Faculty advice for new students

Top three tips

By Dr. Clark Cotton, biology; Dr. Kelly Kraemer, peace studies

First week
  • Visit your professors during office hours and get to know them early in the semester; this will make it easier to connect with them if you need help later in the course, and they will know you better when they write letters of recommendation for you.
  • Make a schedule for studying, and locate a space for studying that works for you.
  • When you walk into a new class for the first time, sit next to somebody who appears to be different from you. Are you really clean-cut? Sit next to someone with green hair and a pierced eybrow.  Is your backpack covered with "I'm with Her" buttons? Sit next to someone wearing a "Make America Great Again" cap. You could try sitting next to someone who appears to be from a different race or another country, or someone you hear speaking a language you don't understand. Following this tip-sitting next to somebody who seems different-will make classes more interesting. Even if you don't initiate a conversation before class starts, you will end up interacting over the course of the semester.
First month
  • Don't get discouraged if the results you see aren't immediately what you expect from yourself. Learn from mistakes (re-evaluate your study schedule, habits, location, etc).
  • Get outside! Explore the natural environment of the campuses.
  • Read assignments in hard copy and take notes in class by hand. All of the available research to date shows that students who read hard copies rather than screens learn more, faster, and retain the information longer. Likewise, those who take notes by hand are more selective in what they record than those who take notes on a laptop or tablet. Devices may make it easier to write down everything a professor says, but come exam time you'll have to go through all those notes hunting for the important points. Taking notes by hand gives you practice in selecting the most important information every day as you're listening, and by exam time you'll have a clear set of key points written down and ready to be studied. Try this for one month to develop the habit; after a month, if it's not working for you, you can go back to reading and note-taking electronically.
First year 
  • Meet with possible new advisors, and explore 4 year plans for coursework.
  • Don't forget to sleep!
  • Whenever possible, step outside your comfort zone. That's where all serious learning takes place. If you want to swim, you have to get in the water. If you want to learn to cook, you have to be willing to play with fire. So, if you hate talking in class, speak up. If you prefer to talk a lot and be in control of discussion, bite your tongue and listen. If you hate change, don't like unfamiliar places, customs, and food, or are scared to leave the country, then spend some time imagining yourself on a study abroad program. Following this tip-stepping outside your comfort zone will really enable you to learn — and to learn more than you ever could by sticking to the familiar and the safe.