Each of you arrive to higher education with deep stores of knowledge and experience, my goals as an educator are to help you build on this knowledge in ways that are meaningful to you, to connect our work in the classroom to issues in the world, and to mentor each of you as you as you develop interpersonal, intellectual, and practical skills that will help you succeed in and beyond higher education. Based on my experience as a student, as well as nearly twenty years of teaching, I have put together the following tips and resources to help as you navigate your college journey.
Develop relationships – with peers, faculty, etc…
Recruit peers as study partners, editors, colleagues, and friends. They can serve as your support network when you are stressed or in need, and will share in the celebration of your successes. Throughout my undergraduate and especially my graduate education, I relied on my peers to listen to my crazy research ideas and give me honest feedback, to cheer me on as I took intellectual risks, and to remind me that I could succeed when I experienced failure and disappointment.
Cultivate faculty mentors. Check in with faculty during office hours at least 1-2 times per term. These meetings can be wide-ranging. It is great to use them to ask questions about course assignments or topics that particularly confuse, frustrate, and/or interest you, but also feel comfortable asking for advice on career or post graduate planning. Faculty often have a wealth of knowledge and experience (beyond their narrow fields of research) and may be able to direct you to programs or career paths that you would not otherwise encounter.
Reach out when you are struggling. School, work, and life challenges can feel overwhelming. Know that you are not alone, there are many resources available at Cal Poly Humboldt to assist you, whether you are struggling to have your basic needs met – including food, housing, child care, and mental health – or are experiencing academic challenges.
Focus on the learning, not on the grade. Grading tends to reinforce an external reward system that can serve as a disincentive for authentic learning – as the goal can become earning the A as opposed the learning the material. Unfortunately, an A in a course does not necessarily correlate to mastering content or developing valuable skills – an although an A is awesome (I love an A!) – without the knowledge and skills that it is meant to represent, you complete courses no better equipped than when you began. A few scraps of advice (again, gleaned from my experience) for approaching learning as a practice.
Make work a habit. Establish routines around reading, writing, research – these can be deeply individual, perhaps you work best late at night, after you exercise, at crowded coffee shops, or in thirty-minute bursts. Figure out your rhythms and preferences and design routines around them.
Establish and work towards goals. As you begin a new academic year, semester, or course, think about what you would like to get out of it – what are your objectives? Perhaps write these down and check in with yourself periodically to make sure you are on track to reach them, or rethink and revise if needed.
Welcome critical and constructive feedback. So many aspects of the learning process, especially writing, benefit from rounds of revision. By opening yourself up to feedback you can gain actionable insight into what is working and what needs work. Here are a couple of great writing resources:
Take intellectual risks.I know that putting your ideas and work out in the world can feel uncomfortable, but taking intellectual risks (even small ones like contributing to class discussions) is a way to stretch the boundaries of your intellect and grow as a scholar.
Learn through failure. In the course of learning and life, especially when you push yourself and take risks, failure is sometimes the outcome. Failing is painful. You may feel a sense of futility about your pursuits, a destabilizing loss of direction and diminished self-worth. While it rarely seems possible in the moment, and it can take time to process and move through a range of negative emotions, you can learn from and grow through failure, whether it’s practical knowledge or expanded wisdom.
Present your work. Submit research and papers that you produce for classes to campus conferences and publications, or for presentation at professional association meetings (many professional associations organize student sessions and provide mentoring from submission through presentation). Presenting your work provides an opportunity to share your knowledge beyond the classroom while building valuable professional and technical skills.
Join professional organizations as a student member. These organizations provide student opportunities for professional development and networking through online resources, workshops, and professional conferences.
Seek balance. Sleeping, eating, exercise, friends, fun…all are essential to your success and wellbeing. I know that when faced with a heavy course load in conjunction with work and life responsibilities, things like fun and sleep seem frivolous, but our brains need to be nourished and they need unstructured time to allow ideas to percolate in the background. To manage my stress as a student — with two children, a demanding full-time job, and a punishing reading load — I mastered the art of reading textbooks while running on a treadmill in the student center. I know, running on a treadmill while reading a textbook is the opposite of unstructured! I also took Saturday afternoons off, walked my dogs (and my kids) in the forest, mountain biked, and threw some hatchets (a great stress reliever!).