Seven things I wish I knew at uni

By Sam Graham, LSU

Regrets, I’ve had a few. But then again, too few to mention.

Actually, not too few. Seven, to be precise. Seven things that I wish I could go back in time and tell my 18 year old self about how to do better at uni.

me in a gown

Study stuff

1.       Start with Wikipedia

What I did

I took my reading lists far too seriously and plunged myself straight into primary sources that were definitely never intended for an undergraduate novice. Even some of my textbooks were incomprehensible. This was Very Hard Work and Not Much Fun At All.

What I should have done

Had I started with Wikipedia, the rest might have made a lot more sense. The difficult sources were worth reading, but I should have built up a foundation with basic sources first.

(That said when I started uni there were less than 50,000 articles compared to over 4 million now. You guys don’t know how lucky you are!)

2.       Don’t read everything

What I did

Memories of my first term are dominated by non-stop reading sessions charging through 70 pages of Hal Varian’s Intermediate Microeconomics. Economics was great to know but horrible to learn. I used to work out how long it took to read an average page, multiply that by the number of pages I had to read, and then look forward to my calculated time of liberation.

I assumed that by charging through my readings I’d pick up the required information. I was focused on ticking the required readings off my week’s to do list rather than focusing on learning.

What I should have done

I should have worked out (or asked) why I was meant to be reading that book. What were the learning objectives that week? Did I totally understand these objectives and what had been covered in the lecture? If so, I should have skimmed the text book. If I didn’t something, I should have focused my time on the relevant section.

I should have been reading with a purpose.

The SQ3R technique would have helped me do this – summarised well here.

3.       Rewrite your notes

What I did

I would finish my weekly essays and put them and my notes away in a folder, saying tạm biệt until the week before the exam. I knew I should be reviewing them, but it was always so boring to reread my notes, and rereading never seemed to do much anyway.

What I should have done

I was onto something in knowing to review it, but my idea of what ‘review’ meant was wrong.

Trying to remember doesn’t actually increase the amount that you remember very much. Instead, you need to think about the information. (I wrote about this here.) To do this, I should have rewritten my notes every week, tidying them up and making them useful for revision.

I actually did this when I took (for fun!) a law paper after I graduated. The exam was easy and not at all stressful.

Personal stuff

4.       Try more, sit around less

What I did

There were so many interesting things going on around university and town and I always promised myself that I’d go. When the time came around…I usually didn’t!

With that said, I rowed for about 25 hours a week, and this was some of my most rewarding time at university. I did plenty of that – but it was only one activity!

What I should have done

I should have taken advantage of my flexible timetable and how easy it was to try new things when clubs were actively trying to get me involved.

Now I’m working, there’s far less time and I have to make the effort to go out and find new things.

me and some rowers

5.       Don’t be so lazy

What I did

Not enough!

I did my work, but, honestly, not always as well as I could have. Coming straight from high school, I didn’t always appreciate the value of having direct access to experts, libraries, and time to just think about my work.

What I should have done

More. Gone to every lecture. Done more reading. Spent more time planning and writing essays.

6.       Don’t try to force yourself to like courses you don’t like

What I did

I took courses that I liked the idea of. Even if I didn’t enjoy the area before the course, I figured I could make myself like it later and that by doing this I’d be a better person.

Philosophy of Logic and Language, for example, sounded grand. In the end, though, I had to admit that it just wasn’t for me!

What I should have done

I should have taken courses that were either 100% what I enjoyed or 100% practical for my future.

7.        Life doesn’t start after you leave university

What I did

I spent far too much time wondering how what I was doing now would affect my future, and wondering what that future would be. Life starts after graduation, right?

What I should have done

Enjoyed the time without constantly panicking and taken myself a lot less seriously!

The tragedy of life is that far too often you don’t know until you stuff up. Until I get my hands on a time machine, I’ll have to be satisfied with this blog and leave regrets aside.

Onwards we go!

me and some girls

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5 responses to “Seven things I wish I knew at uni”

  1. Big Brother says :

    Great article Sam, forwarded it to Dana! (Let’s hope she reads it!)

    • LSUvietnam says :

      Great! The study stuff I think can be done if anyone’s determined. The personal stuff…I suspect it can only be learned through bitter experience 😦

      – Sam

  2. Zung Nguyen says :

    First time heard! Thank you very much, Sam.

  3. LSUvietnam says :

    Pleased to hear it 🙂 I hope something’s useful for you!

    – Sam

  4. Hoang Nguyen says :

    Totally agree with you about building a basic framework by reading from Wikipedia. I usually try to read wiki about the topic then focus in what I like.

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