Another instalment from my third week of lists, a clinging-to-the-trees, back-to-school-special, dreading-impending-winter edition all about post-secondary education, my rear-view-revisionist memories, and the kinds of advice I’ll give any n00b campus kid who bothers to be interested: That is to say, besides taking a couple years off to earn some education capital and life experience before I dived straight into my degrees, once on campus I think I would have — had I had that ten-years-later hindsight we all lament about later in life — done a few things different.
[ 1 ] …Printed “Business” Cards
On my second day of work after starting my first job out of school, my new boss handed me a little white box. Stapled to the front of that box was a small, sample rectangular card with the organization’s logo, my new work address, and my name spelled out in a clear, bold, sans serif font in the middle of it all. I had arrived, and I was the proud recipient of five hundred, freshly printed, personalized business cards.
Business has it figured out: even in the age of smart phones and NFC-tap-to-trade-contact information, email-address sigs, and twitter handles, the paper business card is something tangible, real, and absolute. They are a physical reminder of your encounter with another human being, your meeting, your existence, and something that says that you might be back to ask more questions.
I work in web. I have two smart phones. I have four unique email addresses, two twitter handles, and most business I do with humanity is electronic: but I still have paper cards. In Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age future full of nano-scopic computers and implanted devices so sophisticated they are literally the stuff of science fiction, people still trade business cards… albeit business cards with digitally-animated pictograms scrolling across electronic paper. They probably aren’t going away.
…any and all of them can help you succeed if you work the system right.
This couples with another important realization I’ve since had about University. See, University isn’t really school… not anymore. It’s a job. It’s a job where you pay to be employed as a student and your employment outcomes are a four year project called “getting an education.” Profs and TAs are your technical resources…. impartial and indifferent to your ultimate success, because it’s not their job to educate you so much as it’s their job to be resident experts to facilitate your education. Your fellow students are your colleagues. All these people don’t care about you succeeding or not — not really, despite the lip-service paid to that notion. But any and all of them can help you succeed if you work the system right.
If I did it over I’d treat it more like a job, hand out cards with my contact, web addresses, handles, maybe even a clever slogan… and make sure others remembered who I was.
[ 2 ] …Built an Epic Wiki
Yeah, that’s right. I would have been all over wikis. Well, other than the fact that wikis did not exist when I went to University. As they say (in a creaky-old-man-voice) “baaaack in my day….”
If you’ve never had a chance to play around with a piece of wiki software, you’re missing out on one very awesome piece of modern information management. At a very fundamental level, a wiki is simply a database for storing pieces of information… you know: knowledge. That stuff you spend every day as a student gathering and jamming forcefully in every conceivable way into the wetware between your ears, honing and refining for all those semesters.
Every time I’ve ever messed around inside of a wiki in recent years, building one out to keep track of plots for stories I’m writing or piecing together documentation for a software project I’m building, I always come back around to the same thought: I wish I would have… wish I could have… used something like this for my school notes.
…a massive database of study greatness.
And why not? I recopied, sometimes even re-typed, all those lecture notes and reading notes and study notes over and over and over and over again anyhow. At the end of that effort, sure a fair quanitity of it was lodged in my brain, but the rest of it was on scattered scraps of yellow legal paper that filled boxes and folders for years until I finally got sick of storing it years later and tossed it all.
A wiki would have been awesome: a click-guided, epic-sorted, massive database of my University education from start to finish. Searchable, readable, and completely portable via a cellphone or tablet. And it would not have taken much more work than I was already doing.
If I did it over, I’d build myself a study wiki with interlinked concepts, fleshed out pages with term definitions, and all mashed together into a massive database of study greatness.
[ 3 ] …Carved Out a Weekly Routine
Every soon-to-be University student has read this piece of advice a hundred times before: set yourself a study schedule and stick to it. And the justification comes in the form of platitudes like “the early bird gets the worm” or “planning pays…” kind of drivel.
That’s all fair, but the real reason is that a schedule is about permission. It’s your permission to yourself.
