All of My Faults Are Stress Related

I’ve got a question for all sorts of different scientists. What kind of skills do undergrad science/technology/engineering/math majors need in order to survive and thrive?

If you’re a student, I’ve got some bad news for you. When you’re not around, professors have a tendency to rant about the stuff you don’t know how to do. Things like coming to class and taking notes and getting information from a book and starting homework assignments early. And, yes, I want to rant sometimes, too, especially when I’m answering complicated questions five minutes before an assignment is due. But I don’t remember ever learning any of them. I figured out how to schedule time for homework from experience – when I guessed too little time, I paid the price, and when I guessed too much time, I… well, I don’t quite remember, but it probably involved pizza and a frisbee. I didn’t really learn to read for information until grad school. And note-taking – I think I’ve gotten worse through time.

So is there any way to teach this stuff? And is it really what’s important for students to learn?

I don’t remember learning study skills, but I remember other parts of becoming a scientist. Walking home from a field trip with my mind buzzing. (And not because I was being chased by a cloud of mosquitoes, though that happened a few times, too.) Coming out of class with more questions than answers. Getting bad data, and fixing the equipment, and trying again. Becoming convinced that my first idea about my PhD rocks was totally wrong, and that I needed to re-think everything.

Curiosity. Creativity. The ability to deal constructively with frustration. The willingness to accept that one’s ideas are wrong sometimes. Those are the skills I would rather be teaching.

But maybe taking notes is more important for survival, at least immediately. And I have no idea how to teach that.


  1. #1 DuWayne
    March 3, 2009

    One of the advantages of being a non-traditional student (I.e. starting rather late) is that I’m particularly hardcore motivated. My instructors probably bitch about far different proclivities of mine…..

  2. #2 volcanista
    March 4, 2009

    See, maybe this is why I have a hard time being very sympathetic to this problem, but I’m pretty sure I learned all of these things in high school, and learned them really well. I don’t fully understand why 13 years of schooling before getting to college isn’t helpful with gaining experience and practice with this most of the time. (Sure, in some cases the schools are going to be woefully inadequate, but most of the students I get in my classes went to pretty snazzy high schools.)

  3. #3 Kim
    March 4, 2009

    DuWayne: one of the best things at teaching here is working with non-traditional students. You’re right, people who have taken time off and returned to school usually are very motivated. (And when they miss class, they tend to have really good reasons: a sick kid, or a crisis at their job, or something else big in their life. I try to remember that when I make up my rules for my classes.)

    Volcanista: Yes, either I learned them in high school, or they weren’t actually that important for passing classes. But I had a PhD before I was 27; I am not normal. And my kids generally didn’t go to snazzy high schools, so I’m more likely to cut them slack than I would be if I taught at a private SLAC. (However, I’ve taught at a private SLAC, and in my experience there, those snazzy high schools were good at convincing colleges that the students were wonderful, but perhaps not as good at getting the students to learn.)

  4. #4 Phil
    March 4, 2009

    To provide a suggestion, it would be that students need to be able to read for information and learning. IT was perhaps the only thing I struggled with in college, and really it was only post-grad degree work that this hit me. It was likely because I had always learned everything I needed to use in lectures, and have excellent note-taking skills, so I never had to learn the materials from readings. Even when we had assigned reading, it was later covered in lecture. Sure kicked my butt come grad school.

  5. #5 Robert Grumbine
    March 4, 2009

    Before I worried about note taking and teaching how to take notes, I’d try to figure out what purpose note taking was supposed to serve. I take notes because I don’t have very good audio retention. Notes are my means of transferring the information to a better (for me) medium. When I read them later, the info comes in through a better channel, so to speak. But most people are much better on audio than I, and not as strong on reading, so this may not transfer well across populations.

    For the more general question … well, the most universal trait I’ve noticed among scientists is that they’re passionate about what they’re studying. Kindling and supporting that passion is important. The challenge being to continue doing so even when the student is not passionate about what you are.

    Next up is probably a certain fearlessness about making mistakes. Not that we are happy about doing so, but when you’re out there trying to learn new things about the world, you don’t have a road map and it is going to happen. When it does, oh well, adjust course and try again. This also applies to admitting that you did make a mistake, a pet hypothesis was wrong, etc.

    None of this is study skills, but without the passion and fearlessness, the skills alone won’t get you very far.

