Logo Norton Andreev

University Experience

My university experience started few years prior to moving to the UK and getting enrolled on a university course. I have always known I wanted to move and study abroad. This meant that I had to ensure getting an excellent high school degree, as well as covering all requirements set by the chosen University.

When deciding on where to study, I had to think about the country and then the university itself. With English, most of my options were limited to the USA, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. I found that courses, offered in English, in other countries were quite limited when it comes to what is covered. As the UK was the only country in the EU, it was the sole feasible option.

When it comes to the university itself, I was looking for one which offers a course that covers a wide range of topics. Some top universities were very focused on a few specific subjects within the Computer Science field which was not what I was looking for. While I got accepted at all universities I had applied for, I decided that the University of Sheffield seems like a good option when it comes to location, ranking, and course content.

I learnt quite a lot throughout the last few years. As expected, many of the skills I got are technical. However, due to my participation in various activities, I managed to develop a wide range of transferable skills as well. As part of my course, I developed the ability to conduct research and to study independently. I am happy that after all the effort I put in, I graduated with the highest distinction in my cohort, as well as the best dissertation project.

The first year was quite challenging. Coming from Bulgaria, I had to work quite hard to catch up with what others have been studying in their A-levels, on top of the new material. What English students have learnt in two years, I had to learn within three months. Most of my time was spent in the library. However, I found the first year to be the most important content-wise. I believe that my dedication to do well, despite the first year not being counted toward the final degree classification, was pivotal for my success.

My expectations of university were shattered very quickly, within the first few days, when I realized that everybody is on their own. Lecturers would either not provide any or would provide very little support. The student community that universities promote all the time was also mostly on paper. For various reasons, most students would not discuss course content, meaning learning is almost exclusively independent. I think this is something students should know, as I was quite upset for paying that much money without getting in return what I thought I was paying for.

I was fortunate enough to meet one of my fellow coursemates, Charalampos (Harry) Billinis, who quickly became one of my best friends. As he had few years of experience more, he was breezing through the assignments, while I was struggling. However, I think he saw my determination and was always next to me, giving me strength to go through the darkest times. As an example, I got zero points on an assessed quiz early in the degree, which meant I could fail the module and thus the course. This was definitely not because of me not spending enough time studying for the assessment, as I spent weeks preparing for it. The lecturer then told me I was the first one to get zero within the last five years. While not something to be especially proud of, I wanted to mention it, as it demonstrates how quick and positive my progress forward was.

After the initial shock and the mismatch of expectations, the Spring semester of the first year was much easier. Despite all initial struggles, I managed to pass the year with a First-class overall grade.

I quickly established myself as one of the best students. Even within the first three months, I started receiving among the highest grades in some modules, even if there were more experienced students. My dedication, creativity, and attention to detail are, what I believe, the qualities which helped me to become successful within a very short timeframe. Of course, I was fully dedicated to my studies.

Group work is something which is a huge part of this particular degree. I was teamed up with other students for various projects from the beginning. Unfortunately, group work can be quite painful when you strive to be the best. Students have different goals. This meant that doing group projects required me to always take the role of a team leader. To ensure perfection, I was usually working much more than what was expected per individual. It also meant that arguments would often arise. I found it very hard to work with people who only want to do the bare minimum and take advantage of being in a team with better team members. Unfortunately, it seems part of the University policy, to team up poorly performing students with the good ones. The official narrative is that it is so that the good ones can help the others, however, I believe that, if someone is “bad”, it is mostly due to the lack of desire and interest in the degree. If universities do this, so that more students can progress and therefore spend more money on their course, is something I can only speculate about.

As a team leader, I always felt fully responsible for any decisions that had to be taken within the team. This meant I had to be confident in the project at any time. When working with some teammates, we could quite easily come up with a solution we were both content with. Sometimes it was not as smooth, but, as I believed in my proposals, I was firm about what I think was the correct way forward. This strategy proved to be viable, as most of the projects I had to work on were graded among the highest within the cohort. Many times, the feedback received stated that the submission was of professional quality.

