Archive for the ‘College Survival Guide’ Category

Passion, Not a Ph.D., Makes the Professor

October 5th, 2012 No comments

It has been said more than once that a good teacher knows the subject matter, while a great teacher is passionate about it. And nowhere is this statement more true than at a university level, where things like high class sizes, tenure, publications in academic journals, and other research opportunities can often cause professors to become rather lackadaisical about their teaching.

For a lot of professors today, a significant majority of their teaching comes down to their lectures. And while a professor may be very knowledgeable about that subject, if he or she does not know how to lecture well, it is ultimately the students who suffer. I’ve had a physics professor, for example, with a Ph.D in his field and decades of experience under his belt. He’s certainly a well-learned expert; but when he gave lectures, he spoke in a very soft, monotonous voice. And with run-on sentences everywhere, it seemed like he never paused to even take a breath. Not to mention that English wasn’t his native tongue, so he spoke with a slight accent. (This one I can’t fault him for; but that doesn’t mean it detracted from his lectures any less.)

Even when I was sitting in the front and center of the class, it was a mental strain to pay attention. Not only that, but his lectures were almost entirely him simply reading from his Powerpoint presentation, which he would post online after each class meeting. So in addition to the effort required simply to pay attention, there was always the mental trap of just reading those presentations on my own, outside class. Combine all of this, and it’s clear to see to how 9 shots of espresso could not keep me awake in that class. In fact, I had to withdraw from it; and I ended up taking Chemistry instead, the following semesters.

On the other extreme, I’ve had professors who are obviously passionate about their classes — for example, asking questions of the students, providing real-world examples, inviting lots of discussion, and really just having fun talking about the coursework. (And for the more awesome engineering professors, this often involves quite a bit of hilarious puns.) This happens even in more extracurricular things, too.

For instance, as part of my university’s Men’s Chorus, I find myself grinning from ear to ear after every rehearsal. Our conductor is fantastic. He’s so emphatic about the music we sing, and so emotive about everything we do in rehearsals and in our performances, from proper vocal technique to really nailing those more obscure rhythms and lyrics, and sometimes even to life in general. He’s also very encouraging and approachable. He clearly enjoys being at each rehearsal. And he clearly wants us to be better singers, and certainly, better people both on- and off-stage. He sincerely wants our choir to be more than just the sum of its voices — and you can see it in his mannerisms, his energy, the determination of how he teaches. (I suppose that in some ways, it’s a bit of an irony that one of my all-time favorite teachers is in a subject far removed from my majors.)

I hope that my fellow students (and former students) have had professors on that better end of this spectrum. For now, I’ll just have to hope that those end-of-semester evaluations are given their due considerations…

The ‘E’s in “College” are for “Extra” and “Enjoyment”.

March 15th, 2009 No comments

(I will try to make this more regular in the future, honestly!)

In our previous College Survival Guide entry, we took a very brief look at the stark difference between life as a high school student and life as a college student. However, there is one thing that needs to remain a constant thoughout one’s entire student life, and that is something very simple, but often not very easy.

Have fun. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. (Seriously!)

Now, I know some of you are thinking at this, Fun, as a student? This geek’s been drinking far too much coffee. However, this is one of the best things I think one can do – especially in college. College is almost by definition a gigantic learning experience, but this learning should not be restricted to academic-only material. One of the biggest pieces of advice I give classmates when discussing scheduling for the following term is this: Always take a fun class – or more, if other life constraints allow!

There will always be times when you’ll be very stressed out with little or no control over the cause – too much homework, a difficult test coming up, group projects, et al. and the best way to relieve the stress is to enjoy oneself in something else entirely. I’ve found that very often while doing homework for a class that I do not like, I end up being bored and the homework then becomes a slow and tedious process. However, taking one or more fun classes, I can take a brief pause from doing the homework for that boring class and do the assignment for the fun classwork; and after that return to other work which now does not seem nearly as dreary. Also, if you make time for a fun class or two throughout your schedule, then you will actually want to go to school, and that can sometimes make the difference in not being truant to classes.

Now, there are many classes – especially the upper-division or major-specific courses – that will definitely be inherently enjoyable. For the most part though, especially during one’s early collegiate terms, it’s mostly General Education and other necessities which may be opposite of those wants. When I speak of “fun classes” that you should take, I’m referring to the classes that probably aren’t even required. These classes are one’s you should just take because you want to and for no other reason. One other benefit of these classes is that, due to the nature of your reason for taking the class, you are certainly going to put a lot of effort into it and get a good grade in the class, which can help keep or boost your GPA a little bit.

So, remember: Take some fun classes! College should NOT be a sleep-class-homework cycle! Well, that’s about it for this edition. Join us next time for another rousing post in this College Survival Guide!

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Introduction to College

February 10th, 2009 4 comments

I’m alive and well, I swear! Schoolwork and other life issues have swamped me quite efficiently over these past couple of weeks; but I’m okay!

While searching for backpack recommendations on the Gentoo Off-The-Wall forums, I came to an interesting thread from a couple years ago entitled, Going to college. I’d like a How-to survive your first year.

I very much concur with just about every piece of advice in that thread; and it inspired me to expound on a lot of those tips as well as to add my own. For that purpose, I’ve decided to post them on this blog in a somewhat-regular [hopefully] fashion. On this vein, Welcome to the first-ever edition of my College Survival Guide!

Today, we’re going to discover one of the most important things about college life: College and High School are two totally and completely separate things.

Now, this may seem fairly obvious to many readers, as I can imagine they have already been through these experiences and know what I’m referring to; but there are those who still treat their studies as if it were really still not yet collegiate-level work. (Trust me; I’ve met a great many number of people like this.) For the majority of readers that believe this, it is something that doesn’t seem to be so incorrect at a glance: It’s just more school…why should it be any different?

The answer to that, of course, is quite simple: For most people, college is the first time in his or her life that one is on one’s own for so many things. Among many other reasons, it is this shift of responsibility to the student (from teachers, tutors, guardians, and others) that may be fairly overwhelming at first. More often than not, the student becomes responsible for not just the learning, but the homework, transportation, food, socialization, et al. Many of the things which had been simply given to the student or scheduled for him/her are now no longer done so. Instead, the student oversees his own education – from scheduling of one’s classes to preparing meals for oneself and – for better or worse – having far more control over one’s life.

Now, I know many (and myself am among those) who as college students still live with their parents and so much of this responsibility (for example, basic housework) is often not as drastically redistributed to the student. However, the responsibilities are still quite prevalent: especially of classwork and transportation. I still live with my parents, for example; but it is my responsibility – and mine alone – to ensure that I wake up and have a decent breakfast everyday. It is also mine to ensure that I get to class on time everyday: making sure I leave enough leeway in my scheduling to walk from my house to the bus stop as well as from the bus stop on campus to the classroom buildings (which, for my major courses, are almost on opposite sides of the campus, thank you very much whoever had THAT brilliant idea) as well as vice-versa when I return home. One can be living with their parents yes (which is probably a good idea for most beginning students, from a strictly economical perspective); but that should not imply that they are any less responsible for their own well-being.

Well, that’s about it for today. In the next issue of the College Survival Guide, we’ll discover some highly beneficial patterns in scheduling one’s classes. Join us next time for more tips and advice from the College Survival Guide!