    On the skills side, I think the major one is willingness to do what it takes to understand things. Maybe this is reading (books, journals, …), learning vocabulary, or math, or asking ‘stupid questions’, or whatever. But the key is an interest in learning what’s at hand. The rest are just methods of achieving that goal. Since many ‘101’ students are only there to earn a good enough grade to fill out a requirement, your first challenge is to be showing them that there’s reason to want more than that.

    Congratulations on your assimilation by the Borg.

  6. #6 idoubtit
    March 4, 2009

    I don’t think you can really teach some stuff – it is dependent on personality and the student finding those qualities within themselves. I have to say that my 10yr old is learning how to write better and to edit her work. That’s a big start because it helps you think through ideas (at least it does for me) and I never learned that until undergrad work. I would also comment that, personally, I was NOT mentally ready to absorb undergraduate science. It took me into my 30’s to begin to grasp the broad ideas and theories I “learned” in a meaningful, applicable way. Therefore, non-traditional students have a huge advantage to getting more value out of their experiences than younger folks – we are able to relate the information to the real world. The youngun’s haven’t lived it yet.

  7. #7 scicurious
    March 4, 2009

    I only learned how to STUDY in college, I never had to in high school. And how to LEARN took the first two years of grad school. But honestly, I’m not sure how you would teach such skills. You can tell kids over and over that they need to budget time to study, but if they’re already getting A’s in high school science, why should they?

  8. #8 K. A.
    March 4, 2009

    I got my undergrad degree from a public university typically regarded as upper-tier. It always seemed as though many students had been taught or expected to browbeat their professors into giving them extra chances, extra credit, extended deadlines, grading on a curve. There is no research project or internship requirement for completing the major even though the university has all the resources for providing those things, including a center for applied research that is always trying to recruit undergrads. If you give a damn, you seek it out yourself, but. . . . Some of my professors were sad to see how dumbed-down the undergrad degree was compared to their experiences, which included designing and conducting experiments out in the field without their professors coddling them.

    Curiosity and creativity is extra work for students who expect to be rewarded for paying tuition. I imagine those who decide to take a master’s degree are better, but as undergrads I don’t it occurs to a lot of students that the possibility exists to go above and beyond their major requirements and actually think critically and creatively. I’m not even sure it would have occurred to me. I don’t think many of us really loved our major. Just finish the degree and get the hell out. . . .

    I’ve spent nearly seven years in my field (before, during, and after obtaining my undergrad degree in it) and I still find the prospect of a master’s degree, and the generally expected PhD, daunting. How will I come up with original research? How will I not get so tired and frustrated and burnt out from focusing on one research project for a few years to the point that I want to change fields entirely? Will my ideas even be relevant? Does relevance matter? I think if you really love what you’re doing, it’s easier to deal with those fears. But I think that kind of passion is quite a stretch.

  9. #9 DuWayne
    March 4, 2009

    Volcanista –

    I don’t fully understand why 13 years of schooling before getting to college isn’t helpful with gaining experience and practice with this most of the time.

    I never took a single note in high school. The closest I came was making flow charts in debate competition. I just didn’t need to. I managed to get 95 or better on every quiz and test. The only reason I rarely got good grades, was my inability to functionally do homework and because only a small number of teachers figured that if I know the material the homework becomes pointless.

    The only reason I take notes now, is because I want the practice, for when I actually take classes that teach me something new. Turns out I’m pretty damned good at taking notes. I suspect that this is largely due to the fact that I really don’t have trouble writing, an fairly innate ability to do these things properly. Not everyone has that ability.

    One of the very brightest people I know, couldn’t take notes to save his life. The only way he made it through school was by recording every lecture and listening to them back at high speed, sometimes repeatedly. He had notebooks and for classes where the prof was insistent, he pretended to take notes – but ironically, these were the classes where the recordings became more important. Turned out that pretending to take notes was a huge distraction.

    And of course, I accept that being as motivated as I am makes a huge difference. I have things to do with my education already. I’m ready to get to work now dammit.

