Blinded by Science

How eNotes’ Math and Science intern overcame his trouble with the sciences and learned to love his Biochemistry major.

Science: the subject that many find so difficult to understand (and so boring to even attempt to understand) that they just dread learning about it, dread having to sit in class and listen to the teacher ramble on about atoms and cells and forces of nature. In high school, I used to be the type of student who wanted to ditch my chemistry and biology class. Seriously, who wants to hang around periodic tables and posters of cellular structures all day, and then have to study so hard just to learn on the test that you understood almost nothing? However, when I started college and began studying for my biochemistry degree (being Asian, I was heavily influenced to become a doctor), I began to realize why so many of us perform poorly in and, for some, even fear science. A 3rd year into my studies now, let me share with you my experience of overcoming the negative attitude and eventually growing to love this subject.

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“Why do I need to learn this? When am I ever going to use this information in my lifetime?” These are questions that we’ve all asked at some point in our scientific studies. In fact, the professor of my public speaking course raised this question just 2 days ago, referring to the sciences. This is one of the many reasons that science classes may seem so difficult and scary. It seems so arbitrary and foreign to us, like learning a whole new language that we will never use, and school fails in making it seem less frightening, in making it more familiar. Instead, we are driven away by how test-oriented the material is and the amount of memorization that is required.

My love for the sciences began in my first physics and chemistry courses. We were learning about exothermic (release of heat) chemical reactions and kinetic energy. Sure, I understand that when favorable chemical reactions naturally occur spontaneously go towards products and release energy as heat, but what does this mean and why do I care? Out of frustration in how poorly I was doing in the class, I decided to approach learning science through another method. I began to explore where these concepts occur in my everyday world and that’s when I stumbled across explosions. Those beautiful explosions seen in fireworks and those awesomely crazy explosions seen in action movies can all be fundamentally explained by the basic concept of exothermic reactions. All that force, heat/light, and fire that we see as a result of an explosion is all due to a chemical reaction that releases a lot of heat, causing the rapid expansion of air molecules. How cool is that?! All that insanity due simply to a sudden, quick expansion of air molecules that help transfer heat! I’d never thought something so simple can be responsible for what we see in fireworks and explosions. This is when I realized that I can make science a lot easier and a lot more interesting to understand.

Over the last few years, I stumbled across more interesting applications of the concepts I was learning in class. In quantum mechanics, I learned that teleportation is possible and that scientists have already teleported incredibly small particles from one island to another (shout out to all those Star Trek fans who fantasize about traveling from one place to another in a matter of seconds). In physics and chemistry, I discovered the most efficient way to drive a car, meaning I can now consistently get above 40 miles per gallon in my 1996 Honda Civic, which is incredible considering that a lot of fuel efficient cars these days average about only 32 miles per gallon.

The main point I’m trying to get at is learn how the science can be applied and try to relate it to a phenomenon that you find fascinating, especially if you are someone who is currently struggling in your science courses as I did (my GPA actually dropped below a 3.0 when I started college). Explore the internet and answer that question your little voice keeps asking in your head, “When am I ever going to use this?” It’s what led me to finding better and easier ways to perform simple tasks, such as driving, cooking, and fixing broken appliances. Although it may be true that science comes more naturally for those who are left brain dominant, all you need to do is be creative and find some way to connect that scientific concept to something that really interests you, and you don’t need to be an Einstein to make that happen. In fact, that’s how most of us learn in other subjects, but science just seems so foreign at first that it’s hard to take that first, eye-opening step. Once you take that step, though, you’ll begin to realize all beautiful ideas and revolutionary technology arise from surprisingly simple concepts with a bit of imagination and experimentation. It’s what allows for the possibility of teleportation, the possibility of substituting electricity with quantum particles to make computing millions of times faster, the possibility of finding cures for life-threatening diseases, and the possibility of traveling through space and time. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

So, as Jesse Pinkman expresses it in Breaking Bad, “Yeah, science!”


How College Is Like That Juicy Hamburger You Just Don’t Want to End

Just come with us on this one…

eNotes’ intern offers more advice on how to savor college and prep for the real world, which in foodie-terms can only be likened to that salad bar at the Souplantation–a bottomless pit of just “meh.” So, now that we’ve livened your spirits…

Picture this. You’re at a restaurant, and it’s around 3 or 4 o’clock. You woke up late and didn’t have time to grab any breakfast, and you had class for a couple straight hours without a break. Essentially, you’ve gone all day without a single bite of food, and MAN you’re hungry. So hungry, in fact, that the moment the waiter brings you whatever it is you’ve ordered (probably something with french fries), you praise him for his good deed, nearly yank it from his hands, and devour the entire meal before you even realize it’s happening. The next time you look at your plate, you realize it’s just you and a couple crumbs left. You aren’t even sure what you just ate.

