All Posts Tagged With: "advice"
Seven tips from a master’s grad and PhD candidate
1. Pick the program that scares you most.
When deciding where to complete my master’s degree, I had to choose between two very different programs. One was a single year and seemed cutting edge and fun, with classes on quality television and popular fiction. The other, a traditional two-year master’s, was more rigorous, with course work of a highly theoretical nature. The primary factor in my decision was my relative level of fear. I chose the university with the more fun program and came to regret that decision. The experience was a good one in many ways—my supervisory team was wonderful, and I was able to continue working part time—but by making the safe choice, I didn’t set the bar high enough. Instead of leaping into new and challenging work, I ended up rehashing much of the same material I had been exposed to in my undergraduate degree. If I had it to do over, I’d take the bigger risk.
2. Write every day.
This will keep you in the right headspace, so that when it comes time to get that twenty-page term paper done, it’s not so agonizing. Whether it’s making précis of readings for class or blogging about pop culture, the habit of writing will serve you well. When drafting my thesis, I made a promise to sit down with the work every day, no matter what. If I couldn’t eke out more than a paragraph, that was okay; the point was just to commit to showing up ready to work. I devoted four or five hours daily, five days a week, to my thesis throughout the summer, and had my first draft finished before Labour Day. Writing daily didn’t make the process painless, but it did make it much less overwhelming.
Dr. Donna’s advice for stressed out students
‘Tis the season to be harried! Realizing that not all of you will celebrate Christmas, I still thought we’d poke a little fun at the holiday season. In doing so, I’m going to give you the gift of a superpower, possibly the most powerful tool you can possess to keep healthy and sane during the upcoming exam session, but, like many presents, it will come with “some assembly required”.
What better inspiration for university students as they finish term work and study for exams than that red hooded hero superhero, Santa Claus. Santa Claus? A role model? True, he has the BMI of the Goodyear blimp and an atrocious fashion sense that not even a cross-dressing elf would copy. Agreed, he has a serious eating disorder and a drug habit from smoking who knows what in those pipes that he and Frosty share.
However, despite being an unpaid chimney sweep and no matter how many spiked eggnogs he has consumed the night before, Santa gets the job done on time every year.
Hippocrates offers students seven timeless truths
Recently I was reading a very old book, John Cotta’s Short Discovery (1612), and I came across a list, attributed to the ancient physician Hippocrates, of the things necessary for serious, advanced learning. I was particularly struck by the fact that though Hippocrates lived nearly two and a half millenia ago, his list still constitutes good advice for anyone who wants to make the most of a university education today. Hippocrates’ list is as follows: nature, precept, fit place for study, study, institution, industry, and time.
Nature, in this case, refers to the nature of the student. Before investing all the time and money and effort that university education requires, you should ask yourself if you are cut out for it. Do you really want to go? Are you really prepared for the long hours of work? Would you rather be doing something else? I often hear people lament that “people think everyone should go to university.” I don’t know what people they’re talking about. Not anyone who teaches at a university, that’s for sure. We know that lots of people should have thought twice.
Please don’t ask for make-up assignments: Prof. Pettigrew
One thing that I should be used to by now—though I’m not—is the number of students unwilling to accept that they have failed a course.
Admittedly, there are times when a mistake has been made. A grade is entered incorrectly, assignments have gone missing. And in those cases, students certainly should ask questions. In rare cases, the grading itself may even be unfair, and, in such cases, students are justified in launching an appeal.
But most grades in the F range result from neither clerical errors, nor errors in judgement. In most cases, the student either didn’t do the work, or the work was not up to the standard.
And yet, after the grades go in, I routinely get emails and visits from students wondering what they can do to pass a course, nevertheless.
Prof. Pettigrew offers some suggestions
If you have finished a year or two of university, it’s tempting to sprint into your summer months with abandon, not giving school work another thought until Labour Day. But what if you still considered yourself a student in between semesters? Surprisingly, there’s a lot to learn even when the sun is shining. Here are five things to consider for those lazy hazy days.
