Monday, August 13, 2012

What Excites You About the New Academic Year and Some Advice for Freshmen

I have seen several fallen multicolor leaves in Amherst, Massachusetts and there is now a "coolness" and "crispness" in the air, which are much appreciated.

Hard to believe that it is now mid-August with a new school year upon us.

Some of us have never left "school," and especially college. Even when I worked in industry, after getting two undergrad degrees from Brown University, I was still pursuing a Master's degree at Brown, and the companies that I worked for paid the tuition (thanks to Systems Consultants and Aquidneck Data Corporation in Rhode Island). After leaving high tech consulting, I got the PhD and then I was off to teach at UMass Amherst. Since then, I have had a fellowship at Harvard, two Fulbrights,  and terrific  visiting faculty appointments at MIT and at Brown, as well as at KTH in Stockholm, Sweden, and, most recently, at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, where I am spending time on my sabbatical (and loving it).

There is something about the pending Fall that floods one with memories, and, never more so than this year.

I have several nieces and nephews and even my daughter who will be freshmen at colleges and some have already started their journeys to their college campuses.

Who can ever forget one's freshman year and freshman "week" -- meeting one's room-mate, for the first time, taking that first exam in college, making friends from around the world, juggling courses, and a campus job, while finding one's true passions!

Being a college professor is the greatest job -- there are always new ideas, new people, new courses to teach, new opportunities and new challenges. To see new students, whether the freshmen or the matriculating graduate students (and today I am meeting one of my new doctoral students, who has come from India to study management science), and to reconnect with former students is always special.

So, to the freshmen, I offer the following advice:

1. Do get to know your professors -- visit them during office hours -- they can connect you to alums, internships, and write those important letters for grad school or jobs. They can also answer questions that you may have on a topic.

2. Strike up a conversation with someone who looks in need of a friend -- whether in the cafeteria or in your class or dorm. Friendships made in college last a lifetime.

3. Do more than the professor assigns in class, whether by working through more calculus, physics,  chemsitry, engineering, or accounting and economics problems, visiting museums, or starting a research project. There is great satisfaction from solving problems and getting greater confidence.

4. Take a course that intrigues you -- incoming art majors have ended up as doctors and incoming scientists as poets.

5. Take a computer programming course -- it will give you skills that you can apply immediately.

6. Read, read, read, and write at every opportunity.

7. Stay healthy and stay in shape. 

8. If you can't find an extracurricular activity or club to join -- start one. Linda Tanner and I (beginning of Title IX days, which we at that time were not even aware of) helped to start the Brown University women's track team and cross-country team. We were thrilled when we got to pick our sneakers from a bin!

There will be up times and there will be down times but the effort that you put into your college education will help to make you a creative, engaged, and happy individual, who can contribute to society in meaningful, substantive ways.

Best of luck to all the incoming students!