Now, I didn’t just use this example because this is my life on a near regular basis… I used it because it’s really applicable! Watch me go, I promise, this is totally going to resonate.

That hamburger and french fries you just savagely took down in 2 minutes flat—that’s college (Oh my GOODNESS, what is that you say?). Chances are, you (you near graduate, you) feel like college “whoosh”ed past you in 2 minutes flat, or something close to that. You’re looking back at all those fragments of memories and experiences, and probably freaking out a little bit. Okay, maybe a lot-a-bit. I know I’ve spent the past couple nights rehearsing lines like these: “where’d all the time go?” and “I can’t believe it” and maybe some “…” (that’s just some silent wall-staring).

Fret no more, fellow sorry souls. We’re all in this together. We’re going to make it through. We’re going to savor all the best things about college while we still can. For those of you who aren’t as close to the end of the plank as us, pay heed to this list of top 10 things that are awesome about college (and maybe try to chew a little slower).

  1. When someone asks you what you’re doing with your life, you are allowed to answer “I’m a student,” and just like that, the “I now have to tell a stranger I have no idea what I’m doing with my life and I’m unemployed” conversational crisis is averted. Seriously, just like that. Enjoy this. Even if you have to awkwardly linger around people until they ask you that question, just do it.
  2. You essentially live in a weird village full of likeminded, crazy 18-22 year olds, and you’re friends with a ton of them- this is something that could only be crafted by a spirit above. Seriously…you live surrounded by your friends. Surrounded. This will likely never happen again in your life. Ever. Go hang out with your neighbors (and by neighbors I mean those that live: next door, across the street, down the street, and anywhere from 1-10 blocks away from you).
  3. This weird village you live in has its own set of moral codes and ethics. Close to 50% of the things you do in the little microcosm of a world that is your college town will never be accepted outside of that bubble. Revel in it.
  4. On the same vein, once you graduate, you will no longer be able to recount events of the past night or week and shrug it off with a smirk and the words, “college, man.” Self explanatory.
  5. The opportunities your university provides for you are endless. Clubs, events, speakers, concerts, special lectures, counselors, employment- the list goes on and on. You should participate as much as you can and take advantage of it all. Don’t be lazy, you’ll miss out on a lot of experiences you won’t be able to get anywhere else.
  6. You can cook like you’re a survivor on the series Lost, and no one will judge you. Pre-packaged foods, a microwave…who needs a stove or forks or knives? I mean, even if you wanted to have a dinner party, Trader Joes has some frozen meals that serve at least four people. You’re all set! Once you leave college, people actually may start expecting you to use fresh ingredients and things like spices (not the kind that comes inside your top ramen package—mmm, MSG). Eat as many microwavable chicken nuggets and taquitos as you can, while you still can.
  7. You get to learn the things you want to learn about. I know everyone complains about school because of all the work and studying and blah, blah, blah. But we all know, deep down, we like it at least a little bit. The fact that we get to fill our brains with new information on a daily basis, and that that information may lead us in one direction or other, building our interests and leading us to new ones…that’s just awesome. You know it, I know it. We just don’t like to really admit it all the time. College students are stubborn.
  8. You can wear sweatpants whenever you want because your day job isn’t really a job at all. Your job is to sit in a lecture and try to stay awake while learning things. Nowhere in that description are the words “business casual.” Pajamas are only pajamas if you’re in bed and sleeping- otherwise, they’re just clothes. Think about that.
  9. You’re allowed to dabble in things without being talked about as if you’re a lost soul searching for your way. Hey, it’s college. You’re encouraged to try new things, regardless of what they are. Literally, you can do anything and people (essentially by law) have to just nod and say, “that’s what college is for,” and they’re right. So explore, a lot, and do the weirdest things you can possibly think of because you never know what’ll stick. Soon it’ll be too late and your dreams of being a figure skater will be looked at a little more critically (Not that that should hinder you. You should always chase your dreams, even if people laugh at you, or think you’re nuts. I’m just saying, take advantage of the head start college is intended to give you).
  10. You are told, around three times a year, that you must stop doing schoolwork and instead, “relax.” Winter break, spring break, and summer vacation are some of the best inventions that have ever been created in the history of the world. Fire, the wheel—they pale in comparison. It’s mandated, enforced relaxation. This will most likely never be permitted at any other time in your life.

