A few days ago, the Astronomy Buff had a posting about “How to be an astronomy student.”Â This posting has some very good advice, and it is something that probably prospective astronomy students should read.Â But, there are some things that I’d like to add.Â I am teaching both introductory physics and astronomy this semester.Â Astronomy Buff’s comments are specifically aimed at astronomy students, but there are some things that would be good advice for any college student.Â
First of all, if you are new to college, don’t assume that you know how to study.Â In most cases, high school doesn’t really prepare you for college.Â Here in Texas, and in many other states that use standardized exit exams to rate schools, high school is aimed at doing well on those tests, not teaching you anything that you’ll need for college.Â All too often students come to college thinking that it is “Grade 13″, or just another year past “Grade 12″ of high school.Â It is not.Â This is a whole new ball of wax.Â The level of the courses is different, and the expectations of the student are different.
Don’t expect to be handed everything.Â Do not expect your professor to constantly remind you of what is due next class period.Â You are given a syllabus that should tell you what is due and when.Â Different professors run their courses in different manners.Â Find out how your professor runs his or her course.
Most professors now-a-days have their syllabi online.Â Find out who the professor is for your class, go to their web page, and look at the syllabus.Â Do this before the first class meeting if at all possible.Â But the textbook and the required materials.Â If you have questions, contact your professor.Â Most don’t mind student asking reasonable questions before the class begins, but make sure that you are already familiar with the course requirements before you ask.Â Once you get the syllabus and the textbook, read the material that is to be covered the first week.Â Also, read the preface and introduction of your textbook.Â The author has included these for your benefit.Â The introduction is like an instruction manual on how to use the textbook.Â The preface is the author’s letter written to the student.Â Then, read the chapters that the professor will begin the class with.Â Often these will be the first chapters in the textbook, but not always.Â It is important to read the material before class.Â A good professor will not just cover what the book says.Â As a college student, you are an adult, and it is assumed that you can read.Â Your professor won’t just read the book to you (not the good ones, at any rate).Â Instead, the lectures will supplement the textbook, highlight key points, or explain the same material in a different manner, so that you can see two ways of approaching things.Â In some cases, you’ll find the textbook’s explanation is easier to understand, and sometimes the professor’s explanation is easier to understand.Â This is OK.Â Different people learn differently.Â Both are important.Â After class, reread the same material, but now with the new knowledge from the lecture.Â You’ll get more from the textbook.Â You’ll get more from the lecture if you’ve read the book first.Â So, read it before and after the class.Â Sit near the front of the room, where you can see the blackboard, the projector screen, the class demonstrations, etc.Â Pay attention.Â Take careful notes.Â If you feel that the material is coming too fast to really absorb it all, ask your professor if he minds your taping the class.Â If not, then bring a recorder to class.Â I even had one student set up a camcorder to videotape the lectures.Â Then, within a day of the class, go back over your notes.Â Copy them, annotating them with your own additions based on what insights you get from the textbook or after thinking about the class a bit.Â If you taped the lectures, this is a good time to listen to them.Â When you copy your notes, rewrite them as if you are giving a lecture to one of your classmates.Â Think of how to explain the material to them.
Do not be late to class if there is any way to avoid it.Â Do not miss classes.Â You will miss out on things if you are not there.Â If you know that you will be missing a class for whatever unavoidable reason, contact your professor.Â But, DO NOT ask, “Are you going to cover anything important?”Â Assume that everything is important.Â Otherwise, why would the prof be talking about it?
Be mindful of deadlines.Â They are there for a reason.Â And the deadlines are to be regarded as the last chance to turn in material, not necessarily a requirement as to when to do the work.Â You should begin assignments as soon as possible.Â Once you know the homework assignments, look at the problems or questions.Â Some you may be able to do at once.Â Others might require material learned in the lectures.
