting mix of 7am alarms for painfully early 8:30am lectures and evenings spent at various second year house-warmings. Despite being shattered already, to say I’m glad to be back is a huge understatement. I’ve missed Exeter so much – I’ve missed the Forum and the pricey AMT milkshakes, I’ve missed the library and the satisfaction of finding 6 entire shelves full of relevant texts to your interests, I’ve missed being surrounded by young people and familiar faces; I’ve even missed the hills. The amount of reading and research that needs to be done this term is looming and my housemates are already attempting to secure placements for next year, but at the same time I can’t help but feel bizarrely content to be back in the buzz and minor stress of it all. Summer, despite the occasional interludes of lovely holidays and travelling, was for the most part quite a long and lonely experience, and it’s so good to be returned to my Devon home.

That being said, I can tell a lot of things are going to be different this year, and my course is no exception. This term I’m in the interesting position of taking only two 30 credit modules; an independent research module called ‘Doing History’ and an Intermediate French language module with the Foreign Language Centre (FLC). Combined, I have the terrifying total of 4 contact hours a week. Four.

Compared to the structured set up of last year, when I was up on campus every weekday going to this Medieval History seminar or that Modern lecture, the lack of any real timetable is definitely unnerving. I have plenty to keep me busy I’m sure, but I’m a hopeless procrastinator, and am a little worried that my days will blur into successive weeks of ‘not much getting done’.

So, in traditional September fashion – the month of New Beginnings for the past 14 years of my life in the British education system – I’ve decided to make a few resolutions. Not all are work related, but hopefully they’ll give me some structure to build my week around!

  1. Play a sport

When the recent league tables for 2015/6 came out, alongside retaining it’s top 10 position, the University of Exeter was awarded the prestigious title of the Sunday Times’ ‘Sports University of the Year’. Considering my sporting participation last year (or rather, sincere lack thereof) I think it’s fair to say that this title is in no way thanks to my contribution. This year however, I’m determined to join the two-thirds of the student population who are involved in sport, across some 50 different clubs and societies, and actually join a team. As someone who has avoided the intense fitness-based atmosphere of the Sports’ Park and has shockingly bad hand-eye coordination at the best of times, this might be an interesting one – but I’ve decided the women’s Development Basketball team can’t be all that scary. So I’ve handed over the £70, signed myself up for some stash, and will be going to first training on Sunday. Wish me luck!

  1. Learn a language

Is this a cop-out seeing as I’m already signed up to do a French module? Maybe. But it has been a good two and a half years since my AS French exams, and despite my best attempts at being put in the Beginners set (Me: “Seriously, I’m not AS standard anymore, I can barely remember the present tense let alone the subjunctive”, FLC Lady: “I’m sorry but I simply can’t put someone with above GCSE standard in the beginners group”) I’ve been signed up to an Intermediate course. So, we’ll see how that goes. It will be nice to use a different part of my brain memorising vocab and butchering the French accent instead of trawling through history books, and hopefully it’ll come back pretty quickly! A language is a great addition to any CV as I’ve been told, and the FLC really does make it very easy to sign up, so I’d recommend it to anyone out there considering it as well!

3.  Go veggie

This is nothing to do with university as such, but as a result of a combination of financial, environmental, ethical and sheer will-power-testing motives, I’ve decided to give the whole veggie thing a try. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of meat anyway, and in an attempt to spice up my culinary repertoire (which is pretty limited) I think actively trying to be vegetarian and having to seek out new ingredients and recipes could be a good challenge.

4. It’s second year already – embrace the fact that The Future is inevitable

It’s the classic question that all final years dread; “so, what are you going to do once you’ve finished your degree?” but I’m determined I won’t be left rambling on about internships that may or may not exist or vague plans to take a year out travelling. That means jumping on the bandwagon now, and starting to take a hard look at life beyond university, and what I can do about it now. The most important thing in the immediate future is deciding on my year abroad (which university is most suited to me? What are the courses like? What about the weather? And how cheap are plane tickets?) but I’m also keen to finish my Exeter Award, get involved in Career Zone ventures like the eXpert scheme, and sort out a useful Internship for next summer.

  1. Don’t get too stressed.

Last year I started well, far better than I anticipated actually, but ended up really struggling for the latter half of first term. More than anything, my aim this year is to not let that happen again. I’m surrounded by a supportive, lovely group of people and I know my way around the numerous support facilities the university offers, so I’m in a far better place to face a new academic year already. I’ve just got to keep my head and not let it all get to me when the workload and expectation inevitably ramps up as term progresses.

This year as part of student blogger duties, I’m also going to have a go at taking a snapshot of my daily life here at Exeter on the app ‘One Second Everyday’. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and now I’ve worked out how to use it (just about) hopefully by the end of this year I’ll have a neat, little video summing second year up. Bring it.