Abbie Potter joined Birmingham City University’s School of Architecture and Design to study BA (Hons) Interior Architecture and Design in September 2020. Abbie gave us an insight into her first year at BCU, the balance of remote and on-campus teaching, and shares her advice for students who are beginning their journey at university soon.
What were your expectations before starting your first year at university?
One thing I expected was to learn how to use different software packages, which is something I was nervous about. However, the tutors ease you into them and I now know how to use three different programs! I never expected to become proficient in them until I look back over the year and realise how much I’ve learnt and how professional my work looks now.
In terms of the course content, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it’s very creative and you are able to develop your own style as the year progresses. Creating my own style has therefore helped me to develop an element of individuality which I know will be great when looking for employment in the future.
How did you find the first few months of university?
The first few months were initially challenging, as the country went in and out of lockdown, and with the restrictions around socialising with other people. This made making friends and getting out to meet people a little more difficult at first.
However, looking back at my experience now, I can see how much I developed within the course in the first few months, and how many new skills I learnt. The tutors for Interior Architecture and Design were so welcoming and patient with us, and looking at the progression I made in my design skills within the first semester alone is very rewarding.
What has the balance been like for remote learning vs on campus teaching?
I have two days of classes each week. From January to March, these were both delivered virtually as the UK was in lockdown. However, for most of the year, I have had online classes one day a week and then we’ve been on campus one day a week, so it was great to be able to have face-to-face tutorials to get advice and support from my tutors.
How much of your course is practical and how much is theory based?
We have had one theory-based module called 20th Century Design Cultures, which ran throughout semester one, but most of the course has been practical. However, during the other modules there were elements of theory taught to aid us with the designing process.
I prefer practical work, as I’m a hands-on learner and my strengths lie in a more artistic environment rather than purely academic. I love the fact that the course is mainly practical, it excites me that I’m able to show my strengths.
What has been your favourite project you have worked on so far?
It’s been a module called Design Devices, which was the first project of Semester 2. This project required us to reconsider the conventional gym facility within a disused railway arch in Digbeth.
I really enjoyed the designing process and loved how realistic the end outcome looked. Because this module was done entirely online, I felt that it made me push myself further within my design work. I learnt how to use different software’s such as AutoCAD and Photoshop. I was apprehensive to use them at first but, after lots of practice, I got the hang of them both and I know these will be valuable skills to have when looking for employment in the future!
Are there any trips or modules you’re particularly looking forward to in your second year?
In second year, I’m looking forward to completing a work placement, as it’ll be a good way to develop my professional attributes and use my knowledge of the subject so far within a workplace. I hope it’ll also give me an idea of which area within the industry I wish to go into in the future.
Is studying at university much different to college or sixth form?
For me, university has been very different from studying at sixth form. I found it best to establish a routine quite early on and treat my studies like a 9 to 5 job. Especially when learning remotely and not being able to attend university as often as I would have done in usual circumstances having a routine has helped me motivate myself.
Also, university requires a lot more independence than I had been used to at sixth form, which can be quite an adjustment at first. But after speaking with other students on my course and finding that community of like-minded students, it made me feel less overwhelmed with the work, and more motivated to do well in my modules.
I feel that the sense of community is vital to my studies. A lot of us have created design-based Instagram accounts, which is a great way to share our work and see what we’re all up to. As well, it allows us to look at the work of students in the years above, and the standard of work they produce.
What advice would you give to students who are starting university soon?
I’d recommend joining group chats online so that you can find some people on your course. Starting university can be daunting, so having that reassurance of knowing someone before your first day can help to make the experience less overwhelming.
Once you have started, if you ever have any questions or are unsure of anything make sure to ask your tutors for help! All of the tutors on my course have been incredibly helpful throughout this year, and if I was ever unsure of anything they were always there to help and give guidance.