Phew.

Good luck.

If all else fails, listen to some ‘90s music. Or to Hall and Oates (specifically, “You Make My Dreams”). You will feel like a kid at Disneyland who’s eating a churro (and we all know that’s the best feeling in the world).


Your Major Isn’t All that Major

Yippee! You’re going to COLLEGE!

You’re probably getting hours and hours of sleep because you don’t spend any time at all mulling over all the new, unknown, big, scary things that come bundled up in that word ‘college.’ No, you haven’t started thinking about your future or your career or what all that means for your next four years. You haven’t started thinking about leaving home (if you are), either, or leaving your friends. You’re dandy. You’re just great. You are so excited. Genuinely amped. Ready to go. You feel like you just want to give everyone high fives.

Except, that’s not true at all. That’s actually laughable.

I know, you know, we all know that you are also (and I am definitely understating this): scared out of your wits. You’ve got the heebie-jeebies—those annoying willies. Your stomach is essentially a butterfly conservatory. You spend a lot of your free time exclaiming things like: “WHAT IS GOING ON?” Or… “HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT I WANT TO DO WHEN I GROW UP?” But mostly… “AHHHHHH.”

Yep.

Guess what? You’re normal.

This is normal.

College is a huge adjustment. Somehow, though, all of us college-goers come out alive, smiling, and never wanting to leave. So be soothed. This will be the best time of your life.

Now, I know my words of wisdom won’t actually be heeded at the moment, so I won’t keep spouting nostalgic, reflective, awesome statements about college.

What I will do is give you some tips on how to gain appropriate perspective on your undergraduate education. We’re going to talk about (dun dun dunnnn…): YOUR MAJOR.

Hear me when I say: YOU WANT TO READ THIS.

It’s okay to change it. Multiple times.

Some of you know exactly what you want to study, maybe what career path you want to go down. You’re pretty sure you’ve got it all figured out. If you’re nodding your head right now, this piece of wisdom is for you: you may be surprised.

Some of you will keep on that initial path. You’ll start taking classes in your particular major, you’ll enjoy it, you’ll sit in the front row, hang out with your professors in office hours, and you’ll just keep on keepin’ on until you graduate.

Some of you, though, will find that you don’t actually like what you thought you would. You’re bored, you’re confused, you’re sleeping (and snoring) in class, and you just aren’t that into it. For you guys, and for those who start off college undeclared, I implore you to feel comfortable and at ease trying new things until something fits. You do it when you shop, you can do it when you study. You wouldn’t buy an extremely expensive outfit without trying it on first, would you? So why buy an education (which is, you know, sort of pricey) without trying some stuff out first? Think about it.

Some of you might be worried about what “other people” will think. I want to tell you that no one will judge you if you change it up a bit. They will actually praise you for caring about the education you are getting (who’s the cool kid on campus now?). As long as you monitor your units, requirements, etc. throughout your college career, you should have no problem. Have no fear, you are not alone! Counselors can help you with this process, too!

It doesn’t define your career.

Oh my goodness, what did she just say? THAT IS BLASPHEMOUS!

I have a lot of friends who want to be doctors. They’ve taken their pre-requisites for medical school, sure, but do you know how many of them are actually majoring in things like physiological sciences, biology, biochemistry, neuroscience, etc.? Practically none. Many have picked majors like history and English. The same goes for some of my friends who chose to go to law school.

Your major matters because hopefully it reflects your interests. Hopefully, you are studying something you really want to be studying. That may or may not lead to a career in that field. You may even (like my aspiring-doctor-buds) get the chance to study two subjects (Wow!). I changed my major three times (almost four…no shame), am currently studying psychology, and don’t intend to be a psychologist. Nuts, right? Your options are endless.

The main point is…

Don’t let yourself be scared by the constricting appearance of a word like ‘major.’ It’s not going to constrict you unless you want it to and you let it. With enough determination you can always pull strings here and there and maneuver stealthily through your undergraduate experience to create whatever experience you want. Honestly. Just look at college as a time to figure out what really makes you tick- what you really want to spend time learning about. Maybe you will be inspired to continue that study later on in life, and maybe you won’t. There’s nothing wrong with either of these situations.

So take the leap, step into the unknown, jump into the ocean, let your spirit fly!

(That got excessive fairly quickly…my bad.)