Once the second year came, my coursemates started having issues coping well. As I already had an established daily schedule, I found the second year much easier and, the final one, even easier. I was gradually spending less time studying while improving my achievements at the same time.

In order to gain new and develop existing soft skills, as well as to further put my technical knowledge into practice, I did some extracurricular activities during my second year. I was part of the Sheffield Mentors program. As a mentor, I had to provide subject-specific peer support and guidance to four first-year students. I already knew how important it is to have someone, especially at the beginning, who believes in you and shows support. Therefore, it was very important for me to do well and help my mentees. I got quite close with one of them, who eventually nominated me for the Outstanding Mentor Award.

I was also an Academic and a Faculty representative. I had the genuine desire to improve my course, both for my and the next cohorts. Some of the improvements suggested were subsequently taken into account and implemented. Sadly, I also feel that some of the issues raised were ignored or neglected which worsened the learning experience for everyone.

In my final year, I worked as a Residence Life Mentor. As such, I was responsible for over 120 students. I had to help them with any issues they might have while living within the University Accommodation. Being the first year delivered fully online, many students had issues with isolation, depression, and mental health issues, meaning the mentoring job was harder than usual. Moreover, due to the COVID restrictions, most of the support had to be provided remotely. This required great adaptability, as each student has individual needs which might be hard to meet with this type of communication.

I also worked as a Computer Science Demonstrator for two modules. I was providing technical support to first-year students in web design and software development. This allowed me to practice my skills, and find ways to explain advanced topics to beginners in an understandable language. It made me more confident in my skills. Furthermore, I was more than happy to be helping struggling students.

The technical skills I gained span several fields, such as Software Engineering, Theory of Computation, Algorithms and Complexity, Human-Computer Interaction, Artificial Intelligence, Computer Networks, and Computer Security, to name a few. Detailed information can be found on the subpages, each corresponding to a year at University.

First Year

The first year covered all the basics in Software Engineering, Object-Oriented Programming, Algorithms and Data Structures, and Artificial Intelligence. Tweet-A-Pie is a large web app I had to work on throughout the year.

Second Year

The second year focused on improving the skills gathered previously, mostly via big group projects. Advanced topics in Computing were introduced too. I was also given the opportunity to build a complex system for an external client.

Placement Year

In my placement year, I got more experience working with a large codebase. This included developing new features for existing products, as well as writing tools to be integrated within established workflows.

Third Year

The final year was mostly dedicated to the dissertation project. Additionally, I took modules in Bio-inspired Computing, Computer Security and Forensics, as well as Text Processing, among others.

I spent my Placement Year with GE Aviation in Cheltenham, UK. There, I gained further experience in programming. Most importantly, I had to work with huge source code, apart from starting new projects from scratch. I was given some quite complex tasks, such as building an automated test framework for several tools, as well as developing a new generation of a compiler. The skills that were needed were hard or impossible to gain from the university assignments, so I learnt new things, got used to technologies I had not used before and had to come up with new ways of working.

The placement year is when things started going downhills. Not degree, but life wise. Especially combined with the COVID restrictions and all the lockdowns, I was extremely unhappy with where I was in life. Every day was a struggle – in all possible ways. As the experience had a huge negative impact on my life, I learnt to value myself more. I promised myself to move forward as fast as I can, once I am unhappy with my current state. I also learnt that not everything is at all costs, as cliché as it might sound.

Going back to university after the placement year was related to living in restrictions. The reality was completely different to what it was during the first and the second years. The all-online learning was the worst thing that could happen. In my opinion, the quality of education was greatly affected. The lecturers became even more distant from the students. Many of them did not want to have any sort of communication with the students. Some even refused to answer emails. While many universities introduced “Safety Net” policies, the University of Sheffield did not. This put an additional burden on the students.