1. Take a course. Obviously, not everyone can afford the time and money required for a summer course, but if you can swing it, it’s a lot more pleasant than it sounds. For one thing, summer courses are condensed, so you get through the material quickly and it’s easier to remember everything when the final exam comes around. Also, if you ask really nicely, your prof may hold class outside.
Including some tips you’ve never heard
7. Pet a puppy
Pets reduce stress and there may be a furry friend closer than you think. Therapeutic Paws of Canada brings therapy dogs to stressed out students at the University of Ottawa and McGill. BC Pets and Friends comes to the rescue of students at the University of British Columbia.
6. Don’t worry about getting it all done
Chances are good that you won’t have time to catch up on all those textbook chapters. If it looks like you’re going to run out of time, it’s often best to focus on what’s in the lecture notes and the lab reports. The textbook may be the last thing your professor has in mind when designing the test.
Sleep matters. Here’s why.
If you’re a student, that means you’ll soon be juggling exams, essays and final projects—and you may find yourself asking questions like this: Should I spend tonight studying for tomorrow’s psychology exam or should I bang out a few pages of this English essay before bed and move my psych study session to tomorrow before the test?
New research from PLoS One may provide the answer. The study shows that you’re probably better off studying for the exam tonight.
What Scott Dobson-Mitchell would tell his Freshman Self
Assuming I couldn’t accidentally cause some sort of butterfly effect that would prevent me being born, I wish I could travel back in time and tell my Freshman Self a few things about university. Considering I’ve already forgotten the answers to every exam, this is what I’d tell the younger me.
1) Plan ahead. WAY ahead.
It happens to every semester. Searching through the course calendar, I find the perfect class. It sounds interesting, it fits perfectly into my schedule and it fulfills my upper-year science requirement. The prof has checks out on RateMyProfessors and the course has a high score on Bird Courses. But I don’t have one of the prerequisites! If I’d been smart enough to plan, I would have that first year zoology credit that’s mandatory for nearly everything. Instead, I’m stuck with Phytochemical Biosystems.
2) You’re richer than you think.
Or at least, you’re less broke than you think. There are plenty of ways to get money beyond student loans—scholarships, bursaries, and work study programs that not only get you some cash, but also valuable work experience. The Ontario Work Study Program is one example. If you’re receiving student loans, then you’re probably eligible. Also be sure to check out the Maclean’s Scholarship finder.
Prof. Pettigrew shares his secrets for superior note-taking
Perhaps it’s been a gradual shift, but this year I have noticed that students really aren’t taking notes like they used to. It’s especially noticeable among my first-year students, a great many of whom don’t seem to take notes at all, or who, I notice, write down things there is no need to write down and put their pens down at crucial times.
The benefits of taking good notes in class are many and, for the most part, obvious. Taking notes forces you to pay closer attention and helps keep you focussed when you might otherwise drift off. Notes force you to actually process what you’re hearing rather than simply let the lecture wash over you. And finally, of course, notes allow you to review the whole term’s material and show a mastery of all that material come exam time.
10 ways to study effectively without falling apart
Exams, assignments and anxiety: for university students, the end of classes in December is just the beginning. Fortunately, there are ways to make it through without sacrificing your well-being. Here, in no particular order, are 10 tips for surviving and thriving during exam season.
1. Embrace list making. Jot down your exam schedule, assignment due dates and important reminders on a calendar. Make a study schedule and stick to it, but don’t forget to pencil in breaks.
2. Find the right study space. Whether you prefer a bustling coffee shop or the library’s silent floor, find a proper chair and pick a well-lit space. Steer clear of the ultimate temptations: television and chatty roommates.
3. Triage. Let’s face it: you can’t properly analyze an entire Shakespeare anthology in three days. Time is limited, so study the hard subjects first (when you’re most alert) and prioritize material based on urgency and relevance.
How guidance is failing our students
From the 21st Maclean’s University Rankings issue—on newsstands now.
