Dear Ally,

Start here

Get an answer…to the email you sent to your professor

Dear Ally,

In grad school there were a few of us who played practical jokes on each other. This one undergrad in our research group had it in for your uncle and one day he had an e-mail to his chemistry professor open on the shared computer, so Adam wrote at the end of it “P.S. I love you.” The undergrad caught him in the act and a scuffle ensued, during which the e-mail disappeared from the screen. At this point I was hysterically laughing and shouting, “It sent! It sent!” The guy flew out of there to run down three flights of stairs to explain what had happened before the professor got the wrong idea. We never did find out what happened to that e-mail.

At times you might feel like the e-mails you’re sending to your professors are disappearing. It can be frustrating not to get a response when you expect it or not at all, so here are some tips to make sure you get a response in a timely manner.

Introduce yourself via e-mail. Some professors’ first assignment is to e-mail them. Even if you’re not asked to, it might be a good idea to send your professors or teaching assistants (whoever you’d be contacting if you have a problem or question) a brief e-mail at the beginning of the semester. Ask them to reply “Hi” or request a read receipt so you know your e-mail was received. If your e-mail system allows you to upload a profile picture, be sure to do this and pick an appropriate picture where your face is recognizable and takes up most of the space.

test-email-good

Be polite and professional. Always begin an e-mail with a formal salutation and address your professors using their formal title (Dr., Professor, etc). Say please and thank them for their time. You want to be understood, so use proper grammar and don’t use textese or emoticons.

dear-miss

Avoid technical issues. Sometimes we really didn’t get your e-mail. Be sure to always use your official school e-mail so that: 1) your e-mail gets past the spam filter and 2) your professor knows it’s legit and doesn’t delete it without reading it. You should obviously double-check your professor’s e-mail address or, better yet, reply to an e-mail he or she sent you (but change the subject line unless it’s related). You can also use delivery receipts and/or read receipts (although some people hate these).

spam-filter

Don’t let your email get buried. Professors receive a ton of e-mail and not everyone checks their e-mail in chronological order. If you know your professor won’t see your e-mail over the weekend or until morning, then don’t e-mail them on Sunday or in the middle of the night and especially do not e-mail them while they are sending automatic out of office replies. Wait and send your e-mail at a time when they are likely to be looking at e-mail or write your e-mail, but then use the delay delivery option to send the e-mail at an opportune time (it’s under options in Outlook).

Email Sunday.jpg

Be succinct and specific. The shorter the e-mail the better. If it requires scrolling, maybe it’s better to call or go to office hours. Don’t send a whole list of questions or requests, you’re more likely to get a response to everything if you keep it to one topic per e-mail. Better than a short e-mail is the e-mail not sent at all, so check the syllabus and other sources of information first to see if you can answer your own question.

ignore-emails

Make it as easy as possible and don’t be annoying. Do your professors a huge favor and sign your full name and include the course and section number somewhere, preferably in the subject line along with a summary of your question/request. Nothing is worse than having to look through several class lists to figure out which section a student is enrolled in so you can finally answer the question. Don’t overuse the important button or it will lose its effect. Give them a chance to reply, at least a day, especially if it’s complicated or requires some investigating, before you resend.

did-you-get-email

 

Hopefully these tips decrease the response time to your e-mails and you can get your answer and go back to studying. If you’re still having trouble getting a response, perhaps it’s time to switch to a different mode of communication, some of us are better with voicemails or prefer texting even.

Let me know if you use any of these tips!

Aunt Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Be Productive Between Classes

Dear Ally,

You’re a commuter student now. Life is going to be different and your schedule kinda sucks. In the future hopefully you’ll be able to block your schedule and maybe even have at least one day where you don’t have to drive to campus. For now, though, it is what it is and I have some advice to help you make the best of it.

Making the most of a break depends on how long it is and what you can accomplish in that amount of time.

