It’s the Tennessee Volunteers’ first week of Fall semester 2013! The campus is full of students back from summer break, class syllabi have been handed out, and that first homework assignment has been assigned…ug. But hey, at least we get discounted football tickets right? This being my eighteenth first day of a new school year (chyah, I know), there was a lot that felt very familiar. It honestly feels like just a few months ago that I was starting my own first day on a college campus, in a huge lecture hall, alongside 200 other nervous faces. College is hard! Everyone always says there are a few things they wish they knew then to help make the transition from high school into college a little easier. Hopefully a few of these tips come in handy!
1. Explore the new you.
Get out of that comfort zone you've been in for 18+ years and DO college. Take classes that interest YOU. Go to events that interest YOU. Don’t worry about finding the “right” job that’s “in high demand”. Stop trying to be someone, and become YOU. :)
2. Minor in something outside of your college.
It could be business, criminal justice, sociology, or take a foreign language. Heck, go study abroad for a year! At the very least maybe take some extra courses that complement all that science. Classes that aren't often required in science majors are writing and speaking. This will come as a shock (it did for me)…but that’s all science is!! A lot of departments are adding courses specifically to address this issue, so go find those, and ace ‘em.
3. Think about taking a couple interdisciplinary classes too.
Interdisciplinary science is where it's at! And where it’s going! Keep your interests broad. You don’t have to find a niche yet. Try combining 2 fields that interest you most, and make your own niche. Take a public policy course, or maybe a business class, or even art!
4. I know the classes are starting to add up, but squeeze a stats class in there too.
You could probably slip by without taking one since some science majors don’t require it, but then you’ll just end up having to teach yourself later (speaking from experience here). Best to get it out of the way early!
5. Plan your entire 4-year class schedule during your first semester.
LOL WUT. No really! It's not like it's carved in stone. But it's really helpful to get well acquainted with the class catalog and the requirements for your major on day 1. Try to follow the preset schedule they have for the classes in your major as much as possible; there’s usually a reason physics and calculus come before quantum mechanics. Also, seek out the upper-classmen or graduate students in your major (we’re not that scary... :D); they will have some great tips for which classes to take when, which professors to avoid, how to pass diff eq, etc. Finally, schedule a meeting with your adviser once a semester (probably right before the registration deadline) to make sure you stay on the right track to graduation.
6. Register for classes as soon as they are available to you.
Remember, this means look them up in advance! Classes fill up fast and you want to have first dibs on the best classes, best profs, and best class times. That being said, you probably won’t be able to have class-free Fridays and Mondays every semester (blerg).
7. Try and not sleep through class.
And lab. Get the most out of what you’re paying for, right? If it’s an 8am lecture you have trouble waking up for, put your phone across the room so you have to physically get out of bed to hit that snooze button. Tip for labs: keep a spare set of goggles, old jeans, and close-toed shoes in your car. It’s the absolute WORST to drag yourself out of bed for lab and then not even be allowed in because you don't have the right PPE.
8. Do breakfast!
5-Hour Energy or a Starbucks venti, double shot, mocha whatever doesn't count! All that science about food helping your brain? It's true! Eat a yummy breakfast, and keep a few snacks in your backpack for later in the day. Don’t feel afraid to whip them out in the middle of class. Just try and be quiet about it; the profs get distracted easily by crinkling packages and mouth breathers. :)
9. Get along with (or ignore) your roommates.
It’s sooo much easier than NOT getting along with them, ya know? It's such a short time that you have to live with them, so try and make the most of it. There are going to be a whole lot of...unique...people in college. Take advantage of that! If you think about it, you're probably a weirdo too. :)
10. Keep your room clean (ish).
Dad may have been there to reverse entropy for you at home, but this is your space now (woohoo!). A dirty room will just add to your stress. Also, you probably have some pretty nasty stuff on the bottom of your jeans from lab; I would keep that as far away as possible from the food shelf. H2SO4 and crackers isn't the best snack combo. ;)
11. Set aside some time for homework (almost) every day.
I would suggest doing the hard stuff first. It’s tempting to quickly finish the tedious work, and save the big project for last, but that boring stuff is usually the easiest and quickest (best for that 2am time slot before passing out). Try to “sandwich” your study sessions too (i.e. take a break from studying one subject to do another, go to the gym for an hour, walk around and knock out a few jumping jacks, or, ya know… eat a sandwich?). Skim the reading, but if you come across something you’re not familiar with, don’t just skip over it, look it up! That'll totally be what's on the exam. Don’t leave the online homework assignment to the last minute either. Those assignments aren't kidding these days... Give yourself a deadline to finish all online homework a day before it’s actually due and you’ll never run into problems (I know this is easier said than done, but hey, it sounds good right?).
This is very different than copying, borrowing, cheating, or trading assignments by the way. But, studying and working in groups is the best way to understand and retain information. Plus, teaching is the best way to really learn something anyway, right!? Teach each other!
13. Don’t believe everything you hear or read.
That includes the internet. And the school newspaper. And Facebook. Now's the time to start developing your own ideas about things. Start a journal, or a blog. Writing down what you think about a particular topic will help you become more confident in your thoughts and opinions.
14. Write up a budget.
Not just for groceries and that random 'technology fee' though. Save up a little something for yourself each month too. Splurge for that $60 massage near your birthday. Or save up for a really bomb spring break trip. Not that crap down in Florida that everyone shows up to ;). Alaska, Ireland, Bali, wherever! With Groupon and all the points you can get on a credit card now, it’s that much easier to take a REAL vacation on a budget. Coffee, movies, video games, concerts, and other certain beverages are necessities in college. I totally get that. Find a bank that allows you to split off a portion of your income to a separate account specifically for these things. When that money runs out, no more coffee that month. Let's not get crazy now... clearly coffee comes before alcohol. :)
15. Learn how to do your taxes.
It’s actually much easier than it sounds, but just commit to finishing it before spring break and you’ll be in the clear.
I want to hear what you think! What are some tips you have for college science majors?
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
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The Grad Student Way
Anthony's Science Blog
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Fossils and Shit
Science Communication Breakdown
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