Until mid-July, 25-year-old James Douglas pretty much had his life planned out. A fourth-year political science student at a major Canadian university, he anticipated finishing his degree at the end of the summer semester, in August, and graduating with his B.A. this fall. Douglas was in touch with several prospective employers in Toronto, his hometown, as well as in Ottawa, and had allowed the lease on his apartment to lapse. Then he received the phone call that upended all of that.
The call came from the registrar’s office, and informed Douglas that his application for graduation had been turned down. At issue was a three-credit course taken early in his career that his academic adviser had sworn up and down could be put toward his degree as an elective. Not so, the registrar’s office now said. At his entreaties, university officials dug into “some dusty book with fine print on p. 709” and pronounced the course in question as unfit to count toward his poli-sci B.A.
Before you send an angry e-mail, read this prof’s advice
Around this time of year Canadian university students are bracing themselves for a stressful moment: getting back their first assignments. First-year students may be appalled by the number in front of them — do grades even go that low? Even top students can see their grades drop. Here’s how to answer that jangling wake up call.
Don’t be alarmed if the grade is lower than you expected. If you got straight As in high school, you may be shocked to see a B, C… or worse. But in fact, a recent Canadian study shows that those who had the highest marks (90 per cent or more) fall the farthest: about 12 per cent on average. Take heart: almost everyone goes through this at some point. I did, and some schools, like the University of Toronto, explicitly warn students that their grades may drop 10-15 points.
Don’t take it personally. Remember that the professor is grading your work, not you. It’s easy to think that a low grade somehow means your prof doesn’t like you, but that’s not the case. Try getting out of the habit of saying “he gave me a C” and start saying “he gave my paper a C.”
Read the comments, not just the grade. Most professors will provide additional comments, sometimes in great detail, explaining just where the problems are and how to fix them. Make sure you understand the comments and how you can use them to improve. Professors want you to improve and will be happy if you show a real interest in learning. The jerk who gave you a crummy mark today may end up being the mentor who guides you to the Dean’s list next semester.
Don’t contact your professor the same day you get the assignment back. Emotions can run high when you get a disappointing grade, and it doesn’t help to turn up at Professor Stingy’s door with smoke seeping out of your ears, or to fire off an angry email on the bus ride home. Take some time, sleep on it, and then think about asking your professor for more feedback.
If you do seek feedback, ask about how you can do better either by rewriting the paper (if your instructor allows it) or by taking a different approach on the next one. Through it all, try to remain humble. It’s hard to be told that your work was not as good as you thought it was, but take a breath and set aside your ego, and you may see that your professor has a point. Maybe that graph wasn’t designed very well. Maybe that thesis statement wasn’t very clear. Next time, it will be better.
Know that professors go through the same thing. Profs write papers too, and submit them to publishers and journals, and get them back with feedback. Believe me, the feedback is not always positive. I’ve never heard of an academic journal that doesn’t reject more papers than it receives. I once worked through a whole raft of revisions an editor wanted, adding here, expanding there, and then, after resubmitting, was told it was now too long! “Too long!” I thought, “it’s only too long because you made me add all that stuff!” But after I calmed down, I realized my editor had been right both times. Work, feedback, more work. It’s the circle of academic life.
Remember why you’re at university: Getting a shocking grade isn’t easy, especially the first time. But one of the most important skills you’ll learn in university is how to pick yourself up after you fail, and push yourself to the next level.
That’s why they call it “higher” education.
How to avoid unwanted roommates at school
Cimex lectularius, the barely-visible beast that sucks human blood in the the night, has invaded our capital’s universities. Bed bugs have been found in residence rooms at both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. But the truth is, they’ve invaded many more schools than that. “There isn’t a major university anywhere in North America that does not know this is a major problem,” Don McCarthy, president of Braemar Pest Control in Bedford, N.S. told Maclean’s last fall. It’s in the very nature of residences—the more transient a building’s population, the more likely the bugs will spread. Oh, and they can survive in the baseboards for many months without food. Scared yet? Don’t be. The best defense, says McCarthy, is old-fashioned education. Continue reading Five things you should know about bed bugs
Secrets to success from the editor of Maclean’s On Campus
This probably isn’t the advice your mother would give you. She’s going to tell you to get involved as much as possible, to do all of your readings and to stick with whatever degree you’ve chosen. But as someone who graduated with a master’s degree in 2010, I think I know better than mom about what works and what doesn’t. Here are the Top 10 things that I wish I’d known in first year.