  10. #10 Autumna
    March 4, 2009

    When i was a Geology undergrad I once overheard some of my professors complaining about how stupid and mediocre students in my year were. I was so humiliated. I knew hte class before us were Braniacs from Smartron 5 but I had no idea my classmates and I were so slack. Overhearing that conversation changed my attitude from that day on. I was the study machine, the lady who asks questions, the independant thinker, research assistant. My goal was to learn as much as possible in my 2 last years. When I graduated I had to go to Grad school because I was left with the sinking feeling I only knew the tip of the iceberg. The older students were more motivated. The younger ones slid into class late, cheated, slept in the field, smoked pot between classes instead of going to the lab for extra time on research. Every single one of them are not doing geology or any science anymore. They never learned how.

  11. #11 catgirl
    March 4, 2009

    Plenty of “traditional” students are responsible and have good study skills. It’s the irresponsible ones that make all of us look bad. One thing you shouldn’t do is have a required to try to teach these things, like they did at my school. It’s condescending punishment to the students who are already responsible and the students who need it don’t get much out of it anyway.

    I actually don’t know what you can do to teach these students, except being hard on them once and hoping they learn a lesson after they get a bad grade on an assignment.

  12. #12 Courtney
    March 4, 2009

    Actually, contrary to popular belief, study skills aren’t taught in public high school or elementary school.

    Most students learn them at home, or pick them up on their own.

    I teach community college, and this is one of the things I teach, in addition to whatever the course material is.

    There are lots of ways. I have handouts, websites I reference (OWL at Perdue is great! So is Here’s my general list, that I post about half-way through class:
    First, let me say that, for the most part, this class is doing very well. I’m proud (and you all should be proud, as well) of your grasp of the concepts, and the sincerity of your postings. Manners are wonderful things! πŸ˜‰

    However, this is Week 5. It’s the middle of the class, and a time when it’s easy to lose your enthusiasm and drop a few of those important things you all are juggling in your lives.

    So I want you to remember that you paid for this class, and that you’re here to do something for yourself – earn a degree. Don’t lose sight of your goals because of the daily grind.

    Ask me questions! Ask each other questions! Here are some more good study habits for any class:

    have a schedule & stick to it.
    study in the same place every day
    keep everything you need to study in one place
    study in a quiet and comfortable place
    study when you are rested & alert
    don’t study while you are hungry or upset
    take a 10 break and stretch every 50 minutes or so.
    pick what is important to study
    keep organized notes you can read
    use your table of contents, index, glossary, and chapter summaries
    take notes mainly on what you don’t understand
    ask questions!!

    Finally, as Dory says, “Just keep swimming!”

  13. #14 DuWayne
    March 4, 2009

    smoked pot between classes…

    There are times when this is very tempting for me. If I still smoked the pot regular like, I probably would before certain classes. But then I’m an undergrad and could easily teach a couple of my classes. Having to sit through hours of instructors teaching as though the people in class know absolutely nothing about any of it (which is important, because most of them probably don’t) is sometimes unbearably painful.

  14. #15 EatenByChutulu
    March 4, 2009

    Ah man, I was hoping for some tips! πŸ˜‰

  15. #16 Molly, NYC
    March 4, 2009

    When i was a Geology undergrad I once overheard some of my professors complaining about how stupid and mediocre students in my year were.

    Autumna – If they were talking about one or two students, it might reflect on the students. But when a professor/instructor/teacher complains that an entire class is stupid, you can usually take it as a confession that the speaker is a blitheringly incompetent teacher.

  16. #17 Molly, NYC
    March 4, 2009

    1. In the life sciences, there’s a tendency to dog math and physics. Big mistake. If you want to work with wet and gooey, bite the bullet and learn all the math and physics you can. It’s like not knowing how to drive–you can work around it (and people do), but you close off possibilities that you don’t even know about.

    2. As my undergrad chemistry adviser said, “In science, if you have to know something, you know it.” It’s a professionalism thing. Like if your lab is doing RT-PCRs tomorrow and you’re new to it, you’d better read up tonight. You probably won’t be expected to be an expert, but you’d better have a clue.

    3. When you first start, research-level science might as well be in Aramaic. You should know that it gets better, ‘way easier to understand and a lot more interesting after a couple of years. Do your homework, study the topics you like on your own, and have a little faith.

  17. #18 SimonG
    March 4, 2009

    I was one of the dreadful, irresponsible slackers some of the previous posters have written of(f). I dropped out of university, (in the UK) after two years.

    One of the most important reasons for this was that at 18, it was the first time I’d been away from home and I lacked the self-discipline to study on my own.

