Get Results. Get Coached.

I am a big fan of good coaching. I have seen the results first hand in both my sporting and professional lives, with the majority taking place in the athletic and outdoor pursuits areas of my life.
This week sees me take on the A-race of my current 2015 triathlon season: Challenge Dubai, a half-iron distance race that follows on from the event I attended in December in Bahrain. I had a great race in Bahrain, posting a significant improvement on my time from the race before. I know that some of the improvement came about as a result of simple environmental factors but most of the improvement I am certain was the direct result of having heeded the advice and guidance of my triathlon coach.
Another fine example of the power of skilled coaching in bringing out positive change was experienced when I recently indulged in another of my favourite activities: skydiving. I had gone out to the drop zone early one morning with the basic plan to do a couple of jumps before cracking on with the rest of my day and in a bid to chip away at the 100-jump target that I am tantalisingly close to reaching. Following purchase of my lift tickets and thinking of what I wanted to achieve from the jumps I thought that simply falling solo, as would have been the case if I am honest, just for the sake of doing the jumps, seemed like a wasted opportunity for growth and development. I could pay a little extra and enlist the expert direction of a coach in order to actually work on improving my skydiving skills.
Thankfully I was in luck and experienced freefly coach, Stefania, was available to teach me, with the emphasis on tracking, a discipline that I had touched upon with friends the month before, but that I had been somewhat frustrated by as I didn’t seem to be able to fly as well or in close proximity to the others as I’d have liked. Something could clearly be improved.
Almost immediately the benefits of the coaching became apparent as the ideal body position for effective tracking was explained to me and a plan made for the first jump, which I was both excited and a little apprehensive about, not really expecting to pull anything particularly special out of the bag on the first go.
Coached tracking jump over Dubai

Coached tracking jump over Dubai

The jump couldn’t have gone better! I was first out of the door at 13,000 feet, remembering Stefania’s advice about body positioning as I stepped out and instantly adopted the tracking pose, banking sharply left to enter a smooth, stable and comfortable track. I quickly spotted Stefania, who was flying just to the right and slightly below me, with her camera trained on me and issuing instructions on direction and body position tweaks. The theory that we discussed before the jump, and the visualisation that I spent time doing in the plane during the climb to altitude, really helped as I found myself adopting the tracking position, which is counter to what we learn when flying belly, with the difference between my jumps the month before and this time plain to see and feel. I loved it! Nothing comes close to the true feeling of flight as we soared across the Dubai skies, turning at will and feeling as close to being Superman as I can ever hope to.

That single jump was the only one that was possible that day, as the winds whipped up and grounded the skydive centre, so I was so glad that I had invested in a coached jump and absolutely cannot wait to get back in order to pick up where Stefania and I left off, working further on tracking and getting even more out of my sport. With a good coach you see faster results. You feel progress being made much more rapidly and you actually gain significantly more enjoyment out of whatever it is that you are doing. We’re all achievers and enjoy the feeling of development and progress. Coaching, I believe, adds to this enjoyment in exponential terms and is worth the time, effort and money. I could have jumped ten times in a row on my own, or simply in a social capacity with other fun jumpers and I would not have made anywhere near the progress I did in one single coached jump.
I guess the takeaway from this little tale is to urge you to consider seeking the right person to help you, even if it means making a real investment in both time and money, if there are areas in your life where you wish to progress and see real, tangible improvements and results. Once you go the coached route I assure you that you’ll not look back.

