Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How to Win at College- Cal Newport

I'm far from this book's target audience of first year college/university students given that I'm actually in my first year of my Master's but I've been feeling quite listless and unmotivated recently so I figured I'd give it a read. Having been through it all I found the majority of his advice quite obvious but he had some good points and some I have to disagree with. A lot of his advice is about starting projects early and setting schedules for yourself in advance so you never have to pull all-nighters to study or finish and important paper and I must say this advice is terribly obvious. Obvious, but very very difficult. I greatly admire students who can finish their projects in advance of due dates and have time for several revised copies as I have yet to accomplish this feat. And the majority of other students I know, both bachelor and masters level, haven't either. I'm fairly certain academics are generally perpetual procrastinators.

Some of his main points I agree with:
  • Befriend a professor- Absolutely crucial, believe me they're mostly awesome people. Before my third year few of my professors knew me and when I was considering applying for a study abroad opportunity I was at a loss regarding who to ask. During my third year I met the prof (Dr. Renee Ward) who is the main reason why I even contemplated grad school and helped me believe I actually could do it. Her and others in the Medieval Studies program (McKenzie, Waugh, Weldon, among others) changed my life. Professors are not untouchable geniuses who refuse to deign and talk with students. They're humans who have been in the same position you are and know what student life is like. Get to know them and get them on your side. 
  • Drop classes every year- In my first year I thought dropping a course meant it was too hard and was akin to failing. This is not true. If you're not passionate about a course, a topic, or the professor's teaching methods then it can seriously effect your motivation to excel in the class or do work period. Signing up for extra courses than required and dropping the ones that don't fully interest you is great advice.
  • Take hard courses early on- I wish wish wish I had done this. Having only intro courses in your first year had be incredibly boring. While it's crucial to know the fundamentals of a discipline general introductory courses can zap your energy and passion while upper level courses allow you to jump directly into the material that feeds that passion. 
  • Don't study in groups- in general I hate group work so I never did it voluntarily anyway but this tactic is remarkably unsuccessful. So much time is wasted while people talk about other things or can't decide on the division of labour, so so many problems, so don't do it. 
  • Others: Find an escape, eat alone twice a day, write outside of class, attend guest lectures...etc
Thoughts about others: I think his daily schedules in lieu of to-do lists are impractical and would end up spending more time to make. I couldn't have survived full-time school and 2 part-time jobs following his 'Never Nap' rule. The thought of dressing nicely for class makes me laugh. He also suggests never studying in your room but I choose it over the library or reading room most days because I like to listen to music and if I'm reading something particularly boring I pace and wander around my room with the book in order to keep awake and interested. I don't think I work-progress journal would work for me because I know I disappoint myself when I don't get work done I don't need to write it down, now if there was a certain level of public accountability then it might shame me into working.
One of my major problems with books like these is the implied time schedule. Basically the whole get up early and go to bed at 11 or 12, repeat. This kind of life does not work for me, never has and never will. One of the things the aforementioned Dr. Ward told me was to not force myself to fit into molds that I don't work for me. If work better at night therefore I should work at night. If necessary to take on a near nocturnal existence for a while then that's what I should do. I must say that lifestyle will be significantly more difficult in Norway as everything here closes early. The library closes around 8 or 9 and the reading room closes at midnight. You can stay in there as late as you want but you can't get back in if you leave and unfortunately the washrooms are outside the reading room. Things close even earlier on Saturdays and don't open on Sundays or it's only for a couple hours.

1 comment:

  1. Just wanted to ask how you're finding Norway? :)