What to do if you have 10-15 minutes: Maybe you arrived to class early or have a break in the middle of a long class. If you can make the most of these short breaks and do something besides look at Facebook, it can really add up, but taking an actual break and relaxing can also be good and increase your productivity later in the day.

  • Check your school e-mail
  • Reply to text messages (since you shouldn’t be doing that in class)
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Eat a healthy snack like nuts or a piece of fruit
  • Do a stress-relieving meditation
  • Talk with a classmate
  • Print stuff out
  • Watch a squirrel (live or video, either one reduces stress)
  • Read for pleasure

What to do if you have 30-45 minutes: This is probably where there is the most time-wasting potential, but it’s not long enough to do a task requiring real thought and focus.

  • Review for an upcoming class
  • Eat a meal
  • Read a textbook section or two
  • Proofread and/or edit a paper
  • Watch a video for class
  • Retry example problems from a previous class
  • Make a study guide
  • Organize your course materials
  • Write a to-do list, plan for tomorrow or next week
  • Work out (you won’t get too sweaty walking or doing yoga or get a short run and a shower in)
  • Research future internships, jobs, grad schools
  • Go to office hours
  • Go to a previously made advising appointment
  • Take care of business (pay that tuition bill, make that dentist appointment)

What to do if you have several hours: This is your Thursday. That break between 10am and 5pm could be brutal, but there’s no way you can justify leaving campus, unless you have a dentist appointment. Don’t do what your uncle did in college and play cards all day in the cafeteria.

  • Work on a paper in the library
  • Meet with a study group
  • Run errands
  • Do homework
  • Go on a walk
  • Enjoy a meal or coffee with friends
  • Go to a club meeting
  • Watch Netflix (just not all day!)
  • Work on a group project

 

Good luck this semester!!

Aunt Sarah

Empathy Now…Serenity Later

Dear Ally,

Finals week is getting closer and stress levels are ramping up. So, what can you do to ease your anxiety? I could tell you all the common advice like take care of yourself, exercise, get plenty of sleep, listen to music, mediate, read a book, watch a movie, etc. All of this is great advice and many of these techniques have helped me. But what I’m going to suggest is somewhat unconventional and even seems counter-intuitive:  listen to others.

This advice comes from a webinar I recently attended with colleagues about fostering resilience in students, but I’ve also known it to work for me. Notice that I didn’t say “talk with others.” This is because the important part is the listening. When you talk, especially about what is stressing you out, the focus is on you and your to-do-list. Focus on the other person’s feelings and experience. At the very least, you’ll receive a mini mental vacation, but you could also walk away with a new perspective on your problems. Listening also generates connection, builds trust, and will leave you with a better sense of belonging.

Tonight I volunteered to make phone calls for our annual phonathon where we ask alumni to donate money to our college. I’ve been stressing about an exam I have to finish writing as well as a grant proposal. I certainly could think of better things to do with my evening. But after listening to my former students tell me about their accomplishments and joys, I left school smiling and with a much lighter heart. Most of these conversations were only 5-10 minutes long, but that was long enough to gather exciting news and share my own news.

It takes practice to do what is deemed “active listening” or “empathic listening,” which is the goal. The active listener is present in the moment and fully engaged in the conversation. This is hard to do when there are distractions such as text messages or TV. In order to put yourself in the other person’s place, you’ll want to go to a quiet place that is free of interruptions. Active listening cannot be accomplished via text message or other electronic means – eye contact, facial expressions, and body language are very important. If you can at least listen to someone on the phone, you’ll at least hear the expression of their voice and they yours.

You might be sarcastically thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly what I need is for someone to dump their problems on me.” That’s just what I used to think. In the past when I was stressed, I’d pull away from people and concentrate on what I needed to get done, desiring to keep my life simple and uncomplicated. But it is amazing what interesting things you can find out about other people and you might find someone who can relate to something you’re going through. Listening can also help you get along better with those that are close to you because you’ll gain a better understanding of where they are coming from. This might be especially important during roommate disputes.

I hope you decide to give it a try and that you have a wonderful week! And if you ever need someone to listen to you, I’m just a phone call away.