1. Meet your professors in person.
Guess how many e-mails a professor who teaches your 600-student course receives each week? It’s a lot of e-mails. That’s why it’s important to make personal connections by visiting them during office hours or by asking them questions after a lecture that particularly grabbed your interest.
Entertaining (but true!) advice from a third-year student
There’s still over a month of summer vacation left, but as a soon-to-be freshman, the advice is already starting. Everyone is telling you what you need to do, talking about how you’re going to ‘find yourself’ in university, and prattling on about how you need to stay on top of the readings.
So we thought we’d provide you with some anti-advice. You know, the top five things you shouldn’t do in your first year. Here are the top five:
1) DON’T: Listen to the podcasts that your professor uploads after each lecture
It’s a slippery slope. At first it’s just a study tool, a way to reinforce everything you heard during the lecture. After all, repetition is the best way to learn, right?
But the next thing you know, your chemistry class is no longer a lecture hall with hundreds of other students three days a week at 8:30. It’s a bedroom at 2:30 in the morning the day before the exam.
2) DON’T: Bring your laptop with you to the library
Stop kidding yourself. You won’t be using that laptop to research your lab report, or to write your essay, or to flip through the PowerPoint notes from biology class. You’ll be watching this video.
It’s much better to just bring your books.
3) DON’T: Use the word “including” in your 2,000 word term paper.
Why? Because “such as” is two words, cutting the required word-count effort in half. And if your word count is still coming up short, throw a chin-stroking “perhaps” or two and an: “As evidenced by…”
4) DON’T: Sit at the back of the lecture hall
Do you remember sitting at the back of the bus on the way to a field trip? The land of spit balls and minimal teacher intervention? The back of the lecture hall is a similar territory.
But unlike the back of the bus, you’re not dodging paper airplanes — you’re surrounded by Tetris players. And unlike the front of the lecture hall, you’re not learning about valence states and atomic structure — you’re overhearing how wasted Jake was last night.
If you actually want to hear what the professor is saying, don’t sit in the back.
5) DON’T: Utter the words, “There’s no final exam, so this course will balance out my physics and chemistry courses.”
That’s a direct challenge to the Elective Gods. Their response is usually a 5,000 word essay about the juxtaposition between modern man in a consumer-driven society and the ambitions of Macbeth.
When you write an exam, it’s over after two hours. You either get a good mark or you bomb and then vow to change your study habits. Then you do pretty much the same thing for the next exam.
And that is much easier than an essay.
Don’t make the mistakes I did.
By any objective measure, I was a very successful undergraduate student. I earned A’s in nearly all my courses, won awards and scholarships, and was accepted to all the graduate programs I applied to.
Still, over twenty years after I first enrolled in university, I am painfully aware of things I could have done better. Since some of you are preparing even now to begin university in the fall, I thought I would share a few thoughts on what I would do differently if I had it to do over again.
1. Take advantage of language instruction. As an undergraduate, I made two half-hearted attempts at French courses (the second of which landed me with the only C I ever got), partly because I thought that’s what smart English Canadians did, and partly because I needed a second language to get my honours degree in English. But like many of my own students do today, I endured the courses; I did not embrace them. Looking back, I shudder to think how much French I could have learned over those two years if I had really worked at it. And if I wasn’t prepared to work at French, I should have tried something else. Today, working as a scholar of the Renaissance, I could sure use more than my high school Latin.