No Offer, No Cry

A question that gets asked a fair amount is what the options are for those who have applied to vet school but are ultimately unsuccessful in either attracting an offer of a place or who do not meet the entrance requirements to take an offer up. Needless to say either scenario is not one that is expected to be pleasant as none of us particularly enjoys rejection, especially when applying to vet school is necessarily such an all consuming endeavour. Anything other than a place at vet school is understandably bound to feel like a failure of truly epic and devastating proportions. The first piece of advice, therefore, is to accept that you’re going to feel utterly miserable and dejected for a period of time. Although I was fortunate enough to receive a vet school offer I do empathise with the feelings of intense disappointment, on account of my intercalation. I studied biochemistry and in spite of really knuckling down, working hard and revising my socks off the exams went terribly and I finished with a disappointing 2:2 in the degree. This was against the backdrop of all of my other friends who had intercalated in other subjects all achieving 2:1 classifications or better. I was crushed for several weeks but ultimately shook myself off, accepted that which had occurred, sought to learn lessons from the experience and examined how best to move on from and even capitalise on the experience. This is ultimately what you will need to do yourself if unfortunate enough to find an offer out of grasp. Sadly we cannot yet turn back time and alter the past – that would be an epic power – but what we can, and should, do is reflect and then formulate a new, revised plan based on the experiences and results up to that point. Still won’t stop you feeling rubbish though so expect and embrace a certain period of ‘mourning.’

Once you’re over the acute disappointment what next? Well, the options depend on your specific set of circumstances but are, in general:


Call the vet schools. Like right away!

Although you don’t have a place or may have not met the requirements for a conditional offer you’ll be basing your next move on mere assumption and we all know what assumption does. Call the schools, especially those that you had offers from, to clarify exactly their position. Who knows, they may have loved you so much at interview and couldn’t imagine teaching without your cherubic presence that they’re prepared to overlook the slight discrepancy that is your missing the offer requirements, especially if you were close. Clearly it would be a tad optimistic to expect this to be the case if you wind up missing the grade by a long way but a single grade slip-up might not necessarily mean game over, so ask.

If you don’t even have any offers then calling the vet schools is basically a massive long shot but you never know: fortune favours the brave and if they have to fill spaces for which they don’t already have candidates (unlikely) then your prompt, enthusiastic, enquiring call (from you, by the way, NOT your mum/ dad/ gran/ dog etc) may just result in a miracle.


Take up your ‘Insurance’ Offer

You may well have taken advantage of the option to apply to a non-vet course as part of your UCAS applications and so may have an offer from that course that you can take up. Whether you do so or not is up to you, and I guess that if your plan is to reapply to vet school then it will be irrelevant that you have a ‘backup’ course, although quite why you’d have bothered applying in the first place if this were the case is a valid question. Completing an initial degree in a relevant non-vet subject can certainly lead you to vet school eventually and if you’re prepared for the path to veterinary status to be longer and more expensive than you initially hoped then this can be a good option.


Apply through Clearing

If you don’t have any backup offers and the idea of not going on to university this year is not one you wish to consider then there is always clearing, the process by which universities open up places to courses that have to that point been undersubscribed. You can learn more about clearing via the UCAS website and the same potential for entering the veterinary course as a graduate as above is there.


Take a Gap Year & Reapply

With the number of places at vet schools limited and the number of applicants in excess of this figure it is inevitable that many perfectly good future vets will be unfortunate and not secure a place on the first application. The decision to take a year out and reapply, either with secured grades that meet the basic requirements of the vet schools, or with the intention of retaking some or all subjects is one that needs careful consideration. For a start, there is no guarantee that you’ll be any more successful at the second bite of the cherry and although some students do persist and prove the naysayers wrong by reapplying more than once, the chances of success are very slim and there is a strong case to be made for using your time (life) most effectively and exploring alternative options. If you do reapply then ensure you have a solid plan for doing so and aim to improve on what you submitted or did before. A greater variety of work experience? Better grades? An interesting hobby or project? A focus on nailing your interview technique and knowledge of the profession and issues relevant to it? There are so many ways in which an extra year can, and should, be used and failing to do at least something positive and proactive with the time will only serve to let you down. Even if you are not then successful the second time around at least you will have grown and improved as a person, with new or improved skills and knowledge and a better base from which to then kick start your next move. I would, personally, dissuade anyone from choosing to reapply more than twice as the chances of success are so slim and the years so precious. Rather do all you can to improve your application for one reapplication and then if it doesn’t work out look at options to move on. Remember, you can always come back to veterinary down the line if you still have the burning desire to become a vet in the years to come.


Do Something Else

If you either don’t plan to reapply, or if perhaps you already have and this is the second or third time of being unsuccessful in your applications then you may well opt to change tack completely and pursue other career options. Again, what you do is a personal choice but the possibilities are endless and I am sure you will choose wisely.