See, you need to study. You need to have hours set aside each and every day to practice this craft you are actively involved in called “getting an education.” And for the four years the most basic of educations is going to take you, someone and maybe even everyone is going to nag your, dog you, egg you on about getting to the books.
“Why are you out tonight?” is what people will ask. “You should really be studying.”
Schedules and routine give you an answer to this: sure, you’ve got to stick to the core of the actual work and study times, but then you’ve plotted in hours for breaks. Your mind can nod off, your guilt about going to a party or out for a beer can be packed up and left at home, and all because you’ve set aside time to kick back…
I’d excuse myself to play games or watch television.
I didn’t do this so much. I tried to be spontaneous and free. I had cram sessions when I thought there was time. I’d excuse myself to play games or watch television. I’d impromptu go out on the Ave for drinks when someone else’s schedule allowed. And I never really relaxed because my mind was always telling me to be doing something else.
If I did it over, I’d carve this out in advance and enjoy my free time when it actually popped up in my calendar.
[ 4 ] …Gotten Serious About a Study Group
Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Community lately (hey, they just put of season three on Netflix!) but here’s the thing: as much studying as I did on my own, as many hours as I logged with my textbooks and scribbled notes in quiet corners of the library, and as many different flash-cards or little bits of digital self-quizzing software I populated to learn all that information, those bits of knowledge are not what stuck with me.
It’s been at least a dozen years since I graduated, and nearly two decades since I started my post-secondary education and in retrospect — because that’s what you’re getting here reading some old-geezer’s blog — the most valuable, efficient, and useful studying I ever did was when I got together with my fellow students and had impromptu study group time.
There was never anything so formal, though. I had study jams with roomates. I met up with lab partners for pre-test note-trading shakedowns. I had a small group of math buddies who got each other through some crazy-epic statistics classes. And there was always — ALWAYS — the cram session with half the class in the hallway outside of an exam room for sometimes as long as two hours leading into a midterm or final.
If I did it over I would definitely formalize a group of my co-students and lead them to victory… or at least some better grades.
Mmm… delicious cookies. That’s right. You can probably imagine the sweet, crumbly flavour of them right now, a warm and inviting scent wafting through your tiny campus apartment. But chances are you’re only imagining it… just like ninety-nine percent of other University students.
I loved eating cookies in University, but for some foolish reason I never bothered to learn to bake them — not seriously, at least — and not until after I graduated. But here’s the thing: you are not the only person to love cookies. Home-baked cookies are beloved by the vast majority of humanity. Melty-tasty chocolate chip cookies are social grease that ease the interaction of societies and move us closer to world peace.
Ok, I can’t back those statements up… but you know they are not epic exaggerations and you also know the simple fact remains that any man will not be regarded as a lesser man by anyone who’s opinion is worth anything for extolling the virtues of learning to make delicious cookies… nor for bragging that fact loudly and clearly as his birthright. And in sharing those cookies with friends he will compound and enhance said friendships.
Like cigarettes in a prison, cookies are — or could be — the currency of social status on campus. Anyone who shows up anywhere with homemade cookies is welcomed, loved, and adored.
If I did it all over, I’d have an arsenal of baked-good skills at my fingertips, but I’d master the cookie. And I’d wield that tool for precision strikes wherever and whenever need calls.
[ 6 ] …Recorded More Memories
…a smudge-like blur of lost memory.
Perhaps this is merely the sad lament of an overly verbose blogger in his thirties, but there are a half-dozen years of my life, those years that I spent in University, that I feel like I should remember better but are instead not much more than a smudge-like blur of lost memory.
Occasionally I remember glimpses of passing friends. There are moments that seemed of epic importance or days that were spans of trivial boredom.
But I never wrote any of it down. I don’t have much more to say about that, but…
If I did it all over, I’d try and keep better records of just… well… my life at the U. I’d blog it, or something.
The author was a science nerd in University and actually may have eaten more than his fair share of insect-based delicacies in his entomology lab. No really. That kind of thing colours your view of the world in new and interesting ways no matter what they tell you. Tips and tricks for surviving this and other pitfalls of post-secondary education are gleefully welcomed in the comments below.