Love,

Aunt Sarah

romans-12_15

 

Identify potential letter of recommendation writers now

Dear Ally,

Actually needing letters of recommendation or professional references might seem like a long ways off right now, but you might need them for an internship, leadership position, or honor society. Even if you won’t need letters soon, it’s a good idea to start thinking about who you would chose and what they might say about you. You might end up asking someone you know now to write you a letter two years from now.

Who should you choose?

Choose people who know you well. I’ve had students ask me for letters just because I’m the dean when I’ve only met them once or twice. I can look up their transcripts and get information from their instructors, but these letters are never as good as the ones I’ve written for students that I know very well. Think about professors who have observed you in at least two different situations: your academic advisor who also had you in class, a professor who is also the advisor for a student organization to which you belong, or a professor with whom you’ve also done research. The letter of recommendation my undergraduate research advisor wrote for me was very detailed and memorable. (Yes, he gave me a copy.) He described me as shy and included the story of the time I asked him to help me with the demonstration for my speech class where I made liquid nitrogen ice cream.

If no one comes to mind, this is the time to get to know your professors and get involved so they will remember you. Go to their office hours, participate in service learning or other projects, definitely join the professional organization related to your field of study, or invite your professors to your athletic event, play, or recital (maybe that would be weird at a large university, but at my college, it’s an honor to be invited to these activities).

What should you do if your professors don’t know you well? At a large university, there might be hundreds of students in your class and your advisor might have a sea of advisees. If this is the case, and especially if it’s been a while since you’ve had contact with this person, when you ask them to write the letter, give them as much information about yourself as possible, including which classes you’ve taken from them and when, a copy of your resume, your application information and essay (where applicable), and a list of your interests and co-curricular activities.  If possible, ask for the letter in person so your face might jog his or her memory. You might even have copies of graded papers or projects from class that you can send to them (keep this stuff!).

Choose people who you have impressed. I generally don’t write letters for students who have earned lower than a B in my course(s). You want to choose the professors who taught the classes where you did your very best work in a course that was challenging. I’ll also take this opportunity to remind you to always be professional – in class and when communicating with your professors. My students sometimes think it’s cool to begin e-mails to me with “Hey” or that it’s OK to drop the F-bomb in class. These occasions come to mind when I have to fill out the “conducts himself/herself in a professional manner” portion of a recommendation.

Choose people who represent multiple perspectives. When I applied to chemistry graduate school, I asked three of my chemistry professors to write letters of recommendation. Looking back, I don’t know if this was wise. I probably should have had a least one person who was not a chemist. Choose professors from different disciplines so they can speak to your skills in a variety of areas. If possible, you should ask at least one woman to write a letter for you. Women are more likely to be aware of the unconscious gender bias that can occur in letters of recommendation and will work to minimize this.

Choose at least one person who is trained in the field you wish to enter. Obviously you should include a professor who taught course(s) in your major, but you could additionally choose a mentor or internship supervisor outside of your school that can also speak to your potential to enter their field. This is one of the reasons that networking with people in your field and joining professional organizations now is so important. Speaking of networking, utilize networking sites like LinkedIn to keep in contact with potential letter writers. You never know if they will move to a different institution, retire, or if you might transfer. You might even choose to go back to school years after you graduate. I recently had one of the first students I had in class contact me for a letter of recommendation – 10 years later!

Good luck identifying the best people to speak to your skills and abilities!

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is next week! Hope to have some time to visit with you.

Best,

Aunt Sarah

Grad School: Choosing Where to Apply

Dear Ally,

You’re only a sophomore, so grad school seems far away. I didn’t really decide to actually apply or go until late in my junior year. I hadn’t really thought about it and, at the time, was thinking, “Oh, I’ll at least go for a Master’s.” I did the Master’s, but had decided well before that was finished that I’d stick around for the terminal degree.

