Wednesday 26 August 2020

The Power of Graduates Coming Together

Rebecca writes about her experience researching the transition out of university, starting a community for graduates to share advice and tips, and how graduate support has improved her mental health.

- Rebecca Moynihan

Coming out of university is pretty scary. There are so many expectations (from yourself and others), so many comparisons to make to other graduates, and so many obstacles to overcome. I remember when I finished my undergraduate degree in 2017, I couldn’t focus on my success, I could only focus on the fact I was having to move back to my family home, and I hadn’t yet secured a ‘grad role’, in fact, I had no idea what I wanted to do. This to me was one big fat failure in trying to be the adult I was now expected to be. My mental health really took a turn for the worst. 

Not knowing what I wanted to do, I jumped at the chance of going into a funded research degree. That sweet relief of two more years to hide away from the real world and all its responsibilities. I decided to research the transition out of university into the ‘real world’ - for obvious reasons. I wanted to see if I was alone in my feelings of utter dread and uncertainty. 

I interviewed 20 different graduates from different degree backgrounds. I spoke to them about their experiences in university, how they did/didn’t prepare for making the transition, how they had found their transition so far - positive and negative, and what they wish they had known. I found talking to other graduates both fascinating and comforting. It was difficult to keep myself separate and away from my research, and difficult to not turn around and be like ‘I FEEL THE SAME!!’ when people validated my own concerns/anxieties. For example, my interviewees reported feeling they had returned to being a child when they moved back home with parents. They struggled to handle job rejections - thinking they’re degree would have secured them roles, they faced job stigma (i.e. ‘when are you going to get a ‘proper job’?) and all in all, feeling a little lost and vulnerable without the university bubble. I asked graduates how they managed to cope with all these feelings of uncertainty and all of the difficulties they faced, the vast majority of interviewees disclosed feeling some comfort in knowing others’ were ‘in the same boat’. 

In university, it’s easy to feel part of a community. There’s no comfort like being in the library late at night rushing to finish an assignment and looking around to see other students doing the same, fuelled by caffeine and stress. There’s no comfort like moaning to your course mates about student finance, or about referencing and word counts. You can all relate to each other, some way or another. And you’re all on the same path, with the same goal. Work hard to finish university and get your degree. It’s when you get out of university when it all gets a bit messy. 

With my mental health taking a hit, feeling lost and those well documented ‘graduate blues, I set up One Oh One a blogging platform with an aim of connecting graduates. A place to share my graduate experience, to interview other graduates and share advice/tips for surviving the real world and for looking after your mental health. My platform is not the only one existing out there, only further highlighting the need for graduates to feel connected, and to reach out for the advice and support they often lack once leaving behind education. There are platforms out there which are set up to share CV writing tips - offering free consultancies - platforms to support graduates in the events agency, platforms to support and highlight the achievements of female graduates, and BAME graduates. There are platforms to support graduate mental health, job searching, and just general advice. Once you graduate university, the support network and student community you have been used to for all your years in education, completely vanishes. 

Communities like mine, and the others which are cropping up feel like one big peer support group - a bunch of graduates trying to survive for the first time without their support bubbles, and clinging together in a world that is often unrelenting to those fresh from university. Where the university support ends, graduates are pulling together to keep it going. You can feel so alone when you come out of university, you can feel like you’re falling behind (though there is no race), you can feel like the world wants you to fail. It can really impact on your mental health, as it did mine. It is so refreshing to be able to connect with so many different graduates, to hear their advice, to see the realities of the real world, and most importantly, to feel less alone. Follow me: Instagram: @one_oh__one Twitter: @oneohoneblog 

Visit the Student Minds website for more information on graduate mental wellbeing in the workplace 

I am Rebecca - my degrees are in Psychology (BSc, MRes) and I am sharing my own story of graduating, knowing from experience how comforting it is to hear other people's stories and advice. My mental health has taken a hit since graduating, and connecting with other graduates has been a massive support network for me

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