Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Three ways SELA helped me grow

Thomas Binu Thomas, Cohort 2019

SELA teaches engineering and computer science students the non-academic skills needed to enable a driven individual to strive in their workplace. But it is so much more than just a skill development opportunity! As Dr Gary Wood, Head of SELA, says: it is an individual journey that every single cohort member will experience differently throughout the two year period. If you were to listen to any exit interview, they would all be different! Here’s a small window into my own journey and what I have learnt so far during my first year at SELA.

1. Making sure I present my work with as much care as I put into creating it allows people to engage with what I create in a more meaningful way

Throughout high school and some of university, a lot of my time was spent completing tasks needed for class or activities I did outside. It was to achieve a set target: the number of math problems that needed to be done to complete a test within a time limit, the hours needed to spend in the cricket nets to perfect your swing, or the number of cookies and cakes to be sold at a bake sale for charity to deem it successful. In this frenzy of task after task, I forgot an important thing: “How will people know what I am doing, especially people outside my personal bubble?” and “How will I show these people that this work is important?”

The projects that I do need to be published in one way or another, and this step needs to be taken care of with the same meticulous discipline I had while doing the work in the first place. This can be via a social platform such as a LinkedIn post using a high definition image and not forgetting to tag the post to get more exposure, or maybe through a blog post on the SELA webpage! However, the work also needs to be shown in the way that you can confidently describe what you do to a bystander. This does not mean that you have to turn into a human encyclopedia about that topic. Instead be ready to dial down the details and give that person the essentials of what you are doing to intrigue them. It also means to respect the person, and actively listen, verbally and nonverbally, to what they want to say as well, asking relevant questions after.

2. Reflection is key for growth

Another thing that I would say that I needed to improve on was my reflection process, or the lack of it! While what I did was fun, amazing, and all the other positive adjectives you could find, I needed to ask myself ‘how could I improve?’.

I would say one of the things I learned during one of the first workshops in SELA was to block out a specific time in my calendar to reflect on my projects and see how much work I did and to identify what else I could do afterwards. Not only does this allow me to track my progress and the quality of it but it also gives me perspective. When I feel overwhelmed, this reflection shows that I have done quite a bit of work and motivates me to feel the rest is also achievable. This process is constant and iterative, it starts once an opportunity is shown. I have to weigh up my own goals with the objectives of the opportunity, continue evaluating multiple times during the job, and after I have finished then I note down everything that I learned. I now note down what I could do better next time I am in a similar position and what goals still need ticking off.

3. Confidence is key

Third, and most importantly, going through the first year of SELA boosted my self-confidence. I woke up from my nap in the bus to Bootcamp to where it was held, and it was not cabins, as I foolishly expected. What was I thinking? It's SELA! It shows that from the get-go, SELA is ready to invest time, money, resources and energy into me and my peers. So if they are doing that, does that not mean that I should believe in myself? If they see something in me, shouldn’t I believe them and prove them right? Throughout the workshops, a vital thing every guest speaker explains is that every student is very, very talented and important. This helped give me the confidence to really allow through on my dreams, and have the confidence to voice my opinion. This also showed me that it is okay to clarify yourself, politely, if someone has misunderstood you. It can lead to someone loving your idea and wanting to collaborate with you. And most importantly, it allows for mistakes. It’s okay to voice an idea that might seem off the wall at the start. It might not be. Infact, it might be the idea that the team collaborates on in the end. Everyone is still learning and there is no need to have imposter syndrome. You are where you are for a reason!

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