Advice for a young person

Unsolicited advice is crap. It puffs the ego of the giver and tells the receiver that they are inferior in wisdom and experience. It’s rarely welcome, frequently unhelpful and almost never heeded. In my opinion, avoid it.

Nevertheless, here is some advice from me, with contributions from some equally unqualified friends, to a young person just about to start university.

  • Finish university.
  • Every day, do something new.
  • Make friends with students on your course. You will need to help each other.
  • Make friends with students in other disciplines. This short time as an undergrad is probably the best opportunity you will ever have to hang out with clever people who are excited to talk about fascinating stuff that you will probably never get to study for yourself. Hear what interests them about their subject. Make them explain things to you. You’ll both learn.
  • Ask for help. People like to help.
  • Make friends with the staff. Chat with cleaners, administrators, catering staff, lab techs. Look out for them and, at the very least, don’t make their jobs harder. They know how the university works in a way that no student does. They will look out for you.
  • Explore art in all its forms. Keep a look out for recitals, exhibitions, gigs, and go. Drag reluctant friends along. Artists need audiences.
  • Pretend to be bolder than you feel.
  • Start every day with a good breakfast and then some time, at least twenty minutes, for thinking. Walk, or just sit and enjoy your tea. That time is more relaxing than an extra hour in bed.
  • Volunteer for something you have no idea how to do. You’ll work it out somehow, and people will help.
  • Clean up after others. It’s not your job, you’re not obliged to, but it makes the place better. Don’t ask to be thanked for it and you won’t be disappointed.
  • Take up a new team sport. You don’t have to be good at it. The important thing is the team, not the sport.
  • Set aside time for your work, for domestic chores, for seeing friends, for doing nothing. You have to do all those things, so don’t let one thing crowd out all the others.
  • Sign up for everything in your first term, give everything a try, and don’t be afraid that you won’t have enough time. Take on far too much. You can dial it back later.
  • Have a plan for the day, but be ready to change it if something fun comes along.
  • Be interested, and be seen to be interested. People will notice and will tell you about the coolest stuff.

Some friends chipped in:

Don’t start smoking.


Learn some stuff. Some of it about your subject, although it is almost certainly the other stuff you learn that will be of most value. And try to only get blind drunk when there is someone you trust to catch you.


Get organised fast, know where you’re supposed to be and when, do the prep work. In other words don’t piss your tutors off from the start. (This is possibly the voice of a tutor not of a former university student.)


Don’t wait until the end of your second year to join the student radio society.