So where do you want to go? There are several answers to this question including:

  • Where the program and degree you want is offered. If you have a specific career in mind, make sure you find a school that offers the exact curriculum and degree level you need to meet your goals. Also, make sure the program is accredited by the professional organization of your chosen field. In fact, professional organizations might be the first place to look for a list of schools from which to choose.
  • Where you’ve been accepted. Grad school is not as competitive as med school, but certain schools and programs can be very selective. I was told to apply to at least 6 different places: one “dream school” that’s a top 10 school for your program (For me, this was Standford), a few in the middle, and at least one “fall-back” school into which you know you’ll be accepted. With common on-line applications, it’s easier than it used to be to apply to multiple programs. Find the grad school rankings here.
  • In a geographic location where you’d like to live. Grad school is a long time, so some people (like me) choose to stay near friends and family, but it’s also a finite amount of time, so if there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to live, this might be the perfect way to do a trial run of an area. Some things to consider are weather/climate, traffic, safety, cost of living, and availability of housing. If you choose an on-line program, you can live anywhere you want.
  • To a school where you’ll have support. Support can mean a variety of things, but you should definitely consider the financial piece. Are there grad assistant positions, scholarships, or fellowships for which you are eligible? Is grad student housing an option? What about lab and library facilities? Are there grad student groups – what about for women, international students, or professional groups for students in your particular program? Women who already have children or intend to start a family in grad school (yes, some people do this on purpose, especially if the health care is good) should ask about daycare options for children of grad students.

Choosing a grad school should not be based solely on:

  • Where your mentor thinks you should go. Your advisor and current professors, especially those with the degree you are seeking, can be excellent sources for recommendations, but don’t feel pressured.
  • Where your significant other will or will not live. So, I actually got accepted to Standford and my boyfriend at the time responded, “If you move to California, we are over.” It was not a threat, just a fact. He couldn’t afford to move and live there and 4-6 years is too long for a long distance relationship. As you know, I didn’t go to Standford for a variety of reasons nor did I marry that boyfriend. I met your uncle in grad school and have the job of my dreams, so I have no regrets.
  • Where the recruiter had the best sales pitch. Sometimes choosing a school can be like buying a car. Beware of the “hard sell” and random incentives like, “Every new grad student gets a free laptop.”

I found this helpful resource as you begin your search: http://www.gradschools.com/  where you can filter by degree, category, subject, and state or country.

Good luck getting started on your search. This is the most fun part! Once you choose a few schools, plan how you might be able to visit them during breaks (road trip!). You should also start thinking about whether you could spend a summer doing undergraduate research. The National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergrads (NSF-REU) Program is how I was able to spend summers at two different schools , one of these is where I ultimately chose to attend. Applications are due in February or March.

Best,

Aunt Sarah

Loud doesn’t always mean angry

Dear Ally,

I thought, after last week’s heavy flashback post, I needed to lighten the mood, plus you sound like you could use a laugh.

As you might remember, my sophomore year roommate was the roommate that I lived with for the rest of college. We got along very well, but we still had to get to know each other’s quirks and habits at the beginning.

One day she says to me, “I’ve learned something about you.” “Oh yeah, what?” She then says, “Loud doesn’t mean angry.” This was definitely true, I yell for all sorts of reasons – excitement, emphasis, passion. When I’m angry or hurt I tend to clam up, sitting there silently seething.

I racked my brain trying to think of when she learned this, when had I been shouting and she took it to be shouting at her? Then I remembered the curdled milk incident. She liked to eat cereal in the morning and kept a quart of milk in our tiny dorm fridge. One day she was cleaning out the fridge and discovered that her milk had gone bad, disgustingly bad. She rinsed out the carton in the bathroom and brought it back to put in our recycling. It stunk up the entire room, so I began emphatically yelling, “Oh no, get that out of here. That’s so gross!” She sheepishly took the recycling bin to the container outside immediately.

image

I hadn’t been angry (just disgusted) or meant to hurt her feelings and I’m glad she realized this eventually. This was a good lesson for me that people don’t always express themselves in the same ways or interpret your meaning correctly. Most people are not going around trying to hurt other’s feelings on purpose, but it’s easy to think that someone’s doing or saying something to you out of spite or anger. Before you jump to this conclusion, ask them to clarify or just straight up ask them if they’re angry or upset with you for some reason. A conflict can either be nipped in the bud or completely avoided this way.

