As we begin a new academic year, Vice-Provost and Dean of Students, Dr. André Costopoulos shares his advice on starting the term and keeping things in perspective during the coming months.
Whether you are returning or starting University for the first time, here are a few things I encourage you to keep in mind.
Pace yourself. You won’t do yourself or anyone else any favours if you are exhausted by mid-term. Budget your energy. You won’t be perfect in everything. The best paper is a finished paper, whether it is an undergraduate assignment or a PhD dissertation. You will only finish your assignments if you have the energy.
Plan your academic work and your other activities. Don’t put yourself in a position in which you have to rush just before every assignment is due, or just before any quiz or exam. Look at your course outlines. Plan your time. Schedule blocks every week during which you will work on your assignments and your reading. Be disciplined about keeping to those times. You will soon develop a routine. A little bit of time invested in academic work early in the semester really pays off by the end of term. We all have routines in our lives, whether they are for working out, reading novels, spending time with significant others, hiking, etc. Take the same approach to your academic work. Make some time for it.
Reach out when you need help. You’re not alone and you’re not isolated. You’re part of a big community and there are lots of people around you who want you to do well and succeed. You have peers, teaching assistants, professors, tutors, student services professionals. Most of them are reasonable, helpful people. There is no reason to feel alone when you are confronted with a problem or when you are feeling overwhelmed. Talk to someone. Don’t let things get overwhelming before you ask for help.
Balance your academic obligations with the rest. You are in an investment phase in your life. You will spend a lot of time and energy on school work. That’s normal. But don’t become hypnotized by it. Look up from the books or the screen once in a while. Connect with the people who are important to you. Keep up with what is happening in the world. Spend some time on your favourite hobby. Then go back to your work with a new perspective and a new energy.
Apply the knowledge you acquire in your courses to the world around you, every day and in a variety of situations. Manipulate it. It will bring it alive, and that’s how you’re really going to start mastering it. That fountain’s beautiful shimmering is a Euler equation. That thought provoking report you just saw on the news is a classic example of neo-colonial thought. Wouldn’t Piaget argue that this child playing with buckets in the sandbox is developing insights about conservation? And that awesome band on stage tonight, they’re really capitalizing on that tritone.
Engage with the University community. There are countless opportunities to become involved in student activities and university governance. Students are important participants in the life of the institutions. Student voices are important. We need them.
Start thinking about how you are going to make a difference. No matter what level of degree you’re pursuing here, you’re preparing for what comes next. What you’re getting now are the building blocks that you will use your entire life. What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to make a difference when you graduate? How can you best prepare for that role now, through your academic program? If you don’t know, we can help you figure it out. But odds are, if you look deep inside, you have a pretty good sense of where you want to go. You might feel that you can’t, or that you shouldn’t. You might not know how. You can try. We can help.
Most of all, take care of yourself and those around you. Participate in the life of the University and learn. Learn. That’s what we’re here for.
Questions for the Dean of Students? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn about the Office of the Dean of Students and Student Services here.