Remember that college is not justÂ advanced level high school.Â Â You should not consider the classes to be self contained.Â You will be expected to do outside independentÂ work.Â You won’t be told to do this, it willÂ be expected.Â If you are reading something in the textbook and don’t understand a word, look it up in the dictionary.Â This is particularly important in science and technology classes where there are specific vocabulary words that relate to the field.Â If some topic doesn’t seem to be clear,Â then look it up in some outside resourse — encyclopedia, anotherÂ book in the library, on the internet, etc.Â For astronomy classes, there is always new material coming out.Â Read the various astronomy news sites on the internet.Â You might be surprised how much of this information actually relates to the class.Â If you read things on the internet, though, try toÂ determine the authority of the information.Â It is reasonable,Â or is it just some crackpot posting things?Â You don’t have to know what you are talking about to post things on the internet, andÂ unless you are looking at an officialÂ government or company web site, or aÂ publication’s web site, then there is no editor making sure thatÂ the person doing the writing is actually saying things that are correct.Â Also, do notÂ assume that all knowledge is available online.Â Â AnÂ amazing wealth of information is online, but it is normally only to a certain depth.Â Most of the detailed andÂ most carefully thought out work is still in print.Â Â That means, go to theÂ library.Â A college orÂ university library should be much better equiped than a high school library.Â Most college librariesÂ respond to faculty requestsÂ for materials.Â IÂ know that our librarians here are very quick to respond if I say that I’d like them to have a particular book orÂ journal.Â They even find things if I say that I’dÂ like some materials on XYZ topics for myÂ students to be able to look at for term paper resources.Â This brings up another point — college librariesÂ normally have professional librarians.Â These are people who are experts at finding information for you.Â Ask them if you needÂ something.Â They can often find what you wantÂ even if that particular library doesn’t stock it.Â Â Most of the colleges and universities in this area have agreements with each other to shareÂ materials with students from other colleges and universities.Â Ask what the procedure is at your institution.Â Your college has a wealth of resources.Â Â USE them.Â Â
Make friends with other class members.Â Often study groups are a fantastic tool.Â Typically, one person understands a particular topic better than another.Â In a group, the ones who understand a particular topic can help explain it to others, and they can benefit from others explaining things that they are better at understanding.Â
This sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it?Â Well, it is!Â Expect to spend at least three hours on each class outside of class for each hour that you are in class.Â Remember, this is college.Â We don’t really teach you here.Â We guide you in learning for yourself.Â The best professors will have you leaving the classÂ with theÂ skillsÂ to continue learning the material completelyÂ on your own.Â College professors aren’t going to just pour knowledge into your head.Â They’ll lead you to information, more information than you ever dreamed would be there, but it is up to you to drink it in.Â You should be getting the idea that you will have to do a lot of work on your own.Â The best students are those who are self motivating and are working ahead.Â They have read (and not just read, but studied) the textbook before the lecture.Â They have already looked at the homework.Â They come to class with questions.Â In fact, if you ask a question related to the day’s lecture right at the beginning, then the professor might change what he or she is going to say to better address that topic.Â In college, the lectures should be interactive!Â Come prepared.Â Ask questions (reasonable ones, not just a question to be talking).
College classes are not self contained.Â Think about how what you are learning in this class relates to others.Â It is always a joy when my physics students realize that what we are talking about relates to biology, chemistry, or even philosophy.Â Likewise, the astronomy students should see how what they are learning in astronomy relates to things outside of astronomy.Â All knowledge is interconnected.Â See those connections.Â This is particularly important for classes that either are prerequisites to other classes, or have prerequisites.Â These prerequisites exist for your benefit.Â What is learned in one class is expected to be applied in the later ones.Â That means that you should learn the material in the earlier class, and you should expect to use it in the later class.
Again, college is not just like more high school.Â Each college class is like several high school classes.Â Be aware of that.Â Don’tÂ burden yourself down with too manyÂ difficult classes at once.Â It is better to cut back and take fewer classes for more years than it is to finish up quickly but notÂ learn anything.Â If you start to get overwhelmed, talk to someone about it.Â Talk to your professor.Â Â That is what he or she is there for.Â Your professor will have office hours.Â If the posted office hours don’t work for you, then most professorsÂ will gladly see students outside of office hours if you make an appointment.Â If you do that, though, be mindful that professors do have other duties besides teaching, such as research, committee work, administration, etc.Â But, the good ones will always make some time for students.Â And, most all professors really do want their students to succeed, and they’ll work with any student who is truly trying.Â But, if you don’t put forth the effort, don’t expect them to either.Â Often just talking to the professor is enough if you are having problems.Â But, sometimes you need more help.Â Â Many timesÂ the college’s counseling center offersÂ seminars on study skills and time management.Â Check them out.Â If you need a tutor, get one.Â Don’t wait until it is too late.Â Stay on top of the game.Â College is interactive.Â Interact with your professor.Â
Now, if you can do all of that (and itÂ is a lot!), you’ll be a successful college student.Â In K-12, you are learning basic things.Â In college, you are learning to think and learn on your own.Â Do so!Â If you do, then you’ll get the most out of your college experience.