Point is: try new things, explore a little bit. You’ll be better than fine.

I promise.

Okay, okay… I pinky promise.


“Mediocris Scholaris”: The Average Student Scholarship Contest

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Whether you’re preparing to attend college or you’re already there, you’ll probably have figured out by now that applying for scholarships to fulfill that expensive education is almost as difficult and as time consuming as attaining the degree itself. With the massive amount of competition out there, you might feel you have about the same chances of attaining a scholarship as you do of winning some sort of sweepstakes; there will always be somebody smarter, luckier, more talented or more involved in school than you to snatch the prize. It’s hard to be that student in the middle, believe me, I know. As I found out when I was applying to universities, my parents (who were by no means “well-off”) earned too much for me to receive any government aid, while my grades (a 4.3 GPA) were caught in a no-man’s land in the scholarship world–not as high as my valedictorian friend’s, not as low as the struggling students’ who were given opportunities to break the cycle and go to college (quite rightly).

But in all of that, I ended up with scholarship fatigue. It felt like it’d never be me receiving the helping hand. How I wish the following scholarship had existed back then, when I could’ve been granted a scholarship for doing what I do best–being me.

College Humor is offering two students the opportunity to win $5,000 a piece. The requirement? Be that typical student caught in the middle.

Did you sign up for 3 clubs but never attend meetings? Is your GPA a 2.1? Would some of your professors have a hard time remembering if you were in their class? If so, enter now! We hope you’re not exceptional.

If you’re looking for ways to pay for college and are coming up short, definitely give this scholarship a go. What’s the downside of rejection, after all? That you’re not average enough? Head over to the scholarship’s home page to watch a funny video and find out more on how to apply. Good luck!


Tips from the eNotes Intern: Getting Over the Post-Winter Break Blues

Here at eNotes, our intern evidently doesn’t pull any punches. Following are the straight up facts about the post-winter break blues (aka ‘WAA’) and how to overcome them with this six step program, straight from your fellow student’s mouth:

WINTER BREAK IS OVER.

Ouch. That sort of hurt, didn’t it? I do apologize, I just thought saying it out loud might make it easier to comprehend. For many of us, our winter holidays are coming to an end. If you’re like me, you are now trying to piece together memories of what life was like before vacation, and it’s a very sad business. You have adapted to days filled with holiday celebrations, friends, family, the couch, copious amounts of cookies, home-cooked meals, the couch, your bed, blankets, and more couch time. Now, I don’t know about you, but adapting to that lifestyle took me all of three seconds. So why is it so hard to snap back into the “student” life we’ve been leading for practically all our years? The way I see it, there are three phases most of us go through.

  1. The Wallowing Phase
  2. The Acceptance Phase
  3. The Adapting Phase

Let’s make an acronym out of it: “WAA.” WAA is the process by which the average student adjusts to reality after enduring a highly enjoyable, relaxing vacation. The first phase (Wallowing) is characterized by irritability, anxiousness, complaining, heightened laziness (the laziest you’ve ever been), and prolonged sleeping. The second phase (Acceptance) is characterized by, well, acceptance. You know that you have to go back to school and normal life, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now, I didn’t say you were necessarily happy about the situation, but you’ve become accustomed to the idea. The final phase (Adapting) is where you take steps to get used your student lifestyle again. Now, as a student who has seen many winter break transitions, I am a master of the WAA, especially phase 3. I thought I’d give you a few tips for getting back into the swing of things. They’re real, they’re awesome, and they’re coming at you in list format:

  1. Make a list or two: Time management is one of the most beneficial skills you can learn. Sometimes, keeping track of things is really difficult. There’s a pretty decent chance you’re a little flustered right now, seeing as you’ve been thrown right into the craziness of school all over again. With so many things to take care of (assignment due dates from here until June, exams, quizzes, projects, and all the aspects of your daily, personal lives as well), you’re quite right to be a little flustered. How are you going to get it all done and when? Whenever I feel this way, I make lists. Lists and lists and lists. They really work, and all it takes is a piece of paper and a pen (you can use some sort of iPhone app if you would like to, but I prefer the old-school format). Here’s what you do: write down a list of all the things you have to do. Just get it all out of your head and onto the paper. You can leave it just like that, if you’d like, or you can organize it further by due date, class, or some amalgamation of the two. Then when you complete a task, guess what? You get to cross it off. Believe me, it feels awesome. Not only can you see everything you have to accomplish very clearly in front of you, but you can also really feel and see yourself getting things done. So make a list, it can’t hurt!
  2. Create a routine and do your best to stick to it: Routines are really helpful for a couple of reasons. For one thing, they give you a clear idea of what your day or week is going to look like. You can become accustomed to the pattern so that certain things you don’t necessarily enjoy very much (say, exercising or studying for example) can be accomplished with much more ease. There’s a certain invisible accountability you feel to the routine. You can’t let it down! And once it becomes habit, it’s easy as pie. Routines also help with time management. Having a relatively set schedule makes it easier to know when you will have free time to accomplish certain tasks. You’ll feel charged and on track, ready to take on the day.
  3. Set realistic educational goals: Now I’m not saying you have to make a commitment to study eight hours a night. We have to be realistic. You could, for instance, give yourself the goal of finishing a term paper a week in advance, so you will have more time to study for finals at the end of the term. You might achieve that by doing little segments of the paper throughout the semester, or by blocking certain chunks of time for uninterrupted work on your paper. Any kind of goal, no matter how small, can really help propel you along this academic rollercoaster. Graduation, degrees—those can all seem very far off. If you can give yourself a goal that seems closer in proximity and feels more attainable, you will undeniably feel more motivated in the academic setting, and in your life in general.
  4. Be active: Yes, your bed is comfortable. Yes, your favorite TV drama is on. Yes, Facebook might as well be your desktop background. It’s nearly impossible to avoid all these things, especially when coming back from a vacation. It’s almost as if we’re being sucked in. One of the best ways to beat the winter break spell, then, is to fight back. We don’t always realize how lethargic we’ve become. Fighting lethargy and doing some exercise or even partaking in hobbies—anything to get you moving—will increase your energy. I mean, endorphins, right? You’ll be a happier camper if you’re up and about and moving around. The activity feeds off itself and you will find yourself doing more and more without thinking about it. You’ll stop counting the steps it takes to get from your bed to the refrigerator and instead use your legs willingly and excitedly. You’ll feel more alive, and subsequently, feel like you can take on the entire world. Yes, the world is your oyster.
  5. Remember why you’re really in school: Hey, be excited! You’ve been given this opportunity to learn at the hands of different professors and teachers, and you are getting something out of it. Even if you can’t appreciate it now, you know that deep down you really want to be here, and that you’re acquiring something invaluable by participating. You are getting an education that is going to help you create the future you want, whatever that may be. That is something to feel grateful for.
  6. Take a deep breath: Just do it. It will always help. Inhale, then exhale, slowly. Now smile, and go to class. You’re probably already late.

Why College Students Today Can’t Write

Today’s post is brought to you by  Braintrack.com, an online resource for university, college, and career searches. You can check out their blog here!

College professors have been bemoaning the lack of solid writing skills in their students for decades (see this article from 1974 for proof), but statistics gathered over the past few years suggest that student writing skills are in an even more dismal state than they were in 1974. Today, 28% of college graduates produce writing that rates as deficient, even with tuition reaching record rates and many colleges being more selective than ever. These poor writing skills have had serious ramifications not only in higher education but in the business world, as our information-driven society makes it ever more critical for students to develop the ability to communicate through the written word.

While it’s easy to point out the problem, it’s much harder to figure out a solution. A promising first step can be to pinpoint just what is causing students to arrive and leave college without the skills they’ll need to get by in the real world. That’s easier said than done. The decline of writing abilities in students is a multifaceted issue, impacted by teachers, students, and administrators alike and encompassing all elements of writing education from support to motivation. While not comprehensive, this list addresses some of the biggest reasons so many students struggle with writing in colleges today, from freshman year to graduation.