Results Day – Scariest Day Ever?!

Exam results day is the culmination of all of the hard work done to date and hopefully the confirmation of the fact that you’ll definitely be heading off to vet school, either this year or following a nice relaxed and interesting Gap Year. As such, there is rather a lot riding on it all and the stress can be quite overwhelming. I should know as I have been there.

The first thing to point out is the obvious fact that you will be nervous. Even if you’re Mr or Miss Super Cool and Unflappable, the mere fact that you don’t actually know what it says on that results sheet will lead to some nerves. Embrace it though and recognise the feeling of nervous anticipation. It is, however, important to realise when nervousness is morphing into panic and act to prevent it. At the end of the day there is nothing you can do at this stage to change the results and reminding yourself of this fact is useful. Reassure yourself that you have worked hard and that this hard work will be reflected in your results.

Preparing for the Big Day:

1. Get a good night’s sleep – such a mum and dad thing to say I know but its true. Being rested and alert on the day will enable you to either react swiftly and decisively if the results don’t pan out quite as you’d hoped or to at least savour and enjoy every moment of success assuming you do as well, or better, than expected.

2. Arrive early – if your results don’t come out as expected and it looks as though your conditional vet school offer is at risk then being one of the first to be able to ring the vet schools will place you in a much stronger position compared to being one of hundreds later in the day. Similarly, if your grades turn out to be stellar and you don’t have a place or were on a waiting list then getting straight on the phone as early as possible is the surefire way of turning that opportunity into ultimate success. Surely it’s worth getting up nice and early just this once 🙂

3. Take a list of the vet schools’ contact details, especially the Admissions Offices – having the essential information to hand, such as who to call, will save valuable time and could be the difference between being one of the first to get through to the vet schools or being in a frustrating queue. When you’re in a bit of an emotional state on results day, the last thing that you will want to be doing is scrawling through the internet looking for the correct telephone numbers to call. Do the legwork beforehand and save yourself the headache.

4. Charge your phone and ensure you have call credit – rather obvious you might say but you’d be surprised how many people will turn up to results day, need to or want to call someone and find that they can’t as they’re out of battery. How rubbish would it be if you were on the phone to a vet school admissions tutor and the phone cut out? Pretty rubbish is my assessment. Don’t let it happen.


The Big Day itself:

1. Eat something – you’re likely to be super nervous and as such not feel like eating. That would be a mistake. Your brain needs fuel to work properly and if you need to step to it and be all proactive in calling the vet schools then you’ll want your brain along for the ride. Feed it beforehand.

2. Check you have everything you need – charged phone, contact details (as above), car keys etc. I am bit of a nerd and so tend to set out everything I need the night before so I can see if I am missing anything. That way, on the morning in question I can simply scoop everything up safe in the knowledge that it’s all present.

3. Arrive early – not only will you get to open your results in relative peace without the entire school buzzing about but you’ll also be in a great position to act quickly if necessary and call the vet schools before half the world has the same idea. You can, of course, then stay on and enjoy the buzz as everyone else arrives to get their results – after all, it’s potentially a great day of solidarity and celebration between friends so should be enjoyed.

4. Opening your results – the MOMENT OF TRUTH! Take a deep breath, relax and embrace the reality 🙂 I remember time slowing right down and the words and letters taking a few moments to really come into full focus, and then for my brain to compute them. What I remember really feeling, more than elation, was just pure relief. Relief that I had done what I had set out to do by getting the required grades and confirming my place, and also relief that I hadn’t let anyone down. As daft as that last statement might sound I don’t think I was, or am, alone in feeling that way. We place so much pressure on ourselves and the expectations placed on us, either real or imagined, from everyone around us is often huge. As such, when I saw my results I just thought “phew!” It doesn’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy the fact that I had achieved something big, just that the response was a bit more complex.


What if you do better than expected?

First of all pat yourself right there on your back – you legend! If you have not got an offer from a vet school then get on the phone immediately and see if that situation can be changed – you owe it to yourself to try, right?! Otherwise you may have another plan in place, in which case good luck and enjoy the rest of your summer.