    Another problem was that at school I had found most things easy. Coming to university and suddenly finding that there were things which were much harder for me to understand was disheartening.

    I’d taken “A” levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics so one of the things I had to do in my first year was study some more maths. The teaching of this was not terribly good, I feel. I got the impression that it was sort-of rushed through: a necessary evil. Consequently I struggled with it and my poor understanding of maths coloured all my subsequent experiences. It didn’t help that some of the actual science we were studyiung at that time relied on maths skills we hadn’t yet acquired.

    (As an aside I’d strongly encourage any child interested in science to learn as much maths as possible at school. I’d have done far better to drop my strongest subject – Biology – as I could have picked that up later much more easily.)

    When I was considering further education a lot of emphasis was placed on a future career, (by myself, my parents and my teachers). I was starting to make choices when I was only 15. Things changed over the next few years and I subsequently discovered that careers in my chosen field were going to be few and far between: very depressing. I think that anyone attending university should first and foremost consider what they’re interested in. Forget about what you’ll do with it later.

    Students at university are still, generally, very young. They are moving into an environment that is very different to what they’ve known and some of them are going to need support to cope with that.

  18. #19 quasarpulse
    March 4, 2009

    One of the most difficult skills for me to learn has been reading (specifically reading math/science) for understanding. Unlike Robert above, I’m a strictly audio learner; I can read texts in English for information because I “hear” the words in my head, but it’s much more difficult to read math in that way.

    On notetaking: I never took notes in high school or in my first go at college (not that that turned out particularly well, but I think the problem had more to do with me not showing up for tests than with not taking notes). I take notes now to make my professors like me; I’ve only actually looked at them for my physics and chemistry classes, and there only because they happen to contain equations that I need to know, and the professors usually write those on the board instead of saying them out loud, so I have to purposefully store them in memory later. The verbal part of the lectures is conveniently stored as an audio recording in my head, and the relevant part is triggered by reading/hearing key words contained therein.

    But there are many students who don’t have good audio memory and do need to take notes. They need to learn how – and they mostly have to do it in college, because nobody needs to take notes in high school classes. They’re just too easy. Some high school teachers try to teach notetaking by requiring that students turn in their notes (usually in some format specified by the teacher) for a grade, which is great training for being someone else’s notetaker but pretty terrible for learning notetaking for one’s own learning purposes (and also leads to a fair amount of resentment of notetaking in general).

    I don’t necessarily think taking notes is a skill that can be explicitly taught except in the most generalized form (how to quickly summarize a chunk of information). Each student needs to figure out for him/herself how to pick the chunks of information to summarize. This of course is easier if they are explicitly taught how to do the reading before class (and then actually do it), since they then have an idea of what it is they don’t understand or retain on the topic in question.

    Now, there are two skills that I would emphasize STEM students need that aren’t among the ones listed: problem-solving and connecting superficially-disparate topics. The two are pretty closely linked: making connections is a form of problem-solving, and the mental connections once made help with solving new problems. The key to both is to get students to stop simply trying to shove a bunch of facts, equatons, and rules into boxes in their heads, and start thinking about how all the stuff they already know fits together.

    I think a lot of students in STEM could benefit from a sort of interdisciplinary problem-solving course in the sophomore(ish) year that draws from material from all the standard intro classes (but no new information or canned techniques). Some math departments have a basic proof-writing course that serves this purpose to a certain extent, and engineers do a certain amount of integration of physics and math in their statics/dynamics sequence (although there are a fair number of canned techniques introduced), but there isn’t really anything similar for the sciences. There probably should be.

  19. #20 Jaycubed
    March 4, 2009

    When I was 8yo. I fell down a mountain and tore my right hand open. (My doctor told me, “I know you like rock collecting, but you’re not supposed to collect them under your skin.”) This was a week or so before I began an advanced science summer enrichment program (’63 during the space race).

    I was unable to take notes, so I had to remember what I was learning. I haven’t taken study notes since then, even when required by a teacher (I regularly aced the tests).

    I did learn how to remember not just classroom lessons, but what was actually said by the teacher; as well as important conversations and verbatim memories of rules & regulations.

    I used to drive management crazy at one psych nursing job I held for 16 years because I remembered everything they said and could compare it to the videotaped record made of all staff clinical, educational & business meetings.