2. Read everything. In my undergraduate years especially, I took pride in getting good grades without reading everything on the syllabus. I knew exams gave you your choice of questions, and I was naturally clever, so I could dodge and weave around what I didn’t know. But I now realize that every book unread is a whole series of missed opportunities, partly for what is in the book, and partly for developing the open-minded discipline that comes with reading what needs to be read.
3. Have more humility. In my first-year English course I was assigned a book about essay writing, which I bought, but promptly tossed aside. After all, essay writing had always been my thing in high school. Surely that book was for other people who had done worse than me in schools easier than mine. And then the B papers started to come back. Gradually, I came to learn what a university A-level paper was like and I wrote plenty of them, but I could have saved myself a lot of anguish if I had been less cocky.
Coming soon: What I did right.
How to make the right choice
The applications have been sent in, and by now you’ve probably heard from many or most of the schools to which you’ve applied. But now comes the hard part–making the final decision. Here are some tips to help you make that choice.
Now more than ever, university recruiters have a responsibility to be honest with prospective students
The shine has come off the new academic year, and that means it’s time for universities to start visiting high schools across the country. For yours truly, it meant an 8-hour drive to Toronto from Lennoxville, ending at the downtown apartment I’ll call home until the end of October. From here, I’ll be canvassing the Greater Toronto Area, before heading west to Regina, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
While I’ve written previously about the high-tech ways in which universities pursue students, individual school visits remain incredibly important. A recent article in Ad Age talked about the multi-billion dollar ad campaigns schools like UCLA have undertaken to bring in more students. I finished the article convinced that marketing and advertising were of paramount importance in higher education. That is, until I read the comments section, in which “university people” talked about the fact that personal relationships remain the most important way they can help students choose a university. After all, students aren’t buying an iPod, or picking out a pair of shoes; they’re making a serious decision that will cost upwards of $40,000 and have a lasting impact on their career, lifestyle, and friendships.
With these weighty things in mind, I rocketed out of the parking garage early Friday morning, bound for Upper Canada College. I should mention that if you are lucky enough to come across Bishop’s Dodge Caliber – affectionately nicknamed the “Gaitermobile” – feel free to wave. I arrived at UCC, set up my banner and promo materials, and proceeded to have a great discussion with UCC’s Head of Guidance, David Matthews. The guidance counsellors I met with at UCC, North Toronto, and Branksome Hall reminded me of the pressure GC’s are under on a daily basis. As senior students shift their attention toward choosing a university, counsellors are inundated with requests for assistance. They are responsible for helping students recognize the school that would best serve their long-term goals, even if those goals may shift over the four years the student is away. It’s a daunting task, to say the least. Thankfully, I think the students at the three schools I visited are in good hands, with people like David Matthews and Susan Bates aiding them in this important decision.
So what did I learn in my first week? I think, more than ever, university recruiters have a responsibility to be honest with prospective students. In today’s economy, universities are going to fight to bring students in. With the demographic dip looming for university-age Canadians, the battle will continue to be fierce.
Don’t get me wrong: If I think you’re the kind of person who should attend BU, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you end up there. But if you’re looking for a program or experience unavailable in Lennoxville, I’m not going to waste your time or tuition dollars convincing you of something you’ll likely reject in the end. As a student heading off to university, ask your guidance counsellors for help finding the right fit, so that you can build a short list of schools right away. Once you build that list, have a frank discussion with the recruiters from that university about your goals, priorities, and the life you want to live both during and after university. From there, you can start to get some idea of which school would best fit your needs.
That’s all for this morning. See you out there!
Watch for the turning point, and for opportunities outside your area of study
I’m getting together later this week with the guy who designed my website. We were both undergrads at the time and he was, I think, studying something in social science. Now he manages a team of web developers. The other day I spoke on the phone with another friend who graduated several years ago. He was in drama, and did odd jobs cutting grass and removing snow as his part-time job. Now he runs a successful landscaping business with nine trucks on the road. A good friend who started her first year in woman’s studies and subsequently rewrote the constitution and by-laws of our campus woman’s centre just joined me in law school. The list goes on and on.