One of the biggest reasons college students can’t write may simply be due to the fact that most college courses and degree programs don’t demand it of them. In the book Academically Adrift most freshmen reported “little academic demand in terms of writing” and half of college seniors reported never having written a paper longer than 20 pages during their last year of college. Students who aren’t being required to submit papers that are academically challenging have little opportunity to learn and grow as writers, which can hold them back academically. In fact, the same study showed that students who took classes with high expectations (those with 40 pages of reading a week and 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more from their courses than their peers in less demanding courses.
Many students enter college with sub-par writing skills because of inadequate writing instruction in their high school courses. A report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2007 found that just 24% of high school seniors could score proficient or better on a writing exam. Things haven’t changed much for the better since then, and many fear that high schools are failing students when it comes to teaching writing. Why is this happening? At some schools, teachers simply don’t have enough time to leave adequate feedback on lengthy student papers when they have 120 or more students in their courses. Another problem that many experts have pointed to is that high schools simply don’t focus on writing instruction. Schools are often so caught up in boosting scores in skills that are tested in state exams like math, science, and reading, that writing simply falls by the wayside. There are schools trying to make improvements, with some making writing a central part of their curricula, but there’s still a long way to go before America’s high school students will graduate with improved writing abilities across the board.
Whether it’s fair to students or not, many college professors don’t want to dedicate class time to teaching students remedial writing skills they should really already know by the time they reach college. Giving increased attention to writing means that not only do professors have less class time to focus on the true subject of the course, they also have to dedicate hours of time outside of class to rigorously correcting student papers in order to make progress in improving student writing. This kind of grading is time-consuming and frustrating, and with many writing-intensive courses no longer being simply English classes, it’s often a distraction from learning other material.

It isn’t just professors and employers who’ve taken note of the dwindling writing skills of college students. Students themselves are also well aware that they need a little more help in their writing. In a national study of 30,000 undergraduates, fewer than 50% felt that their writing had improved over the four years they were in school. A similar study reported that just 27.6% of students saw improvement in their writing by graduation. The reason students cited for the lack of progress? Inadequate feedback and support. Eighty percent of students in the study said they felt they would have become better writers if they had received more feedback and direct interaction from professors.
At the majority of American colleges, writing requirements are fulfilled by passing a couple of courses deemed as “writing intensive.” Yet that doesn’t always ensure that students will graduate knowing how to write or be any good at it. Some schools, like Old Dominion University, used to require that students pass a writing test before graduation, but tests like these are being phased out or dropped. Why? Too many students failed them. While they may have represented an outdated model for assessing student abilities, the fact that a significant portion of students couldn’t pass them is troubling to say the least. At most colleges, a C or better in a handful of writing courses is a ticket to graduation, but with grade inflation rampant it’s unclear what degree of writing ability that truly represents. With little motivation to push themselves to learn to improve writing, many students graduate without ever mastering grammar, syntax, or analytical writing.
Grade inflation is a very real phenomenon (today, 43% of all grades are A’s, an increase of 28% since 1960) and one that is slowly starting to take a serious toll on what students actually get out of their educational experiences. Students don’t just hope to earn a good grade, many actually expect it, whether their work warrants it or not. Sadly, a growing number of professors are happy to oblige, as student feedback on faculty ratings can be key to helping them keep jobs, get tenure, and get ahead. This has had a serious impact on the level of writing that many college students produce, as those who don’t feel compelled to do more than the minimum to pass courses are getting by with less than ever before. Harsh, strict grading and evaluation of papers used to be common practice. The lack of this same kind of rigor may just be a contributing factor to why students can’t write as well today.
From the Ivy League to community colleges, read a classroom’s worth of essays and you’re bound to come across a student using “text speak” or overly casual vernacular in their academic writing. While these kinds of abbreviations and words might work in everyday conversation, they’re generally unacceptable in college level writing. The problem is that many students don’t understand that what works in speech or in a casual discussion doesn’t quite cut it in a college essay. Even worse, many are allowed to get by with these language blunders in their courses, both in high school and beyond. It doesn’t bode well for academic standards or for students who want to earn respect in the workplace.
Many colleges have done away with the basic freshman comp courses in lieu of courses in the social sciences that are writing-intensive. While writing intensive courses in the social sciences aren’t a bad idea in and of themselves (and many social science professors are great writers), they aren’t really a substitute for writing-focused courses that are designed to give incoming students rigorous foundation in writing. R.V. Young, a professor at North Carolina State, recalls that in 1970, students at the school were required to take a composition course spanning two semesters. During the course, students had to write 25 papers all of which were graded harshly by professors. These kinds of courses have largely disappeared in colleges nationwide and have been replaced with other hybrid courses, with few containing the same rigorous, focused attention on writing.
Before students can become great writers, they have to learn (at least) two basic things: the rules of good writing and how to think critically and creatively. Yet many education experts have pointed out that schools fail to adequately teach students either of those things in secondary school and beyond. Students are more often taught what to think, not how to think, and as a result often don’t understand how to expand on ideas, apply rules in a broader sense, or even begin to understand what constitutes great writing. Of course, there’s a line to walk between the structure and creativity that sometimes just doesn’t get through to students. One example? Students learn to format writing in forms that are rarely seen in the real world (how often do you see the five-paragraph essay?), causing them to have to unlearn what they’ve learned just to progress to the level of their college peers.
Why does it matter if today’s college grads aren’t great writers? It should matter to college students themselves, as those who enter the working world without writing skills, even those who aren’t working in a writing-centric profession, may find it harder to get a job or to perform the duties their employers require. More seriously, however, poor writing can have a negative effect on the economy. The National Committee on Writing estimates that poor writing costs businesses as much as $3.1 billion annually. If students are pouring tens of thousands into a college education, shouldn’t more than half graduate believing they’ve improved their writing skills? Shouldn’t employers be able to trust that students have basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics if they hold a college degree? While ideally, the answer to both of those questions should be yes, the reality is that neither is a guarantee in today’s world.