    I can hardly recommend my method for others (and I am unaware of any special techniques, I just paid attention and took interest in reality); as in my experience most people can’t remember what was said to them 10 minutes earlier, much less years before. But, it works for me.

  20. #21 Fatmop
    March 4, 2009

    Occasional Pharyngula commenter here –

    When I was in the public school system, I didn’t have to take notes. Or I rarely did. If a teacher required me to take them, I’d do what was necessary to get a grade, but the subject matter was almost never challenging enough or far enough beyond my grasp that it required any real effort to learn.

    And I was even -taught- how to take notes. I remember a class session or two devoted to note-taking. The problem with it wasn’t that the method of teaching was poor – in fact it was probably pretty good – but that I didn’t ever feel a need to learn how to take notes. I finally started to regret that in college, when I took courses on symbolic logic, physics history/practice, and econometrics. By then, it was too late.

    I could even TELL that my study habits were lacking, but I wasn’t motivated to change them. So I guess what I’m saying here is, challenge kids in lower grade levels and force them to do extra work to understand what you’re saying. Or… sufficient work. This requires a tailored approach – teachers really shouldn’t be using the same class time for slow learners and gifted students. And that means more education funding. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention I’m all for education funding.

  21. #22 joe
    March 4, 2009

    I’m in an intensive analytical chemistry course, 16 credits a semester, two professors and about 25-30 hours in the lab each week. The best thing that we get is a prof who lets us fail.

    We don’t get cookie cutter recipe labs, we get the standard methods, USGS, or EPA method, and go for it. Then we fail, return, and do it again. And the new lab work doesn’t stop just because the old one failed, they keep coming.

    I have seen(and been) in the lab until 2am on many occasions. We work, we work hard. And we do it because we aren’t allowed to stop.

    This is undergrad by the way, at a state funded college.

  22. #23 DNLee
    March 4, 2009

    you’re speaking my inner-most thoughts and feelings.

  23. #24 OzoneChemist
    March 5, 2009

    I attended a SLAC as an undergrad, and now am in a PhD program at a large state university. There have been two aspects of my undergraduate education which I have been particularly thankful for: emphasis on good writing/communication skills, and having significant group work required.

    Being able to communicate effectively will serve students well regardless of what they end up doing. I suspect at least part of the reason many people in the US have only a vague understanding of scientific concepts is because there has been too little emphasis on communicating those concepts. Scientists can talk to other scientists in their field easily, to scientists in other fields reasonably well, but seem to have trouble with non-scientists. Wikipedia is an interesting example: some of the STEM articles are very well written, but many are confusing and decipherable only if you are familiar with the field.

    Working in groups on most of my problem sets and labs was usually quite helpful. There were certain areas in the science complex where you were sure to find other students from your class in the days leading up to a deadline, and you were all encouraged to work together. Frequently the problems were difficult and varied enough that no one student could figure all of it out, and we would work together to understand the question (often half the battle) and devise a solution. While I’m not sure quite what about the group interaction led to this, the group was usually as concerned about having everyone understand what was going on than with just getting the right answer and going to play frisbee. By not just understanding the material, but teaching it to others and learning from others, I felt I gained much more from my experience than if I had just sat in my room alone doing problems.

    One way to teach these skills, while keeping students motivated and engaged, would be to have them write Wikipedia-style articles on a topic of their choice related to a certain field. Requiring a handful of primary sources (properly cited, of course) will compel students to do a literature search, read (or at least skim) a couple articles, and reinforce the good habit of citing ideas gleaned from the literature. Even if students were to work on these articles in groups, there is plenty to be learned.

    As a graduate student, I have been forced to learn a wide variety of new concepts in very rapid order. Many of them have, at best, poor Wikipedia articles. To make myself get involved in what I was reading, I wrote an article or two for myself (at first). When I felt they were sufficiently polished and that I had enough understanding of the material, I moved them onto Wikipedia.

    Overall, I find that I have been able to learn best when I have had to teach others what I found. That certainly would not have been possible were it not that the coursework strongly encouraged working together with my peers. Strong course emphasis on communicating what I had learned also made a huge difference. To the extent that I see those ideas in the undergrad classroom here at the large university, I find they seem to be successful; students are more engaged, and appear to get more out of what they are learning.

  24. #25 Female Engineering Professor
    March 5, 2009

    I LOVE the Wikipedia assignment idea. That might have some Life-Long-Learning outcome (ABET assesment) possibilities.

