Agung Bate graduated from the University of Exeter in 2019 with a 1st in B.Sc. (Hons) Medical Sciences, and is now studying BMBS Medicine at the University of Exeter Medical School. He is currently a student representative for Grand Challenges. Due to COVID-19, Grand Challenges has been running as an online programme Challenges Online since last year.
This post will focus on my experience doing Grand Challenges and getting involved with social issues and multidisciplinary teamwork. For those who do not know, Grand Challenges is an event run by the University in the summer which aims to bring together students from across the whole University, from all sorts of degrees, to start conversations around social issues facing current society. It aims to spark new and innovative ideas for solutions to these challenges. The goal of this event is to come up with a project which address an aspect of these global challenges, with a team of students from various degrees. I took part in the Mental Health Challenge in 2018, and the Climate Change Challenge in 2019.
Some of you might have heard about Grand Challenges before, either through emails, or leaflets around campus. The majority of the identified benefits are centred around allowing you to develop skills which aid in employability; things such as communication skills, presentation skills, negotiation skills and flexibility. However, I want to talk to you about one thing which ties all these together, being core to all your skills and you as an individual: confidence. This is something which many people say they have developed as a result of Grand Challenges, and in my case, doing Grand Challenges was a turning-point for my confidence.
“Amongst other things, meeting so many ambitious people at Grand Challenges and having so many opportunities available to me during the week made something click for me.”
Confidence means something different to everyone, but to me, it has been something which I have troubled with throughout my life, and still struggle with. Due to troubles I experienced within the family household from an early age, I developed a fear of doing things wrong and ‘making a fuss’, leaving me feeling alone and vulnerable throughout childhood. Amongst other things, meeting so many ambitious people at Grand Challenges and having so many opportunities available to me during the week made something click for me. It made me realise the only limit to you doing things are yourself, and the following three somewhat-rogue lessons I have learnt from doing Grand Challenges hopefully might resonate with some of you.
The confidence to speak your mind
When coming to the initial group meeting with my group in Grand Challenges, I was a mixture of being nervous and excited. I had all these ideas which I wanted to talk about, but I was scared that my thoughts were similar to everyone else’s, and that what I wanted to say wasn’t particularly interesting or unique and hence felt that it would be a waste of time to contribute it. However, I quickly found out that this was not the case, and rather everyone was interested in what I had to say. This was a classic example of knowledge bias, where things which you perceive as ‘obvious’ can be a completely new and insightful way of looking at things, and it something which many people who lack confidence can be a victim of.
Doing Grand Challenges helped me kick down these barriers as everyone had a unique take and opinion on the social challenges facing society. Everyone has a unique view on food shortage, cyberterrorism or mental health, due to their varying experiences growing up, how they interpret information, their hobbies and the practical skills they may have. However, developing your confidence to be able to comfortably speak up and communicate your ideas amongst other people competing for the same opportunity to talk is a whole other ballgame. Employers look for people who can do this, as they realise that this is how real change is made. Having the opportunity to voice my ideas during Grand Challenges and to bring my thoughts into action was a truly inspiring and empowering experience which did wonders for my confidence.
“Capitalising on your strengths may take a large degree of confidence, but it takes a whole bag-full more of confidence to accept your limitations.”
The confidence to have humility
Doing Grand Challenges provided me with the opportunities to be exposed to new and complex situations and helped develop my confidence to recognise areas where I am either better or lesser suited to. At the time of doing Grand Challenges, I felt I was comfortable designing questionnaires and doing some basic graphic design via Microsoft PowerPoint, but I would listen into the discussions the business and economic students would be having around doing market research and totalling up the theoretical expenses to create our product, and I would be wishing I would be able to do those skills. If I was to be honest, I really took the fact that I would have had no idea where to start with those tasks to heart and was really beating myself up for it. Nevertheless, this was all a valuable learning experience as together as a team we worked together as separate units to then come together to produce something we all were proud of, individually and as a whole.
Capitalising on your strengths may take a large degree of confidence, but it takes a whole bag-full more of confidence to accept your limitations. Not everyone is perfect, yet it is so easy to ignore this fact and get into a vicious cycle of self-loathing and self-hatred. Accepting that other people may be better suited to certain tasks can be a difficult skill to develop, but only by getting stuck in with teams and being exposed to various situations where you might have to back down and let others take the lead on some things will you develop.
On a personal level, humility should not mean having negative perceptions of your limitations, but rather seeing your acceptance of your limitations in a positive light. For example, during my first interview for medicine, I unintentionally drank gallons of water in the waiting area, and I accidentally let out such a massive burp that it rumbled the doors and made one of the interviewers come out and check if everyone was alright. One way of looking at that is that I struggle to take things seriously, and that is the way I would have been thinking had I not had the experience with Grand Challenges and the exposure to various psyches. But another way of looking at it is that I am good at not taking things too seriously. They must have thought that too as otherwise I’d have no clue why they’d let me in.
“Self-reflection is such an essential skill to develop… and doing Grand Challenges was a real eye-opener for seeing how self-reflection helps you improve yourself and the service you might deliver.”
The confidence to be honest with yourself
Doing Grand Challenges pushed me to think inwards into my interests with both mental health and climate change, such as the underlying emotional reasons as to why I found it difficult to reach out to and join sports clubs in university, and what I think I would have benefitted from. I felt that the whole process benefits from having the confidence to becoming self-aware of why you have certain opinions allows you to more insightful, imaginative and creative when it comes to you and your relationship with society. Only through having the confidence to start unravelling yourself with self-reflection can you achieve this, and I felt that Grand Challenges helped me perhaps make myself feel more comfortable being vulnerable.
Self-reflection is such an essential skill to develop as it makes you highlight what didn’t go well during your experience doing a task or project, and doing Grand Challenges was a real eye-opener for seeing how self-reflection helps you improve yourself and the service you might deliver. Throughout University, you might be prompted many times to fill out a self-reflection component of a form or incorporate self-reflection into your STAR answers. What I think doesn’t get made obvious is that saying you found a certain task or tasks really hard is not a bad thing, but rather the contrary. It shows you recognise your weaknesses, both to the people asking the question but also to yourself. The impacts of self-negligence can be immensely damaging professionally and personally. It means you are honest with yourself, and if an applicant shows that they are honest and open to being vulnerable, they are seen as trustworthy and therefore build greater rapport in their professional relationships.