Another issue was the established and subsequently disrupted daily routine. I have never felt productive at home. I would usually always work in a café shop or the library, while at university. Because of COVID, I could not do this anymore. I was doing my best to adapt, but, ultimately, all the regulations destroyed my health. As a Residence Life Mentor, I was seeing the consequences of the COVID restrictions daily. Unfortunately, neither the universities nor the Government ever acknowledged the difficulties we were facing. Quite the opposite, they were claiming that the students’ experience was better.

In early 2021, I was hospitalized, due to deteriorating health. During the Spring semester of the final year, I was rushed few times to the A&E. All health-related issues I was having pulled me back from spending as much time on my degree, as I wanted to. I just did not have the energy or the physical ability to work as hard as I did before. I have always been mentally strong, however, at this point, things took a turn for the worse, and I had to prioritize my health. The state of exhaustion I was in due to the past two years meant I had to be extremely careful with my time management and had to approach every assignment in a different way than I used to do in the past.

As expected, the most important piece of work for me, during the final year, was my dissertation project. I managed to come up with a project that is close to me both as technologies I had to use, as well as when it comes to the problem the project aims at solving. In the beginning, I was quite worried about the dissertation, as it is the biggest piece of work a student has to produce. However, I managed to plan and execute the project in a very professional manner, which meant that the unexpected health issues did not affect the development much. I was blessed with an amazing supervisor, Dr Mari-Cruz Villa-Uriol, as well as Prof. Roger K. Moore as a second examiner. They were exceptionally supportive during the whole year which was taxing for all of us.

Despite all challenges, I got the highest distinction within the cohort which I got awarded for. My dissertation was also awarded the highest grade within the cohort.

What I have realised in life is that, when time is invested well, it is always beneficial eventually. I learnt a lot during these years. Of course, I have already proven my technical knowledge. Yet, I understand well that, especially in the field of Software Engineering, the more you know, the more you realize you do not know. I am contented that I can do well, regardless of the situation. I am looking forward to finding out what will follow and where my ambitions will take me.

The information below is presented in the same way as it appears on my Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR).

The Higher Education Achievement Report provides a single comprehensive record of a learner’s achievement, as recommended by the Measuring and Recording Student Achievement Steering Group in the Beyond the Honours Degree – the Burgess Group Final Report (October 2007). The HEAR enables institutions to provide a detailed picture of student achievement throughout a students’ time at university, including academic work, extra-curricular activities, prizes and employability awards, voluntary work and offices held in student union clubs and societies that have been verified by the institution. (HEAR)

Modules

Level Module Name Credits Grade
1 COM1001 Introduction to Software Engineering 20 First (84%)
1 COM1002 Foundations of Computer Science 20 2:2 (56%)
1 COM1003 Java Programming 20 First (72%)
1 COM1005 Machines and Intelligence 20 First (74%)
1 COM1006 Devices and Networks 20 2:1 (68%)
1 COM1008 Web and Internet Technology 10 First (85%)
1 COM1009 Introduction to Algorithms and Data Structures 10 First (75%)
1 FCE1001 Global Engineering Challenge Week 0 Pass
2 COM2109 Automata, Computation and Complexity 20 First (71%)
2 COM2004 Data Driven Computing 20 2:1 (69%)
2 COM2008 Systems Design and Security 20 First (87%)
2 COM2108 Functional Programming 10 First (85%)
2 COM2009 Human-Machine Interaction and Robotics 20 2:1 (63%)
2 COM2107 Logic in Computer Science 10 2:1 (67%)
2 COM3420 Software Hut 20 First (97%)
2 FCE2001 Engineering - You're Hired 0 Pass
YiY COM390 Year in Industry 60 Pass
3 COM3610 Dissertation Project 40 First (96%)
3 COM3110 Text Processing 10 First (78%)
3 COM3524 Bioinspired Computing 10 First (91%)
3 COM3527 Cyber Security Team Project 10 First (74%)
3 COM3501 Computer Security and Forensics 10 First (87%)
3 COM3504 The Intelligent Web 10 First (89%)
3 COM3523 Software Reengineering 10 2:1 (69%)
3 COM3529 Software Testing and Analysis 10 First (72%)
3 MGT388 Finance and Law for Engineers 10 First (89%)

Recognised Activities

Sheffield Mentor

2018-19

This student has completed training to become a Sheffield Mentor. Sheffield Mentors provide subject-specific peer support and guidance for up to four new University of Sheffield students. The role is voluntary, and training for this position focuses on communication and listening skills.