For Students: The Keys to a Happy Dorm Life

Now that summer has drawn to a close and the school year has arrived, many of you will have left the nest for the first time and moved into that staple of college comedy: the dorm. As a recent college graduate and an employee of the front desk of a residence hall for nearly two years, I’ve asked my coworkers what they would like to tell incoming freshmen about dorm life. If they could give you one piece of advice, this is what they would tell you:

 Socializing

Gosh, making new friends sure is swell

 “Force yourself to be social. This is the one time of year when everyone is trying to make friends, so this is the best time to meet as many people as possible. A lot of your friends can be found right on your floor.” –Anum K., Fourth Year

The first few weeks of college will be a nebulous period in which everyone is feeling out of their depth. Everyone is overwhelmed, no matter how confident they seem, and the first thing people seek is a friend to help them figure things out. Use this as an exciting opportunity. You will never encounter another situation like this, where hundreds or thousands of people are looking for friends at the same time. Meeting masses of people may be intimidating, especially to you Socially Awkward Penguins out there, but it can be incredibly helpful. Some tips to help you do so:

  • “Invest in a fork.” –Lixa C., Third Year

This may seem really weird, but it is actually an incredibly useful piece of advice. In my dorm we pilfered forks from the dining hall and bent them in half to use as doorstops. This is especially useful when you live in a long hallway where everyone can see your door and vice versa. It lets people know that you’re open to socializing and encourages them to stop in and introduce themselves. You won’t be the only one doing this, I promise. I got to know nearly every person on my freshman floor by doing this.

Dear Diary, Betty moved Mr. Winkle again. That girl sure knows how to push my buttons…

  • “If your roommate sucks, MOVE.” –Aime A., Fourth Year

There is a time limit on this one. A couple of weeks into the semester, there should be some sort of room-swap event where you can switch with another person. If you walk in and instantly know you and your roommate won’t get along, don’t force yourself to suffer through an entire year of living with one another. It will eliminate the chance to find a friend and make your daily life stressful. My freshman roommate is my best friend, bar none. You are not doomed to have a crazy roommate. But act quickly; if you miss this event, it is unlikely you will be able to switch easily midway through the year.

  • “Use it as a time to get to know everyone while they’re in one place.”–Erika F., Graduate

This isn’t like high school, where you only have a certain amount of time between classes during the day to get to know people. Living in a dorm means that there are people of your age group living five feet away from you. They go to class with you. They eat in the same places. They study in the same places. You could step out of your door at two in the morning and it is likely that there will be someone there. They might not be the ideal candidate, but you have ample time and opportunity to find people who are.

 Studying

Tut tut, these girls are up to no good playing cards in the study lounge

 “No studying is ever done in study lounges.” –Victor S., Fourth Year

My floor study lounge freshman year was many things. It was the first door you encountered when entering the floor, and a natural meeting spot. It was a safe haven if you grew stir crazy in your room. It was the place where you could pass out after a Thursday night adventure in the frat houses. It was the place where the boisterous, ragtag group of freshmen from my floor stored their trophies from these nights out (including, but not limited to: a wheelchair, an upright piano, a white board, a chair from In-N-Out, the couch from the floor above us, and so on).

It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a place where you could study.

Even if your floor isn’t something out of Animal House like mine was, you are bound to get distracted if you try to study in a lounge. There will always be someone popping their head in, or a group of people playing cards, or any number of things that can break your concentration in an instant. Find alternatives. The dorm we work in has private study rooms that can be rented out for a two-hour period. We also have a massive lecture room where the unspoken law is silence. Coffee shops have free WiFi and caffeine to keep you going. I am the rare breed of person who can actually study in my room without falling asleep, but I usually don’t recommend that method to others. If all else fails, there’s always the library. Find out what works for you and stick to it.