What if I miss out on my conditional offer?

I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen to any of you as I know the crushing disappointment that comes with not achieving what you really had your heart set on. First of all, expect to ride a huge wave of emotions, from disbelief, to bitter disappointment, to anger and many more emotions still. Again, the key is to get on the phone immediately to the vet school that you have an offer from and see whether you can still take up the place. Sometimes the schools will have liked you so much that they are prepared to look past the black and white nature of your results – the only way you’ll know is to ask the question, so get on it. If you are not successful then your options at this stage are to either take a Gap Year and reapply, take up a place doing another non-vet course at uni, or do something totally different instead.

So, there you have it. A potted guide to how to handle what can be the single most stressful day of your academic career (so far). All that remains to be said is GOOD LUCK and ENJOY YOURSELVES 🙂

Revision & Exams: Show them who is boss

Revising for examsYou want to be a vet. You want to go to vet school. Exams are one of the big ogres that stand between you and your goal. They will also be hiding under bridges at various, regular points along your journey through vet school itself, and even beyond into your professional lives. No-one likes exams. Well, that’s not strictly speaking true. I know some strange people who actually do like them. What I meant to say was that the vast majority of us dislike them intensely, myself included. However, they are as inevitable as taxes and English rain in August so we just have to endure. So, if you can’t avoid them and you know that you have to do well in them if you are to achieve your aim of getting to vet school, what tactics can you employ to show exams that they don’t rule you but you rule them?

The following advice is what I have managed to distill through years of trial and error with exams and what I found to, on the whole, work out best for me. This isn’t to say that what I suggest is the right or the best way to go about approaching revision and exams – I daresay many of you have far more elegant techniques and tips to propose. We will all have our own unique coping mechanisms for exams and if my suggestions merely serve to act as seeds of inspiration then so be it – I have achieved my aim. Feel free to share your own tips for getting through both revision and exams, either by commenting on this post or via the Vet School Success Facebook page.


Be the Boss Tip 1: Plan, Plan, Plan. Then do.

There is so much truth in the saying “to fail to plan is to plan to fail” that we have to consider it first. Not thinking ahead of time and preparing a revision and exam plan is tantamount to insanity. That’s not to say that you’ll end up sticking to your plan. In fact, the opposite is more likely, but the point is that even having a basic plan in place prepares your mind for the task of revising and ultimately sitting the exams that come at the end of it all. I am yet to meet anyone who has ever done well in exams – or indeed anything – without spending time in advance carefully planning their approach. Even if you only have a week to go before your exams start and are yet to start revision (good luck with that by the way), taking a couple of hours out to plan exactly what needs to be done and when you’re going to do it will be worth it. If anything, having a plan in place at least makes sure you remember to eat and sleep, both of which oft get neglected as exams approach.

It’s all well and good planning but you will ultimately then have to just crack on and do. The plan provides the direction and structure but is no substitute for actually sitting down, dusting off the books and actually doing what needs to be done.


Be the Boss Tip 2: A Poorly Maintained & Fueled Car Breaks Down

Exams rely on brain power. Brain power relies on fuel and rest. Eating and sleep are usually the two activities that fall by the wayside during revision, especially as the exams draw closer, meaning that many of you will enter the ‘exam period’ tired, stressed and feeling pretty ropey, all of which are not great hallmarks of being fighting fit. I’m going to sound like your mother here but she has a point: eating properly and getting enough sleep are vital. Oh, and FYI: chocolate does not constitute a square meal.

Caffeine drinks are another thing to try and avoid if at all possible. Your brain will not work any faster or more efficiently by being jacked up on rocket fuel. All that is likely to happen instead is that you crash, feel shite and perform poorly in the exams. Oh, and if you’ve seen The Inbetweeners then you’ll be aware of another potential side effect of too much caffeine. Not pleasant.