Outstanding Sheffield Mentor

2018-19

This student successfully completed his role as a Sheffield Mentor, providing subject-specific peer support and guidance for up to four new University of Sheffield students. The role is voluntary and includes a training session focusing on communication and listening skills. This student was also awarded the Outstanding Mentor Award, as nominated by one of his mentees.

Academic Representative

2018-19

This student volunteered to be a Academic Representative and worked to represent the views of their peers on their course through formal and informal structures. By attending department meetings, sharing ideas with other students and liaising with University staff, the student will gain skills in the following:

  • Communication and Negotiation.
  • Public speaking and chairing meetings.
  • Specialising in areas of research, leadership or campaigning.

All Academic Representatives will need to complete the mandatory online 'core academic representative' training to take on the role. Further training through the Students' Union masterclass sessions will also be available to Academic Representatives.

Faculty Representative

2018-19

This student was selected to represent the views of their peers at a Faculty or University wide level. Specific responsibilities will vary slightly within each Faculty. Academic Representatives need to demonstrate sustained commitment to their respective meetings and committees. They are expected to work with students and staff across the year to improve the student experience.

In doing so, Academic Representatives will be able to develop skills in:

  • Communication and Negotiation.
  • How to prepare for and run committee meetings.
  • Gain an understanding of their department and the University.
  • Develop skills in leadership, research and campaigning.

Residence Life Mentor

2020-21

As part of the University's 'Residence Life' programme, this student has served as a Residence Mentor for a full academic year (or two complete semesters). Residence Mentors provide ongoing care and support to a group of students in one of the University residences, and to all residents in this University community whilst on duty. Mentors complete training for their role, participate in the University's Welcome Programme for new students and participate in the 'Community Living' Campaign.

Undertaking this activity represents a significant commitment and provides students with the opportunity to develop a wide range of skills. This includes the ability to work in a team and solve problems, as they collaborate with other mentors to ensure that student residents receive an excellent welfare service. Residence Mentors are responsible for upholding the University's disciplinary policy with respect to students, and receive training in areas such as first aid, communication and interpersonal skills, listening skills, cultural awareness, data protection and confidentiality, mediation skills, residential and University policy and database management. They also facilitate student engagement and community development by planning and delivering activities and events for their mentees.

Computer Science Student Demonstrator

2020-21

This student has shown a commitment to enhancing learning and teaching in the University of Sheffield. They have shared their subject knowledge and experience with students who are learning material that they have studied previously.

They have been present in computer classes to provide advice and support for students completing practical assignments and problems. They have been provided with informal training from module leaders to support teaching on the module, and they have received ongoing guidance from module leaders. They have developed skills in explaining subject-specific knowledge, answering technical questions and teaching observation. This student has completed at least 10 hours of paid demonstration work. This student has completed a reflective piece of work to articulate their skills practised and professional development during the experience.

Awards and Prizes

Software Hut Prize (Client)

2018-19

This prize is awarded once annually in recognition of software development for a real-world client. Students compete, in teams, to develop the most effective software, following an agile development process in close collaboration with their client. This student was a member of a winning team, as deemed by the team's client.

Mappin Medal and Premium

2020-21

This prize is awarded to ten undergraduate students annually, in honour of the late Sir Frederick Mappin, Bart. It is given to students who have shown great distinction, and are in the final year of study for an undergradate programme offered by the Faculty of Engineering. All prize winners receive a medal and a monetary sum.