Hope you get your poster rolling and lab assignments done!

Best,

Aunt Sarah

Friends don’t leave friends behind

Dear Ally,

I should have written this post last year because it happened my freshmen year, but there was so many academic topics and funny stories to write. This story is a bit more serious…

The university I attended is well known for its large street party at Halloween and I’ll never forget my first Halloween. I hadn’t been at school more than 2 months and hadn’t yet met most of the people who became my real friends. I had met this guy, Kevin, at orientation who lived in the building next door and kind of liked him, so I was tagging along with him and some of his friends during Halloween. Several of his friends were visiting from other universities out of town (they hadn’t yet begun to limit dorm students to one visitor each during Halloween weekend).

When I met John, he was already obnoxiously drunk, having trouble standing, and was still drinking. (Don’t ask me where he got the alcohol because all of them were underage freshmen.) At this point in my life he was the most drunk person I’d ever encountered in my life and possibly still to this day.  We hung out in Kevin’s room for a short while and then it was time to go uptown for the festivities. There was no way John was going to be able to go and may have even been passed out already. (They had a quad suite and John had been taken to the bedroom.) So they left him – alone.

We walked around for a couple of hours, checking out the bands and costumes and then they dropped me off at my building and headed home. The rest of the events I heard about later, but when they returned John had become sick all over the place as his body tried to rid itself of the poison. He was alive, but unresponsive, so he had to go to the ER. Most of these events are fuzzy to me, except one thing: his blood alcohol content was 0.42. That’s plenty high enough for him to have died. Even if the alcohol poisoning didn’t kill him he could have choked or aspirated the vomit and died. I’m glad John’s friends, even though they left him, at least got him help and that this story is not tragic.

This scary close call was definitely not something I wanted to happen to me or to any of my friends. Looking back this probably had an effect on my psyche and is most likely the reason I looked out for my freshmen roommates later on when we would go out together.

You’re too young to drink legally and I hope you’re not around people who are drinking, but this advice might help you keep someone safe, maybe someone you don’t even know.

If you’re going to go out to a bar or a party where there may be drinking involved, be proactive and make a plan. What are you going to do if one (or more) of you has too much? This is what you need to consider:

  • How will you and your friends get home? If you drove, someone needs to be the designated driver or you have to plan for Uber or something.
  • How will you stay together? The buddy system isn’t just for kindergarten. NEVER leave a drunk friend behind or let her leave with strangers.
  • Who will look after those who had too much? I hate to use the word babysit, but that’s exactly what happens sometimes. When a person is drunk they aren’t thinking, so someone has to think for them – keeping them from losing belongings like their credit card or purse, making sure they don’t pick fights, keeping them from wandering into the street, etc This is scary, but someone also needs to watch your friends’ drinks because they are not going to be able to pay attention to whether or not someone puts something in it.
  • What if they get sick? If a friend drank enough to get sick, they should not be left alone for the night. Know the signs of alcohol poisoning so you know when to get help. If they are underage and need help, do not even consider the fact that they might get in trouble. The consequences of underage drinking are minor – this is a life or death situation.

I hope you’re reading this and thinking, “I don’t have time to party, I have too much studying to do.”

Hope you have a great week!

Aunt Sarah

 

 

When will I graduate?

Dear Ally,

This post was going to be about college myths and while reading up about myths like “if the professor is over 20 minutes late, class is cancelled” (true at my school) and “if your roommate dies, you get a 4.0 for the semester” (not true anywhere), I found the biggest myth of them all: “Everyone graduates college in 4 years.”

The fact is that not even a majority of students graduate college in 4 years or less. Nationally only 65% of college students graduate in 6 years! This means that 35% of students take over 6 years to get their degree.