And if you really want to study in your lounge, I leave you with this advice:

“Buy ear plugs.” – Danay I., Fourth Year

That’s more like it, boys

Daily Life

  • “Don’t smoke in the dorm. Because you will get written up. And you will die.” – Kyle B., Second Year

College isn’t all about studying, nor is it about the massive amounts of partying you’ll see in college comedies. In between there are little moments of everyday life as you struggle to adjust to living on your own for the first time in your life. If you’re well prepared, it’ll be easier on you.  If not, here are some tips:

  • “Food. Food everywhere.” – Eddie A., Third Year

Our dining halls were all-you-can-eat buffets, and were ranked among the best in the nation. They also come with the added bonus of a wide variety of food with little effort required to get it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the cause of the infamous Freshman Fifteen. So maybe instead of helping yourself to that third basket of fries, go for the salad instead. And while pizza every day for a month might sound awesome, your scale doesn’t think so and neither will that cute girl who sits next to you in your Intro to Econ class.

Easy on the jello shots, Mary Sue. Why not take a bite of Johnny’s apple instead?

  • “Get used to having a roommate.” – Eric W., Fourth Year

Cohabitation is not easy, no matter how well you get along with your roommate. It’s hard to be conscious and considerate of another person’s needs while juggling your own obligations and stress. But remember the Golden Rule and don’t blast music while your roommate is trying to study or sleep, and don’t invite your significant other over and whisper late into the night when they have early class the next day. Yes, it is your room and technically you can do what you want, but it’s their room as well and making their life difficult might have repercussions in the form of spiders in your bed. Just saying, they know where you sleep.

I always knew you were a neat guy, Tom, but this place is spotless. Gee whiz!

  •  “Don’t bother buying new clothes. You’ll look like crap in class anyway and so will everyone else.” – Danay I., Fourth Year

You might try to look good for the first few weeks of class. But all it takes is one day of sleeping through your alarm and sprinting to class in your Donald Duck PJs for you to stumble upon that magical realization: Nobody Cares. Seriously. As long as the important bits are covered, you could walk into class looking like a complete lunatic and no one will bat an eye. My freshman year, I had a class in a meeting room located in my own building. I used to wake up five minutes before class, toss my hair up in a hair tie, and stroll into class with thirty seconds to spare without changing out of my pajamas. I didn’t even put on shoes. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule, so hang on to those ratty high school sweatpants until at least a couple of weeks in. That said…

  • “Do laundry more than once a semester.” – Logan L., Second Year

Laundry can be a pain. It’s time consuming, tedious, and the nearest laundry room might be on the other side of the building. When you get there you might find that every single washer is occupied and you’ll have to wait even longer to snag the next one. At my college quarters are worth their weight in gold, and usually anyone who asks for them at our desk past noon on a Saturday is out of luck as we don’t get a change order on the weekends. With that said, you are a grownup. People might not care what you look like in class, but they’ll expect you to practice basic hygiene. This goes for finals week as well. You’d think I wouldn’t have to tell people that. You’d be wrong. Make sure you and your clothes are clean (and no, spraying your unmentionables with Febreze won’t cut it).

The lovely ladies of the class of ’51 sure know how to have some good, clean fun

Parting Words

I’ll leave you with my own piece of advice. If I could tell incoming freshmen just one thing, it would be this: don’t limit your friendly interactions to other students. Make friends with the people who work in your building. The front desk staff. The housekeepers. The dining hall people. The RAs and other residential life staff. There is no downside to this. You’ll be more knowledgeable about your building. You might get a favor every now and then. And you’ll make their day better by seeing them as something more than some drone there to service you. A lot of the time working in a dorm can seem like a thankless task, and when someone tells us to have a nice day or gives us a genuine “thank you” it can make all the difference. I have met so many wonderful people who work in the dorms, and it doesn’t matter whether that relationship manifests itself in free swipes for food or just a smile as I walk down the hall. Become a part of your community. Don’t neglect someone just because they play a different role in the dorm life than you.

As with many aspects of college, you’ll get out what you put into your dorm experience. I had the time of my life while living in the dorms, but I didn’t do that by staying cooped up in my room bent over my textbooks every spare minute of the day, nor by neglecting my schoolwork until I was too stressed to enjoy myself. It’s all about striking a balance.

Thanks so much to my coworkers for offering their advice. They are a huge part of what has made my dorm experience so awesome. #sproullifeforlife!

Gabby H.

Editorial Intern, eNotes.com


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