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Tips from Professors for University Freshmen

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As August draws to a close, many young people are starting their first year at college and university. To help them prepare, professors in various science departments at top universities share what they think is essential knowledge for incoming freshmen.

Lindsay Whaley, a professor from the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Dartmouth College:

“Scale back on your extra-curricular involvement by about half of what you are currently planning to do. Intellectual growth requires time for reflection. Personal growth requires bandwidth for unexpected interactions and adventures. You will stunt your growth if you are over-committed.”

Professor advice for new university freshmen.

Ruth Starkman, a professor from the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University:

“Collaborate. Don’t go it alone. At first college papers appear daunting. They require you to experiment with different analytical approaches and are meant to be collaborative projects. How should you organize your lab report or paper? Which method should you call in your Java program? Meet with friends and visit teaching staff to ask questions. It takes a while to get the hang of it. Work together. Good luck!”

Professor advice for university freshmen.

Robert George, a professor from the Department of Politics at Princeton University:

“Avoid intellectual – and ideological – conformism. Think for yourself and do not simply conform your opinions to campus orthodoxies. If a few weeks or months into your freshman year you find that your thinking pretty much tracks what most of your classmates and professors are thinking, then you are probably not thinking.Professor advice for university freshmen.

There is a place for catechetical instruction, but that place is Sunday School, not the university classroom. If your university and its faculty are not welcoming, indeed encouraging, the expression of dissenting opinions, they are failing in their mission. Your job is to help them get back on track by refusing to be intimidated into simply going along with prevailing campus political dogmas.”

Barret Hazeltine, a professor from the Brown School of Engineering:

“Overcome your fears. Be confident you can succeed. My experience is that nearly all first years have more than one moment when they are totally convinced that in their case the Admission Office has made a mistake. Realize that the person sitting next to you, who seems to be in total control, is just as apprehensive as you are. Focus your energy on doing a good job, not on your doubts and certainly not on giving up.”

Peggy Deamer, a professor from the Department of Architecture at Yale University:

“Don’t assume the administration or the curriculum or your roommate know how to ferry you through to your academic goals. Be an advocate for yourself. Speak up and be proactive.”

Photos courtesy of  Max Goldberg, Iowa State University student and GotScience contributor.

A version of this article originally appeared on ResearchGate.

GotScience.org translates complex research findings into accessible insights on science, nature, and technology. For more science news sign up for our eNewsletter.

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