Be the Boss Tip 3: Prioritise

This will be a major part of your planning but knowing what is vital and what is nice-to-do-if-possible can make the difference during exams. You’ll have copies of the various syllabi and so will know exactly what needs to be revised in order to pass the exams with flying colours. If you don’t have this information then you need to do yourself a big old favour and get it by asking your teachers. Spending half of your revision time drilling down into some fascinating bit of knowledge whilst neglecting some important (ie, on the syllabus) subject matters because you didn’t know they were important is a really great way to feel all clever but still under-perform in exams. Know what needs to be done, do it and then build on this with the extras. It’s like planning work experience for your vet school application – there’s no point spending six weeks following round a specialist if it means you fail to spend any time on a diary farm. The vet schools will not give you extra marks for it; they will just give your place to someone else.


Be the Boss Tip 4: Be Your Own Boss

Do you think Usain Bolt gives his fellow sprinters a second thought in the lead up and running of a race? No, he doesn’t. The fact is he can no more determine how they will fare as they can him and so what point is there in expending energy and thought on their race plans. Usain focuses his full energies on perfecting his own preparation and execution. That is how you should approach revision and exams. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take an interest in what others are doing or engage in group learning activities, such as shared revision. What it means is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be distracted from or directed away from your own, specific revision goals and exam plan. I was always wary at uni of spending too much time in the evenings discussing revision with others as the result was usually that one or all us would end up feeling as though we hadn’t done enough and had to fight back the desire to scurry back to our rooms in order to rectify the perceived gaps in our knowledge. The simple fact is that we had probably done the revision already, or had it in our plan at some point, but we had allowed ourselves to be mentally highjacked by someone else and divert our focus away from our own race. Be wary of this happening in your own exam preparation.


Be the Boss Tip 5: Learn the Best Way For You

Do you retain knowledge and understand concepts better if you see them drawn? Or maybe you’re a listener and respond better to hearing things. I personally found that I was much better able to remember things when I drew them out on large sheets of white paper, creating elaborate A3 sheets of graphical notes whilst one of my flatmates wrote everything out and would view my graphical revision sheets as complete gibberish. We all learn differently and it is important to identify the modality that works best for us as individuals. Find what works best for you, whether it even be something like standing to revise, or revising in short ten minute bursts with a five minute break in between, and you’ll be surprised at how much more effective you will be at revising and performing well in your exams.


Whatever tips work for you, good luck for any exams you have coming up and all the best for your Vet School preparations.

New Year. New Plans.

New Year FireworksWith a New Year comes thoughts of what we might do in the next 12 months. Its often a time for deep reflection, musings of a big life change, or simply the creation of several resolutions, most to be dropped, one or two possibly to become established.

There is perhaps no bigger target for a prospective vet in the ensuing months of a new year than to bring their application together and successfully apply to vet school. Whether in the first stages, with the October deadline for applications to be submitted, or the final stretch, with interviews, offers (hopefully) and securing of grades the focus, now is a great time to really take stock, focus and plan for the ultimate goal.

What is it that you plan to do this New Year? Personally, I plan to bring you the next incredible edition of Vet School, in addition to continuing to be there, by your side, as you strive to make it to Vet School.

I hope you have a great start to 2013 and remember that for all the best advice and guidance on getting to Vet School, sign up on the website, keep in touch via Facebook and why not say hi via Twitter. In fact, whilst you’re at it, why not share your plans for this new year.

A Few (Not Necessarily) Festive Facts About Vet School

SantaAs we move a mere four days from when Santa has to dust off his boots and coat, down an energy drink (or five) and ride around the globe picking up where Royal Mail left off, I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at Vet School and offer a few facts – some you may have known, others may well be new.


1. Most courses are 5 YEARS, although the exception to this is Cambridge, where you’ll study for 6 YEARS. You do get a lovely intercalated degree for your troubles though. Which is nice.

2. Vet training involves learning about all species so that when you qualify you can, in theory, treat any animal that is presented to you. The question of whether specialisation earlier in the training will happen is always a topic for debate.

3. One thing that comes as a surprise to most new students is that suddenly getting more than 50% in exams is considered an achievement – vet school is tough! You may no longer be the top of the year…. but that’s ok 🙂

4. At most of the vet schools, you technically get a degree after the first three years, with the final part of the course completing the ‘vet’ aspect of your degree.

