Tuesday, August 20, 2013

For new students at Random University

I'm often asked what I do for a living.  I reply that I teach the very young, college freshmen; it's kindergarten with beer.  Well, it's that time of year again, when the local universities and colleges drag the professors away from their summer-time relaxation -- okay, so not everyone thinks doing research is relaxing, but then again, they're not professors -- to instruct yet another crop of fresh faced 18-year-olds.

Recently, on LinkedIn, the person in charge of alumni relations asked the past graduates -- yes, La Professora also attended the university where she is now torturing students -- to give future graduates some advice.  Here was mine:

Never try to cram for more than 20 minutes at a time-- that's as much short term memory the average human has.  Once you hit 20 minutes, get up, stretch, get a snack, do something else for 5 minutes so that your brain can shift the information from short term to long term memory.  Then it's back to the books for another 20 minutes.

Don't use highlighters on your text books, that just changes the color of the page and you'll end up reading the whole thing again before an exam.  Use the margin to write a quick note on the key points of the paragraph.  If you do that, you're more likely to remember the information when reviewing for an exam.

Always get to know your professor -- you'll need letters of recommendation some day and you really don't want one from someone who doesn't really know you.

If you're a transfer student, use Assist.org to know what transferred for which requirement.  The best way to get Admissions and Records to process your transcripts is to apply for graduation, so do that as soon as you've hit 90 units.

Advising can come from your major department, but be sure to ask fellow students which instructor provides the best advising. 

Always get information in writing, especially from the administration.  If someone in A&R or Counseling says X, politely ask them if they could write that down so that you'll be able to remember later that you're to do X.  That way if anyone asks, who told you to do X, you're to do Y, you can whip out your written instructions.  It then becomes their problem, not yours.

Don't pick a major just because someone or some magazine says that's the wave of the future.  No one knows what career will be hot in 10 years, but everyone knows that if you do what makes you happiest, you'll find a way to make money at it.  By the by, studies have shown that so much emphasis on the STEM majors has created a glut of STEM graduates, and those high demand jobs are no longer out there at the levels that had been predicted 10 years ago. 

No one "can't do Math".  Studies on the learning of math skills have found that it depends more on who the instructor is/was than the student.  If you had a crummy instructor in elementary school math, chances are that you think you "can't do Math".  Everyone can, you just need to find an instructor who can teach it -- again, ask fellow students whom they'd recommend, but avoid any instructor who is labelled "easy". 

"Easy" instructors might be good for your GPA in the short term, but if you need the information for other courses, you'll just be hurting your ability to pass courses in the longer run.  On the same lines, don't be afraid of taking courses with instructors whom your fellow students have labelled "Hard, but you'll learn a lot".  In the end, your GPA only counts if you're planning on going to graduate school -- I've never had an employer ask what my GPA in college was, but they did ask for proof that I could do the job well.

Learn to write well.  Use the resources on campus to help you learn how to write well.  This goes for the students in Business and Engineering just as much as the ones in the Humanities.  You might have instructors who only care that you put the correct words / concepts in your essays without regard to grammar or syntax, but in the end, your employability will be enhanced if you can write in a way that makes the words / concepts flow in a comprehensible way.

Enjoy your time at the university -- never again will you have an opportunity to truly explore your interests.  Join clubs, go bowling in the Student Union, meet random people in the cafeteria, take classes that are so completely different from what you're majoring in -- you never know what might lead to that divine spark that changes your perspective / major / life.

Take 2 units of P.E..  Too many students find that they haven't officially gotten their degree after graduation because they didn't take P.E..

Get at least one Study Buddy per course -- they will save your butt at some point.

That was it -- mostly because of the character limit -- but that was plenty.

As for "kindergarten with beer", trust me, the university really is:  First time away from Mommy; not entirely sure how the whole school thing works; would rather have naptime and snacktime than reading; and very little actual studying gets done.  I'm sure that if you really thought about it, you'll find further analogies.

Now I must finish up the syllabi, and prepare the instruments of student torture.  Bwaaaaahahahaa!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can second that "can't do math" thing. I had the WORST teacher in the universe when it came to math as a kid - my mother - who tortured me with it so badly over a summer holiday it left me with a phobia about math well into adulthood. I ended up driving 120 miles every week into another county to take Bonehead Math at an Adult Ed college, just to make sure I wouldn't run into anyone I knew. I was lucky - the Bonehead Math course ROCKED. I not only overcame the phobia, I learned to enjoy math (up to a point, never going to be Will Hunting). One good class, one good teacher can turn the world around. If I can do the math, anyone can...