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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 1 | January 14, 2007|


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Classes start at private universities
Tips for new students

Hammad Ali

Since almost all the private universities in Bangladesh tend to follow the same academic calendar as those in North America, the spring semester is about to start within the next few weeks. A large number of students who completed their HSC or A Level examinations towards the last quarter of last year are about to start their university life in this semester. This will be a big move, no doubt, and there will be a lot of things that the entering students will have no idea about. However, as a recent graduate I can at least vouch for the fact that it will be a magnificent journey, there will be a lot to learn and do and in the end, it will all hopefully be a lot of fun.

However, the first few steps will be tough and often the entering students will feel completely clueless as to how they will ever make it past the first semester, let alone the full undergraduate program. So today, we at Star Campus try to offer some help on how to put on a brave front, what to expect and how to cope with the first few steps of University life. As a science and engineering major, I will target mostly those students entering engineering schools.

Firstly, you will have to understand one thing: university is much bigger than your last school, regardless of which school you went to. The course contents are different, the manner in which they are taught is different, even the expectations of your teachers are different. The stakes are much higher, and everything is going to happen on a much larger scale. If you have been a great student so far, be extra careful. Letting prior success go to your head is the surest way of getting started on the wrong foot. If you have had wonderful grades through twelve years of school, you probably have a good amount of self-discipline and know how to manage your time to get all your work done. This will help, but only if you actively use these gifts and keep abreast of what is being covered in class. Complacence and excellence cannot coexist at this level of education. If you think getting good grades will be easy, it will become that much harder. To those of you who believe they have never quite performed as good as they could have in school, don't lose heart and assume it will be the same story in university as well.

This writer himself is testament to the fact that you can perform much better in university than you ever did in school and college. All it takes is the right approach. Keep track of what is taught in class, make sure you understand, really understand, the topics covered and feel free to consult a peer or the teacher himself whenever you have confusions. Lastly, do this NOW. Don't wait for the week before exam. As soon as you understand you have a problem, take steps to solve it. Don't let it accumulate. Remember this: often understanding today's class is integral to even getting through ten minutes of the next one. Don't make it worse for yourself by throwing things in the back burner. Attend all classes, take notes and make sure you understand. Last but not the least: go home and read the textbook. This habit will be, or should be, your biggest difference with those others who just choose to complain about how nothing they are taught in class ever helps during the exams.

Now, to a very important aspect of most science and engineering courses a final project. A good number of these courses require the student to work on a project where s/he needs to implement all or most of the techniques taught in the theory lectures. If you have always been schooled in Bangladesh, there is a very good chance this will be a completely novel experience for you. So here are some tips on how to draw first blood in this mammoth task: make sure you have a good plan of how you will get started, how much you would like to get done in what amount of time and, if working in a group, which member will tackle which part of the work. Don't kid yourself, though. This plan will not be anything final, not by a long shot. As you work on the project, there will be unexpected issues popping up every now and then, problems that will need to be taken care of and changes that will need to be made. There is no shortcut to this, however.

The only way you can get better at making and implementing plans is by doing it often enough.

As soon as you are given a project, draw up plans and get to work. Check to make sure you will be able to meet deadlines, and also make sure you keep records of any unforeseen problems that creep up, for later reference. I will try and explain more about this keeping records business in a separate article.

Presentations are no longer the headache of business majors only. Even engineering students need to make a lot of presentations these days, which of course makes perfect sense. Unless you are able to explain your work and defend it in front of teachers and peers, what good is that work? By the way, don't let anyone convince you that if you are smart enough with your work people will value you anyway. They might, if you invent something like calculus or the general theory of relativity. Otherwise, you better be ready to do some talking as well.

This brings me to another important issue: how to structure your presentations. Most important, make sure you mention any source that helped your work in the reference section. Failure to mention an important source might spark unsavory occurrences like being accused of plagiarism. No matter how miniscule the contribution, be nice enough and mention the person, paper or book. Believe me; no decent faculty member will hold it against you if you have a list of references two pages long. On the contrary, it will give the impression you really worked hard and went to the trouble of doing a good deal of reading and research for getting done with the task at hand. Next, always mention a background for your work why this work is important, what work has already been done in this area and so on. This is important so that someone not from the same line of work can still appreciate your efforts. Don't just bombard the Electronics major with your findings on the best method for Systems Analysis; tell him why your work is important and how professionals can benefit from it. Otherwise he might even assume you're just trying to impress him with technical jargon and big words that have no bearing whatsoever in the real world not a good thing if he has a say about your grades, right? Also, before you wrap up the presentation, mention where your work stands in comparison to others and how it can be improved further. Don't grow a big head and declare there is no scope for improvement there always is, and someone will always know. Lastly, don't walk into the presentation with the intention to improvise your way through it. Take my word for it: at least one person in the class will be listening intently, taking notes and when question-answer time comes, that one person might be able to bring down your whole castle of sands with one well-placed question. Don't leave loopholes. Rehearse your presentation. Make sure your voice is heard in all corners of the room. Feel free to write down important points in the whiteboard instead of having to rush through it in the middle of the presentation. The faculty members will usually allow you access to the venue a few days ahead of the actual presentation. Use this time wisely and prepare yourself for the big event.

Ok, so that was about how to deal with the courses, the projects and presentations. Now a few general tips on how to act more consciously in university.

1. Ask questions. As soon as you feel lost, raise your hand and ask for clarification. Don't bother about the rest of the class; chances are they don't even know there is a problem.

2. If you simply cannot bring yourself to ask in class, meet the teacher in person and put your confusions at rest. Again, do this NOW!

3. Participate in class ask questions as well as answer them. A good number of teachers appreciate the gesture and are more receptive of ideas and questions from students who actively take part in class.

4. Stay updated. Check the course website (if there is one) frequently and make sure you have all the relevant resources. Read the notice board first thing every morning. Meet the teacher in person if all else fails and you still need a clarification.

So, that was me trying to give some pointers about how to cope with the demands of university life. Hope these will be of some use to you, as you get started on your path towards becoming a graduate. Whether you benefit from my ideas or not, remember you are attending university in a country where higher education is not an option for most people. You have been given a gift. Use it responsibly. All the best.



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