How can you find out when you can expect to graduate?

  • Calculate it. Take the total number of credit hours needed to graduate and divide by the average number of credit hours that you’ve been taking or plan to take each semester. The answer is the number of semesters it will take to graduate. (For example my school requires 128 credit hours and the average student takes about 15 credit hours per semester: 128 credit hours/ 15 credit hours per semester = 8.5 semesters. 4 years = 8 semesters, so students at my school need to take at least 16 credit hours per semester to graduate in 4 years.)
  • Map it. Charting your course through college can be complicated. You need to know which classes to take, in what order, and when they will be offered. Your school should have a general 4-year degree plan for each major – most likely available on the website. Your academic advisor should help you develop a personal road map for your college journey from the very beginning and should adjust the route, if you encounter any bumps along the way. If you do not have such a plan, ask for one when scheduling your next meeting with your advisor.

What can you do to graduate sooner?

  • Take more classes each semester. If you did the calculation and you’re coming up short, then you need to raise your average number of credit hours per semester, especially if your school has flat rate tuition – get your money’s worth since the cost per credit hour decreases the more courses you take at a time.
  • Follow the degree plan. Listen to your advisor and take the classes when he or she tells you to take them. My school requires a minimum of one science and one math course to be taken in the first year. It’s terrible to hear about a student who put one of these classes off because they’re scared of them only to fail it their very last semester.
  • Take only classes you need. Electives are fun, but too many of them add to your time in school. A double major or a minor might be enticing too, but unless you can work it into your 4-year degree plan, it’s going to cost you both time and money.
  • Pay your library fees and your tuition bill on time. What does this have to do with graduation rates? Students who have financial holds on their accounts cannot register for classes, which is the next tip….
  • Register for classes as soon as possible. Get up at 5am or whenever registration opens for your class’ rank. Why? Because you don’t want to get closed out of a class that you need to graduate and be forced to take it later, throwing off your plan.
  • Consider taking summer classes. Although I don’t recommend trying to squeeze a science or math course into the summer, it can be the perfect time to knock out a general education requirement or two. Talk with your advisor about your options – maybe your school offers summer on-line courses or maybe there is a school near your home that has courses that will transfer to your school as equivalent credit. Your advisor can help you figure this out, but you should start thinking about it in early spring semester – February or March at the latest.

Factors such as changing your major or transferring to a different school can have a serious effect on your graduation rate, so be sure to know all the details of your alternate plan so you can make an informed decision and know whether or not the change will be worth it.

All this being said, college is a wonderful experience that tends to fly by so…

jqgfpp8

(You probably don’t get this references because Billy Madison came out before you were born. This was one of my favorite movies in college.)

Hope you are having a great week!

Aunt Sarah

All the apps you’ll ever need for college

Dear Ally,

It’s a much different world since I’ve been in college. The tools I used most were pen or pencil and paper – planners, index cards, highlighters, textbooks, etc. Now there are digital versions of all these and more.

There are apps and websites to assist with all areas of college life:

