2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

Today marks the first day of the 2013-2014 school year here at Biblical Seminary. If you come by the school, you will be able tell who is just starting grad school for the first time by the big smile intended to hide a bit of anxiety. New students tend to arrive early, sit a bit closer to the front, and make a whole lot of eye contact with their professor. They do not want to miss a syllable for fear of ignoring some important detail.

In honor of these wonderful students that make my career possible, I would like to offer 3 recommendations for how they manage their classroom experience. These may not be the most important piece of advice for success in grad school (for that I might suggest learning to speed read, reading the syllabus early and often, and not worrying about grades too much—no one asks you your GPA after you graduate), but they will help you manage sitting in class from 4:30pm to 10:15pm without losing focus.

1.  Turn off your Wifi, put away smart phones, stop using social media.

I love gadgets and electronic toys as much as anyone. However, students who multitask in class don’t tend to do as well on exams and assignments. Their retention of content does not compare with those who avoid the distractions of the Internet. Your professor may not always be scintillating but when you pass the time by surfing the web or updating your Fb posts, you are not as likely to engage the material as well as you should unless you are posting about the content of the class. If you find your mind is wandering, pull out that dusty pen or #2 pencil and see if you can summarize the main content of the class thus far. Doing so may spark a few questions (see the next suggestion). If nothing else works, read some of your required readings related to the night’s topic.

2.  Ask questions (but not too many).

Believe it or not, most teachers do not want to lecture. We get into teaching because we love being part of the learning process. If students do not ask questions or engage with us, we have no way of knowing if learning is taking place. So, if you have a question (closely) related to the topic, don’t hesitate to ask. Some rabbit trails are worth taking and enrich class experiences. If you are exceptionally brave, be willing to ask (nicely) for the professor to defend a bald statement that fails your smell test. Of course, if you ask, work hard to listen with an open mind. And don’t forget to leave space for others to ask questions too.

3.  Move around.

Grad school is all about adult learning. If you come expecting to listen only to the “sage on the stage,” you will find grad school a disappointment. While your teachers do have much to offer, adult learning requires active engagement of the topics for the purpose of higher learning and application. So, each class time, try sitting in different locations so that you get to engage more students during those frequent group exercises. Try not to be a creature of habit and sit with the same people each time. If you get to know all of your peers, you will likely find your life enriched.

If you are in grad school, you count among some of the most blessed people on the planet. Less than 10% of Americans hold a graduate degree. So, enjoy the blessing and the ride of your life.

Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

Comments 

 
0 #2 Lisa Warneck 2013-09-11 12:03
Thank you for your advice. I wish I would've read this before attending the first day of grad school. I was definitely 'wound up' with a bad case of the first day jitters. Not only did I ask too many questions during the first class, my energy was zapped before I arrived because I was nervous about making a good first impression. I don't think I blew it but I did end up with a handful of lessons learned.

The big take away from the first day? Don't forget common sense when the newness of a situation becomes overwhelming. For years, I have been in the habit of writing down questions that come to mind while attending a class or a meeting. Recording a question automatically provides options for obtaining an answer, like the luxury of waiting or the ability to avert a potentially embarrassing interaction.

Your point about what a blessing it is to be a grad student is something that I take seriously. Perhaps I took it a little too seriously on the first day. In retrospect, I think I might have had a better handle on my first day jitters if I had recognized that I already had a way to handle the unknown in the form of a loosely planned study strategy that was adjustable and ready for information obtained from the first day.
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0 #1 Jean 2013-09-10 06:55
Here's other advice relating to point #1.

http://charactertherapist.blogspot.com/2013/09/going-to-conference-dont-forget-to.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+charactertherapist+%28The+Character+Therapist%29
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