So, my last post was a bit heavy I think. Emotionally, for me, that one definitely packed a punch. So for this one, we are going to head in a much lighter direction.
It’s August right now and I know a lot of people are starting or resuming university. As a recent graduate, I thought I’d take a look back and share a few tips on what got me through my undergraduate education relatively successfully.
There are, I think, four things (one for each year?) I’m going to touch on. Some more important than others. The kind of stuff they might not necessarily mention at orientation. Maybe because its supposed to be obvious, I’m not really sure but it took some figuring out for me. Anyway, I’ll just hop in and we’ll see where we end up. This isn’t a list of how to have fun or enjoy your university experience but simply some strategies for maximizing your probability of success while minimizing your stress/effort.
1) Friends: In first year, a nontrivial amount of effort is put into getting students into all sorts of activities. Some of them are a blast (ASA Potlucks – All the FOOD!), others are a tad ill-advised (Bedsheet-as-a-Toga party in the rain) but they all share a common goal, which is to help students socialize and build friendships. Sometimes, these things might not interest one and, if you have african parents, you might even be actively dissuaded from too much socializing (“I’m sending you to school, not a nightclub/amusement park” etc) but the truth is that the friends you make are going play a pivotal role in your university career. From signing the attendance sheet for you when you’re “sick” and can’t make to class to brainstorming solutions to that assignment with you 2 hours before it’s due, your friends are critical to your university success so please socialize widely and wisely. You never know who will come to your aid in your time of need. The friendships you make in university are very likely to be some of your most enduring relationships and you’ll likely never find yourself in a situation where you get to spend so much time with so many people in your age group after uni so take advantage of it. Oh and while we’re on the topic, try not to be that guy (or girl) who’s refuses to let anyone see their precious notes. Remember, sharing is caring. 🙂
2) Asking “Why?”: This one might be a bit specific to science-related subjects so depending on who you are, it might be applicable in varying degrees. One of the most important things for success in tertiary education is understanding the material. It’s definitely possible to go through numerous classes by simply memorizing the material, but that system is both more difficult and less sustainable in the long run than just understanding the material. The best way I’ve found to understand the material is by questioning it a lot. For me, this takes the form of what I call the Why-Because Loop. You might be familiar with this if you have frequent interactions with young children. You say something seemingly obvious, the kid asks why, you give an answer, the kid asks why to the answer and this repeats itself until either the kid is satisfied or you start to wonder who would actually miss him if you strangled him right there and so you just end with a dismissive “Because I said so.”. The point is, you should let out your inner 7-year old and question concepts as many times as you need to convince yourself that they make sense at which point, you’ll hopefully have achieved understanding. This kind of leads in to the next point which is…
3) Office Hours: Office hours are the unsung hero of my academic career. I remember a course that I got an A- in solely off of learning the entire material from the prof during office hours. Here’s the deal. Profs always have office hours and most students never utilize them except at crunch time (due dates and the week before a midterm or final). There are 2 really important reasons to go to office hours. The first is that the best person to ask “why” about anything in the course is always the instructor. Google and Textbooks are useful but no one knows what the instructor wants you to know more than the instructors themselves. They are generally happy to answer your questions and will often (purposely or inadvertently) nudge your studies in the direction they feel is important especially when the course material is fairly dense. The second reason is that when you go to office hours, the instructor will get to know you. By name and by face and more likely than not, they will like you which generally leads to positive outcomes because in general people want to help those they like and those that seem to be putting an effort into helping themselves. Also, the instructor knowing you can be helpful with my fourth and final point…
4) Rules: The rules are a very important part of your university career. Not only because if you break some of them you’ll get kicked out and end up shift manager at the small McDonald’s down the street from your home at the age of 40, but also because the best way to work around the rules is to know what they are. Got 2 assignments due on Monday morning but you spent all of Saturday night doing body shots off classmates at a foam party and didn’t recover from the hangover until 6pm on Sunday evening? Just might be important to know which class has a more lenient late assignment policy. Missed a test because you went to see basketmouth perform in another city and then missed the early bus back because you got lucky at the afterparty? Probably wanna start falling sick real quick, finding the nearest doctor to campus and reviewing the policy on when, where and how to submit doctor’s notes. The point is, the school doesn’t really want you to fail no matter how much it may seem that way after the calculus I midterm. Because they don’t want you to fail, their rules are surpassingly flexible but the only way to figure out just how and how much to bend the rules is by knowing what the rules are in the first place.
And there you have it, 4 quick tips for surviving the 4 (or 5 or 6 or 7… we don’t judge) years of University. Have fun!