  • Focus. Thank God Pokemon Go didn’t exist when I was in college.  If you find yourself distracted when you should be studying, apps like Self Control allow you to block certain websites for a specific time period. Forest rewards your time spent away from digital distractions by planting digital trees and when you’ve earned enough points can even be used to plant a real tree. If your friends are constantly texting you and you have an iPhone, the “do not disturb” setting is key. Use it to schedule regular study periods and sleep. Mine is set for every night 11pm to 7:30am.
  • Sleep. Whenever it was too noisy to sleep, my roommate and I would listen to her Yanni CD or I would try to sleep with my headphones on, but the end of the CD or tape would always make a noise that woke me up. Apps like SleepMachine have all sorts of soporific sounds to which you can fall asleep and Sleep Time can track your sleep quality and wake you during a time of light sleep so you’ll feel more rested and less groggy when you wake.
  • Write. I had to take my handwritten papers to the computer lab to type them up. Now you don’t even have to type at all, just speak and Dragon Dictation types it for you.  MLA, APA, ACS  – whatever style you need, the EasyBib app can put your citation in the proper format and can even create a citation by scanning a book’s barcode! Even if you don’t have a computer nearby, Microsoft Office Mobile lets you use your phone to work on papers.
  • Store. With cloud storage options like Google Drive and Dropbox professors no longer accept “I lost my floppy/zip drive/jump drive” excuses.
  • Plan. All those study plans that I recommended making are easy with apps like iStudiezLite, My Study Life, and Exam Countdown. Most of these combine to-do lists, calendars, and notifications. You might even be able to access your school’s course management system from your phone and receive notifications of due dates and exams straight from your courses’ calendars.
  • Learn. If I didn’t understand my professor’s lecture, I could read the book or go to office hours. Thanks to sites like iTunesU, Coursera, and Kahn Academy, you literally have access to course material from professors all over the world – notes, video lectures, audio lectures, etc.
  • Organize. We used to call them Concept Maps, but now graphical ways to represent concepts and ideas are call Mind Maps and apps like XMind and Simple Mind mean no markers are required.
  • Study. When I took ornithology a few years ago for fun, my classmates (some of whom were also my students) introduced me to digital to the flashcard app, Brainscape. I now have a lifetime subscription to the pro version and still use it to study birds before I travel someplace new. The best thing about this and similar apps like Quizlet, Flashcards+, and  StudyBlue is the ability share flashcards or download someone else’s deck.
  • Save. Keep track of your spending and manage your money with Mint.
  • Be safe. The Circle of 6 app lets you choose your 6 and two taps lets them know where you are and how they can help.

If you choose to check one of these out, let me know how it goes. If you like one that’s not on this list, please mention it in the comments.

Goodnight!

Aunt Sarah

 

 

Is your major for you?

Dear Ally,

I hope that your classes are going well so far and your semester is off to a good start!

I am teaching one class this semester, sophomore organic chemistry. I don’t know if it’s the difficult nature of my class or a typical second year issue, but I’ve had two conversations this week with two different students questioning their career goals and considering other options.

Perhaps you or your classmates are going through the same thing. You’re starting to get into the real courses in your major and maybe it’s not exactly what you expected. You may not graduate in four years if you change majors, but it’s better to realize now that it’s not a good fit, than after you get your first job and find you hate it and end up going back for a second degree. Your uncle spent 6 years in undergrad because he changed from accounting to chemistry. I had a hard time deciding between chemistry and an education major and was discouraged from double majoring. I chose chemistry, but still wanted to teach, so I went on for a doctorate, so I could teach at the college level. Ten years into our careers we’re both managing people, which is very different from what each of us started out doing.

If you’re having trouble deciding to stick with your major or not:

  • Try out a variety of different classes. This is the beauty of a liberal arts education. You’re expected to take courses in different departments and fields of study, so take advantage of this and take courses in other areas that interest you. You might find a new major or maybe a fun new hobby like I did when I took ornithology, which I refer to as “the bird class.”
  • Get experience outside of the classroom. What you’re doing in class, which is usually foundational and theoretical, may be different from the day to day life of someone in your future career. Find out what it will be like by interviewing, shadowing, or interning with a person in the field. I’ve heard stories of nursing students who changed their majors once they got to clinicals because they found out nurses have to actually touch people.
  • Talk with a licensed career counselor. If your school has a career services center, make an appointment to receive career counseling. They can help you by giving you a personality test like the Myers Briggs or the Strong Interest Inventory. Some of these are available for free on-line. I took this 10 question quiz and it told me I have a social personality and that I would enjoy education, but that I should not become a truck driver.
  • Find your passion. Think about you would enjoying doing even if you didn’t get paid to do it.

horse plague.jpg

(This hung on my wall throughout my childhood.)

Hope this helps you either solidify the choice you’ve already made or discover a new career path.

Best,

Aunt Sarah