10 things I wish I’d known in my first year of university

18 08 2011

This list was prepared by a Canadian who recently finished an MA degree. He  obviously knows how to do well academically, so newbie students would do well to take his advice into consideration.

Most of his points are internationally applicable and I plan to share the list with my students here at Coventry.

In my opinion, these are the two most important items on the list.

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.

Knowing professors personally is important. They can provide career advice, write reference letters for graduate school and will be more willing to supervise your honours thesis or special project. Plus, if they know you, they may go easier on you should you ask to hand in an essay late. 

Ok, the last little bit in red wouldn’t be applicable in a UK university, since lecturers in this country have no discretion to accept late essays.  Deadlines here are rigid unless you can produce a doctor’s note. But the main thrust of this point is correct.

4. Learn to use the library in semester one.

There’s nothing more boring than journal search strategies and citation rules, so I’ll get to the point. Learning how research is painful, but taking the initiative early on will pay off. Every library offers an orientation to research. For some reason, these sessions are often during Frosh Week when students are least motivated to attend. Still, drag yourself out of bed one morning, shower, and go.

YES! YES! YES! Note: “Frosh Week” is what Canadians call Freshers’ Week.

 

3. Test drive your professors.

It’s tempting to pick the professors who have the highest ratings on RateMyProfessors.com. But often, the best ratings are awarded to professors who give everyone As. That’s fine if all you’re looking for is easy marks. But if you’re there to be inspired, you need to find professors who sound like they’re speaking to you personally in lectures. You can only find that out by attending a class.

That said, you can avoid getting stuck with a bad lecturer by going to the first class and then asking yourself whether you learned anything. If you were bored by lecture one, drop the course and find a new one. You can switch courses in the first few weeks of any semester without any penalty. If there aren’t other courses available, you can always enroll in a distance education class.

Point 3 is relevant to students in large universities where they have lots of choice about courses, but it is still good advice.

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