I just finished my degree – no matter how unconventional the ending – and I can’t help but admit that I learned a lot in university. I would be an idiot to say I learned nothing in class. I learned lots in class, not necessarily anything I will remember or anything I will use, but that’s on me for picking a degree that has little to no real-world applicability.
However, over the last four years I’ve learned a lot of things that were definitely not taught by my professors. And we’ve talked about some of my favourite life lessons:
But those aren’t necessarily school related. You also learn all those skills you use to fluff up your resume: time-management, teamwork, collaboration and other buzzwords you say in interviews like “synergy”. And I understand that my experience at UBC is different from someone who goes to McGill or UofT or Queen’s. It’s even different from anyone else who goes to UBC (we’re not even going to get into the differences between Canadian and American schools. That’s just a can of worms I don’t have the brain capacity to open right now). But there are definitely some threads that get sewn into everyone’s experiences. So, in hope of spreading wisdom I am going to tell you every I learned about school. Not everything I learned in school, I’m not willing to start using APA citations on my blog, but everything I learned about school.
1) Make friends with 1 prof
At one point in your life you will need a reference letter, so pick one professor and try to be friends with them. Send them emails, show up to office hours, ask a question in class every now and then. Don’t be a brown nose because then everyone in your class will daydream about you drowning in an accident so you don’t derail the discussion every time you raise your hand. But pick one professor and show some interest. It works best in a class you are a) doing well in and b) have some genuine interest in the course material. Then when you want to apply to grad school or a job or a lab, you will have someone to hit up when you need a reference.
2) You can go to class drunk
I do not recommend it. But if you had a raging night on let’s say…. Wednesday, and you wake up still full of tequila and bad decisions, you are still able to attend class. Your notes will probably not make sense and halfway through, your hangover will start to set in like somebody hit you in the back of the head with a lead pipe, but you can do it if push comes to shove.
3) Take Tums (or another antacid) before you start drinking
Basic chemistry for my readers who a little scientifically inept: acid + base = neutral. Alcohol is an acid, Tums are a base, they neutralise the acid in your stomach and you don’t feel quite as much like garbage the next morning and you can actually get things done. (I don’t know if this is necessarily school-related, but it seems applicable in this context)
4) Take a language course
Looks good on a resume. Always a useful skill.
5) Write every assignment down
Seems obvious, but it is so worth the 15 minutes it takes. After you get all your syllabuses (syllabi?) at the beginning of the term open them up and get a piece of paper. Write down every assignment, test, quiz, and midterm you have in chronological order. Stick it up on your wall, somewhere hard to miss, and as things get moving in the term start crossing them off. So many of my friends have mixed up days for midterms, forgotten assignments until the night before or missed quizzes altogether. This method has kept my head on straight for the last 4 years, so 10/10 would recommend.
Most of your profs are nice people (some are not nice people who will make you want to light their office on fire and use your broken dreams and scantron cards as kindling). Your profs are people with kids, with families, with their own life problems, who understand university is a hellhole and none of us know what we’re doing. So, just ask. If you need an extension, just ask for it. If you need extra help, ask for it. Don’t know your rights from your lefts? Just shoot them an email. You all know the state of my mental health. Sometimes, things come up, so I always email my professors and let them know and 9 times out of 10 there is a solution to the problem. Things can get moved, grades can get reweighted, even small quizzes or participation marks can occasionally get brushed under the rug. Don’t abuse their kindness but pick your moments and just ask. Takes 10 minutes to write a nice email, but it can take hours out of you to stress about something.
7) Pick your courses out carefully
Don’t be the idiot who hits fourth year and is missing a required course from 2nd year. In addition to the 1 professor, make friends with at least 1 academic advisor.
8) It is okay to not know things
This could be an entire post in and of itself. But I learn and relearn and relearn this everyday. When I graduated high school, I thought I had things figured out. I worked hard, got good grades and I saw myself as smart. But then I hit university; I learned new things everyday, I made bad decisions more than I did good ones, and I felt stupid all the time. It felt like this part of my identity – “being smart” – was stripped from me and it was unsettling. However, it wasn’t that I was no longer smart, it was that I no longer knew things. I just needed to be smart enough to figure them out. I spent four years not knowing things and figuring them out and that’s okay. It’s okay not to know the answer to a question, which room your class is in, what to do with your degree or if you’re even taking the right degree. It’s okay to feel dumb, as long as you realise that you’re not.
So, those are my lessons. My words of wisdom to pass on to you and for you to pass on to others. It’s not everything, but definitely a start. Maybe I’ll write some more or maybe you’ll have to learn them for yourself. That’s what university is all about. Learning to make mistakes and I’m not going to rob you from all of that.
From me, with love, to you,
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