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5 Things I Wish I knew As A University Student

5 Things I Wish I knew As A University Student

In school, you are taught that studying and getting good grades are your raison d’etre (the reason you exist), so when I went to university, I took that along with me. There I was, spending thousands of (my parents’) dollars and many years (more than a decade) thinking the same way as I did when I was 12 years old, “If it worked in school, it’ll work here.” Boy, was I wrong!. When you think that way as a university student, you’re totally missing out on almost everything that a university education can offer you.

Here are five things that I wish I knew when I was a student. I guarantee, these tips will completely change your experience as a student.

1. Know that knowledge is NOT what you’re in university for.

Is there something you’d like to know? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could know it in five seconds? Back in the day, it could take you years to find out these answers, but since we live in the information age (even that’s such an outdated term), all you have to do is Google it! Even though profs can go on and on about how they hate Wikipedia, its credibility has surged in the last few years. It is such a great tool to quickly get a lot of (mostly) good info. You might be thinking that you’re in university to learn and to acquire knowledge. You’re right about the “learning” part, but wrong about the “knowledge” part.

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Universities don’t hold the keys to knowledge anymore, like they used to only a couple decades ago. However, learning how to learn, reason, analyze, solve problems, and think is really why you’re there. By rubbing shoulders with your professors who are experts in their subjects, you’re getting something far more valuable – a front row seat into their minds! That’s why you’re sitting hours and hours in front of these people, despite the fact that (as some of you have realized) you can get all the knowledge they’re spewing out of their mouths by just going to the library and buying yourself a good textbook. Learning the mindsets of the experts is the gold you mine in university.

2. Your career has already started.

Opps! The vast majority of students have no idea that this is the case. That’s why they’re wasting so much time doing unproductive and sometimes destructive things. Instead of strategically making use of their time, they think what they do in university will stay with them when they graduate. This is a tragic mistake. What if you took your time in university seriously? What if you understood that your career and future were being immensely affected by your actions as a student today?

Look around your class. Someone there might be a potential partner for a great company, or your future boss who you’ve kept ignoring, or a key contact that will land you the job of your dreams. Here’s a story I love to help emphasize this point. There once was a guy who dropped out of Harvard when he was 19 to start a company with his friend. There they were, at the world’s best university, thinking, “Wow, we’re so lucky to be here” Next thing you know, they just left it all behind. I mean, couldn’t they have waited two more years! Nah. That guy was Microsoft’s Bill Gates. These guys understood that their career was already in play way before they got that official looking piece of paper (a.k.a. a degree). The believed in themselves so much they didn’t even bother waiting to finish school. That’s what I call seriously thinking outside the box.

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3. Don’t follow the crowd.

Just because you’re in a “program” doesn’t mean you have to behave like a programmed robot. I’ve seen so many students miss out by taking the path everyone else is taking. Be bold enough to be different. Choose your courses by what you like and not what you think might be easier. Dare to take on courses (and professors) that others might run away from.

As a Biology student, I took courses in geology, linguistics, archaeology, and philosophy that had no direct relevance to my so-called premedical program. However, these classes took my university experience to a completely different level. Therefore, choose the road less-traveled in university, even if it seems difficult. You will learn far more valuable things than those who take the congested highways of the program.

4. Engage, engage, engage!

Most students are on automatic pilot in university. They’re focused on the A — the grade and the degree. If they don’t stick to their books, they’ll waste their time elsewhere. Shake yourself out of this habit and decide to be involved in all aspects of university life. Meet your professors outside of class to chat with them, seek career advice, and ask questions.

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Be social and stop telling yourself that you’re not social if you are. Instead, decide to meet new people and cultivate positive friendships. Become an active member in one or two student clubs that share a passion of yours or reach out to the community with valuable services. Most people aren’t intentional (autopilot mode) because it is hard work, but once it becomes a habit it’s as easy as breathing. You’ll dramatically prepare yourself for the real world that awaits you outside. As I said before, expanding your network of contacts is a crucial asset that you should begin working on in university.

5. Pick the right major… even if it means changing the one you’re in now.

I’m a biology professor who is utterly astounded at how half of my students don’t belong here. “Hey, why are you doing biology?” “Uhhh… I dunno. I kinda sucked at math and well… biology is cool!” Meanwhile, I’m screaming inside! “Look, if you like biology, go buy a nice biology textbook and read it in your spare time.” Don’t get me wrong, they can be excellent students, but they lack direction and find themselves where they are by default. They have only a vague notion of the value that the degrees they’re working so hard for actually provide.

You need to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. The answer to that question has to be razor sharp at all times. What do most students do when they’re about to choose a major? They’ll think about what subjects they were good at in high school and choose the corresponding majors in university. This approach is totally silly (not to say stupid) because contrary to what you may think about yourself, you can be good at anything you want. Alternately, they may have an image of the profession they aim to have one day and because of that image, they’ll pursue the major that leads to it. Most of the time that image was formed on haphazard encounters that give you a very different picture than reality.

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The real question isn’t what I like or not, or whether being a doctor looks better than being an engineer; the real question is: Where do I want to be in 10 years and how can this major help me get there?

That’s why you need to do quality research. What is a degree in your major worth? What kind of jobs will be available to you? Is this a growing or shrinking market? For example, when I graduate will I most probably find a job, or will I be just another fish in an ocean that’s already too crowded with sea food? How do professionals in the career you want to have feel about themselves? Are they rich, but too miserable to enjoy it because they work 100 hours a week?

You need to ask yourself these questions and many more just like them. Do your research — then do even more research. Don’t worry if you’ve already missed the boat in the wrong major. Go back and change it. You’ll thank me for it later!

Featured photo credit: Charlie Foster via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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