September 10, 2015

Asking for Academic Help: How to Identify Your Best Resource

Tristan Donald, Student Learning Advisor with the Student Success Centre, discusses the difficulty students may face in asking for help with their academics and how students can identify the resources that will work best for them.

I love campus at the start of a new academic year — students have a certain energy that is powered by high hopes of academic success for their semester. Having worked with hundreds of students over the past few years, I know that these earlier stages of the semester are when students begin to identify the areas they will find difficult in their studies. One of the most common regrets I hear is “I wish I had asked for help sooner.” Whether it is the fear of being judged, uncertainty, procrastination, or not knowing where to go, many students do not ask for assistance when they have questions or encounter challenges.

Here is the truth — all students have questions about their course work and struggle at times with their studies. The sooner students seek out resources and advice, the sooner obstacles can be overcome. Asking questions and seeking help is strategic, time saving, stress reducing, and increases productivity (which sends motivation into high gear). I often remind students that even the best athletes in the world have coaches, Nobel Prize winners have mentors, and professors have colleagues to whom they turn for advice. Students have instructors, teaching assistants, and a whole host of advisors from faculty and librarians to learning and writing specialists. They are all ready and willing to help students succeed.

So, how can you take advantage of these great resources as the term begins? Here are some steps to help you get started:
  • Ask yourself “I need help with ...”: How do you finish this sentence? Your initial thoughts are a great place to start. 
  • If your main concern is not clear to you, try a “free write” to brainstorm and organize your ideas. Set a timer for five minutes and write everything — and anything — that comes to mind. And, don’t stop! You may note things that don’t seem important, but the goal is to externalize your thought process, so keep writing. When the timer goes off, read through what you wrote without judging your thoughts. Do particular themes stand out? Do certain issues strike you as important? 
  • Identify at least one person (such as an instructor or librarian) or service on campus (such as the Student Success Centre!) that you can connect with this term to address your main question or questions (if you’re not sure where to go, check our guide “Where do you send U of A students for academic help?”)
  • Then, book an appointment with this individual or group. In advance, make a few notes about what you want ask, and take notes at your meeting.
  • Finally, implement the advice or resources you receive.  
This term, start asking questions — and finding answers. If you are unsure where to start, contact the Student Success Centre. We can help you find the academic resources you need.