It’s a long accepted truism of university education that most students don’t stay in the areas of study they declare as their minors, majors, and specialties. That isn’t news, right? Surely you don’t imagine that the thousands of students enrolled in psychology each year are all going to become psychologists in any sense. Or that the large number of English students will all become teachers, or English professors, or professional writers. For every student who ends up in a career that is logically connected to her field of study, there are probably two or three who end up doing something radically different. And that’s just fine.
One thing I’ve noticed, however, is that many students are far behind the curve on dealing with this fact. Right around when students are graduating, after their four (or more) years in university, they suddenly poke their heads up and say “hey, what am I going to do with this degree anyway?” And the career office hastens to reassure them that they can work in a variety of fields, and often cites the sorts of examples I led off with, and wishes them well. But the truth is that none of these stories, or the others I could mention, are the results of 11th hour panic. The students who moved smoothly into careers outside their areas of study are those who realized some time ago that their hobbies were turning into careers, and began to approach them as such.
As a new school year starts – whether your first or otherwise – I’d encourage all students to stay alert for the possibility that something you may think of as a distraction from your “real” work and career may in fact be turning into your work and your career. It may creep up on your accidentally but like any career it’s going to require some nurturing as well. You’ll want to start working on contacts who might employ you doing the thing you enjoy doing anyway, or explore necessary certifications, or fill in gaps in your training and experience. If you find yourself at the end of your degree and then start thinking about these things it’s already too late. (For those who are there already – better late than never – but it isn’t the way I’d recommend doing things all the same).
In terms of specific steps you might take to find a career where you hadn’t previously considered one, the possible scenarios are so varied I couldn’t possibly cover them all. But don’t dismiss your university resources as one source of advice and help, just because you’re doing something other than what you’ve studied. Universities may seem a little divorced from reality sometimes but not so much so that they haven’t realized their graduates are going into a diverse array of fields. You may find far more of relevance there than you’d ever have expected, and maybe even a contact or two to help you along.
Questions are welcome at email@example.com. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.
Facebook friending is the new handshake
1. If you move away from home, you’ll miss your parents for the first five minutes. Maybe.
2. Your first-year grades are meaningless but maybe you want to crack a book open once in a while?
3. Male bravado may be tacky but hey, that never stopped anyone.
4. Frosh Week can be obnoxious and humiliating with overzealous enthusiasm but it’s an excellent way to make friends, so go on and build that human pyramid!
5. Nobody cares about anything you ever did in high school. No one is impressed that you wrote the school’s winter production or that this one time, you made a killer joke and the most popular boy in your class laughed. (I’ve tried this, I HAVE TRIED THIS.)
6. Not everyone drinks. Some people read. Sometimes they study. Some smoke. Variety is the spice of life.
7. Engineering students all have a creepy symbiotic and almost inappropriate relationship with each other. They paint their bodies, duct tape each other to lamp posts in busy city squares and march down crowded sidewalks playing horns. Avoid.
8. Half-Baked is really an exceptional film under the right circumstances.
9. The person next to you is probably just as nervous as you are.
10. “Friendcest” will become the dirtiest word in your lexicon.
11. You’re right, I bet you and your high school boyfriend are, like, so in love and you’re totes going to make this long distance thing work and you’re going to get married one day and walk down the aisle to Metric wearing your favorite gold lycra tube top from American Apparel. No, no, I’m the idiot.
12. “Hey, do you want to go play some beer pong?” doesn’t mean it’s a date.
13. You might change your major or you might change your school or you might change your friends, and none of it is such a huge deal.
14. My brother taught me this and for some people more than others, it’s vital to pay attention to: Try to suspend whatever disdain you may have for certain groups of people for the sake of making a friend or two. You can’t roll your eyes at all of the people all of the time and expect to get away with it. (That said, you can’t be friends with everyone, so pick your battles.)
15. Don’t take any advice.
– Photo by Matthew Braga –