My first post on this needed a few more, so here they are! Add yours in the comments!
1. Find an outlet.
College will most definitely stress you out, but try and find a productive outlet for that stress. There will be a lot of tempting alternatives but you will be so much happier choosing something like sportsing, music, movies, or outdoorsing for example. Try and schedule some downtime too. Try and get at least 6 hours each night. I hear 8 hours is the ideal, so definitely shoot for that. But let’s be real, I finished my homework and there’s a Breaking Bad marathon on, I can sleep later. :)
2. ALWAYS ask for a student discount.
You never know where you’ll find one! And ALWAYS look for the free SWAG; it’s everywhere. Especially during those first few weeks of each semester.
3. Take a weekend off from the bars every now and then.
Drinking gets expensive. And that’s uuusually where that freshman 15 comes from. Just sayin’. But seriously, looking back on it, it's exhausting going out every weekend. Take a couple 'me days' every now and then. And no, not to do homework. Plan a hike, go rafting, take a book to the park and people watch while you pretend to read, whatever floats your boat! I wish I had done more relaxing earlier, take advantage of it while you can!
4. Try and stay organized.
Use that smartphone and tablet your mom bought you for something other than Cut the Rope (love that game <3). Get a calendar app (and keep it updated), take notes, and save separate files for each course. It only takes minutes and will help eliminate the mountain of anxiety and stress that comes with forgetting a homework assignment or the date of your next exam.
5. Prepare for exam day.
Have you ever had to cram for a test or show up to class forgetting it was exam day? It SUCKS. Give yourself at least 2 days to review the chapters/notes and whatnot, eat and sleep well and then on test day: get there early, look over the entire exam before starting, and start with the questions that hold the most weight (usually toward the back of the test). Leave the multiple choice and true/false questions to the end when time seemingly starts to speed up. They're usually only worth a point each so it won't hurt you as much to guess if you have to in a time crunch.
6. Check your email.
Pft, who uses email anymore? Dude, EVERYONE. :) Check it often and respond asap; respectfully and professionally (yes mom). Seriously though! No abbreviations or text lingo. Profs and TAs hate that! No matter how much you want an answer RIGHT NOW about that C+ you just found out about, try not to use email to discuss a grade or error on an exam (TAs and profs probably won't tell you anyway). If you email your prof to set up a time to meet in person, they'll love that way more. If you don’t get a response within 24-48 hours, send another email or try visiting them during their office hours. Professors are busy kids, so try not to get frustrated when they seem to be ignoring you. They have classes to teach, grad students and postdocs to manage, grants to write, and usually families of their own to go home to at night.
7. Don't be afraid to approach your professors.
Professors are people too. No seriously, REAL PEOPLE! They might come off as kinda arrogant, mean, or awkward, or sometimes really awkward, but they are there for your benefit. Some part of them wanted to go into academia at one time, help them remember. :) Try and make them notice you. It so much easier to sit at the back and just get through the class, but take advantage of the time you have in college! It goes by sooo fast. I'm not saying sit in the front row, but don't be afraid to introduce yourself. Profs like students who show initiative and make time to schedule a meeting a couple times throughout the semester so they can remember you. Plus, come time for that NIH scholarship, the NSF fellowship, or grad school apps, you are going to need at least 3 mentors to write recommendation letters, and you want them to KNOW you. So, say hi next week. :)
8. Be nice to the TAs.
If you think about it, they’re only a few years older than you are, so they totally know what you're going through. And, they don’t want to be at that 6 pm physics lab any more than you do, so don't be afraid to introduce yourself to them too. They usually have the best advice for how to get through the course that…umm…they’re teaching! And remember, their office hours, grading your homework and exams, and the time they spend with you in class is all on top of the classes they’re taking and research! Sometimes, they have to grade ALL NIGHT just so your exam can be returned to you in a timely fashion. TAs are pretty nice huh? :)
9. Join something!
It could be the student ACS group, the professional pharmacy fraternity, or the intramural fencing team; anything to help you get involved and figure out what YOU like. Go to workshops and seminars too. Network! Never hurts to start early, right? I'd pick quality over quantity though. Don’t join a million things just to fill in your resume. Pick a group that you’re actually interested in, and where you can make a difference. Once you've joined, show up to the meetings, give some input, and keep track of how you personally helped the group. Maybe even try and get a leadership role. THAT is what looks good on a resume. Go for it!
10. Be proud of the school you chose.
But not too proud. Your education is what YOU make it. Whether you’re at Princeton or Whoknows University in Middleofnowhere, America, your education and experiences can be the same. Really! Whether you’re successful or not, it’s all on you.
11. Seek out a mentor.
Very rarely do you just stumble upon a great mentor. Set up a meeting with someone you can see yourself looking up to. Someone who is doing what you think you might want to do. Someone who shares similar interests with you. Don’t be afraid to email the chair of your department, the dean of your college, or heck, even the president of the university. They want to hear from you. And they are usually more than happy to mentor a confident and motivated student. Once you have made contact, keep in touch. Have coffee or lunch with them at least once a semester and send recurrent emails with your accomplishments and plans for the future. Ask them for advice, and be sure to invite them to your award ceremonies and research presentations.
12. Gain experience now.
Instead of working as a lifeguard back home over the summer, apply for a paid internship. Or get research experience by asking profs in your department if they have a position available for an undergrad in their lab. Look into the NSF REU program too! Or ask your department and financial aid office if they have funding/scholarships specifically for undergraduate research. Undergraduate research is pretty much a prerequisite now for post-baccalaureate education. Whether it’s your masters, MD, or PhD you’re applying for, a research project (or better yet, a publication) from your undergrad is a HUGE plus.
13. Think about building your online presence now.
It's weird to think about, but with how prevalent social media is now, it's something to at least think about. Instead of just using social media to keep in touch with friends, use it to explore the new you! Network with new people, 'like' a few political pages, or start a blog. :) Make sure your online presence is one you're proud of though! Don't want a bad bar photo to come back and bite you...
14. Keep your grades up.
The semester will be over before you know it. Think of your hardest class in your schedule...look for a study buddy as soon as the semester starts. Or, contact a tutor. It's so much easier to work with someone one-on-one throughout the semester instead of cramming a day before the final. Just remember, you don’t want to have to pay for that chemistry course twice!
15. And don’t forget to relax, and have fun. :)
Mistakes will be made, and maybe a few regrets, but just remember to breathe, zoom out, and look at the bigger picture. “We are star stuff which has taken its destiny into its own hands.” –C.S. And that’s pretty friggin’ awesome.
Tell me what tips YOU have for students in science in the comments below!
Welcome to Think Like a Postdoc. If you're a fan of science as much as I am, and/or are curious about getting a degree in a STEM field, or pursuing an interdisciplinary graduate degree (all from the perspective of a graduate student), then you're in the right place. Think Like a Postdoc also includes posts about my current lab and field research, including analytical chemistry, Arctic biogeochemistry, and energy & environmental policy. Comments and questions are always welcomed. And please tell me what you want to hear about next!
Questions to Ask Before Choosing Grad Program
First Semester of Grad School
Field Work in Alaska
Science Conference Dos and Don'ts
Women in STEM Series
Things I've Learned in Grad School Series
Blogs I Follow
Mass Spectrometry Blog
The Grad Student Way
Anthony's Science Blog
The Thesis Whisperer
Fossils and Shit
Science Communication Breakdown
Science Communication Media
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