5. The range of subjects you cover at vet school is vast, from those you’d expect, like anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, right through to topics as diverse as farm animal housing, small animal orthopaedics, and communication skills. As such, vet school is packed and your time at university will FLY!!!

Social & Fun:

1. Vet students work hard but play harder. Fact. It is a tough course so it is important to be able to unwind and enjoy yourself when you get the chance.

2. The range of socials that are on offer to vet students is immense, from those organised by your specific vet school to national events, such as the (in)famous AVS Sports Weekend. This last example is the mother of all costume parties, with fancy dress being an established essential part of being a vet student.

3. Vet Schools have very well organised and established student societies, who look after much of your entertainment, as well as representing your views on university committees, and other such official stuff.

4. Vet School traditions are a big part of the culture of being a vet student. It is almost impossible not to quickly develop a very strong sense of belonging to an awesome club when you first join your university, and it is this sense of family and community that is the envy of many non-vets.

5. The veterinary profession is, in itself, one big family of professionals and it always amazes me how easy it is to bump into someone that you know, regardless of where you are in the world. As such, vets work hard but definitely play harder!

Be a Conference King or Queen

student-sleeping-on-books-300x2001At this time of year hundreds of prospective young vets converge on the campus at Nottingham University for a week of lectures aimed at providing some insight into veterinary and what being a vet may well entail. It is an event that I have personally been to for many years in a row, both lecturing on a range of subjects, from Life as a Vet Student to Cancer in Animals, and The Importance of Taking a Good History, one of my favourite sessions, and in my capacity as an independent source of advice and guidance on vet careers and vet school. My first book, Vet School, had it’s launch in Nottingham back in 2009, and I have been back each year since. This year I return once again to speak with you all and to be on hand to provide advice, much of which is also immortalised in my new book, Vet School Success, which is exclusively available this week. But what advice is there for getting the best out of the week itself. Well, I thought it would be helpful to offer some Top Tips to Vet Lectures:

  1. Have FUN – it is a looooooong week and you’ll be tired by the end of it, but hopefully enthused and energised to start the new year full of enthusiasm to set you off towards vet school. Make sure to really enjoy your time here.
  2. Make FRIENDS – you may have come with friends already or, like most, on your own. Remember, if you’re feeling nervous and shy then its certain that many others are feeling the same. Be the one to break the ice – say hi; the rest is easy. You’re likely to see many of the people here this week at other points on your journey, from vet school open days to interviews, so get to know them now. With so many social networking options, linking up and staying in touch is simple so get going with expanding your social network.
  3. Remember: at vet school you will NOT have lectures until 10pm! Many students slump back to their halls bleary eyed at the end of a long day of lectures fretting about how they’ll cope with actual vet school. Your vet school day is likely to end at about 5pm (ie normal, sane time) and so this week is not representative of an actual lecture schedule at vet school. I am sure the main reason the organisers keep you in lectures so late is to lessen the chances of you all feeling inspired and energetic enough to head out into town for a night out 🙂
  4. Take SOME notes. Many of the lecturers will be happy to send you copies of their lectures and would rather you sat and really listened and absorbed their sage words of wisdom, as opposed to frantically trying to tattoo pieces of dead tree. You’ll probably find you remember and enjoy the lectures more by just relaxing, sitting back and really focusing on what the speakers are saying. By all means, take some notes, but don’t feel its compulsory to produce a detailed transcript of the entire talk.
  5. Stay well HYDRATED and fed. Your brains will be on overdrive for the week and will be screaming out for sustenance. As tempting, and available, as it is, try not to overdo the sugar, caffeine and poison that is energy drinks – all that will happen is that you’ll be sat their by 7pm buzzing and bouncing like a hyperactive puppy who needs but hasn’t taken their Ritalin.
  6. Ask QUESTIONS. The speakers love to be asked questions – it’s why they do what they do. If you’re thinking it then chances are that everyone else in the room is also thinking it so go ahead, do them all a favour and ask your question.
  7. Have FUN. Oh, I did that one. Still, it’s worth repeating 🙂

There you have it, a guide to getting the best out of your lectures this week. Take it easy.