Success: “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose” (Merriam-Webster). Success is what every person should strive to reach every day. It is the backbone and motivator for all of our wants and needs. Achieving success in college requires hard work and a little bit of knowledge about how to beat the system. The university system differs from high school in a plethora of ways. You don’t have the same classes every day, there are up to 500 students in your classes, there is no mandatory attendance, and your grade can be based on your performance on one or two tests. If you just graduated from high school and are about to begin college, or are already in college and have a newfound resolve for success, read on to discover how to be successful at a large university.
1. Define your success. What are you looking to get out of college? Is this just the next step in your educational journey? Do you plan on using it as a stepping stone to a particular job or graduate program? Do you just want to have fun? Knowing what you want to get out of college before you begin is important. Perhaps you want to make a difference on campus and run for a position on student government. If you want a strong sense of fulfillment, giving back to the community and volunteering can get you there. I was recruited at UCLA to play baseball, so my goal was to be as successful as I could in the classroom and on the field.
Are you studying for a career in the sciences? Not sure where to begin to gather that lab experience that is oh so important for obtaining your degree and landing a great job? Our Math and Science intern Wilson shares his experiences of finding his place as a student researcher and shares the four lessons he’s learnt both inside and outside of the lab.
For almost 2 years now, I have been a student researcher at UCLA studying the physiology of anxiety in youth with autism spectrum disorders. This position has opened my eyes up to the professional, research-oriented community and taught me to dismiss some of the common misconceptions I had before I received this opportunity. Here are a few things I learned on my way to becoming a student researcher.
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.
“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!”
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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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).
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.”
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.
Okay, okay… I pinky promise.