    I gave an image processing Youtube assignment where I graded them not only on the content shown in the video but on the content they put in the info box.

  25. #26 quasarpulse
    March 5, 2009

    There are people for whom group work is effective. There are people for whom it is not. The first group may outnumber the second, but I’m not sure their needs should come first; students can always choose to work together when it’s permitted (and in general it should be), but can’t choose to work separately when we’re required to work together.

    I do agree that one doesn’t really understand a concept until one is able to communicate it to others. But for me, it’s impossible to communicate anything until I understand it in the first place – and I can’t figure it out when I’m being peppered with questions by confused group members. I need significant amounts of quiet alone time to process information and figure things out.

    When given assignments that permit working together, I prefer to work them out by myself and then confer with others; this only works if the others I confer with are willing to do the same (which means that groups need to be self-selected for me and those like me to get anything whatsoever out of them). When I’m paired with a person who prefers to actually work together (and I’m still not sure exactly what that means in the context of solving physics problems), one of two things happen: either I can sort of bully them into shutting up and letting me think for five minutes, solve the problem, and explain it to them (not sure what practical skills they learn from this), or they sit there asking questions at me and we both get nowhere.

    There’s an interesting phenomenon currently in my physics class, which is split about 50/50 with group-learners and solo-learners. We have a one-day-a-week calculations session where we are supposed to work in groups at the whiteboards around the classroom. We all started out working in groups because we thought we were supposed to, but as the year progressed, the half of the class that doesn’t like groupwork all migrated over to one side of the classroom, where we work independently side-by-side. It’s interesting – when a new problem is introduced, one side of the classroom breaks out in animated conversation, while the other side is dead silent for several minutes, after which we start whispering amongst each other discussing our differences.

    There doesn’t seem to be any significant difference in the proportion of correct solutions, solution methods, or overall class grades between the two sides. There’s no lack of communication among those of us who need to think before we talk, nor is there a lack of communication or collegiality between us and the group-workers. We just have different learning styles. That should be acceptable.

  26. #27 Jim Thomerson
    March 6, 2009

    As an early undergrad, I did not do well. Maybe I am stupid. Went to testing and took IQ test. OK so I am doing something wrong. I started keeping a time log. I thought I was working really hard. Turned out I was goofing off really hard. Started spending 15 minute segments actually stdying. Made the Dean’s List (the good one). In grad school I figured out to type up notes the same day as lecture. Found it a huge help.

  27. #28 Carlie
    March 6, 2009

    I think that the biggest overarching skill that undergrads need to cultivate is ownership of their own education. That covers a lot of the issues; if they would internalize that they are supposed to be learning, and that they are the ones responsible for that learning, a lot of the rest falls into place more easily. That doesn’t just mean showing up to class on time and awake, it means looking up the stuff you don’t know, getting notes when you are absent, going further and delving into topics that interest you, being sure to take the classes you want while still fulfilling requirements. I know that sounds idealistic, but what I’m the most tired of is having rooms full of students sitting passively, waiting for me to fill their heads for two hours so they can get on to whatever it is they really want to do. I’m tired of them calling me up half an hour before the test with major questions that would take hours to elucidate. I’ tired of seeing seniors who still don’t know what classes they need to graduate. I love interacting with students and helping them as much as I can, but I want them to be a little proactive about it.

    How do they get that? Ach, there’s the rub. I think that might be part of why nontrads tend to be more diligent; they are paying for it themselves, they are squeezing it in around everything else, and know the value of it more directly. Maybe make everyone do a year at McDonald’s before going on to college?

  28. #29 Eclogite
    March 6, 2009

    Reading for information is STILL something I stink at. But learning to study and take notes? I learned that in the Navy.

  29. #30 Zen Faulkes
    March 7, 2009

    It’s interesting that so many comments center around note-taking. Increasingly, I think note-taking is less important than it used to be, because the requirement that students and instructors internalize everything is becoming less critical than the ability to search for, and then critically evaluate, reliable information. I mean, Google exists.

    Evaluation is the skill I’d like my students to have. How can one sort out good evidence from bad? What distinguishes the well-supported from the fringe?

    I do realize that note-taking can be a useful aid to learning, but I think for many students note-taking means straight copying as a step for memorization. Memory is a good first step to survive, but the original question was also what they needed to thrive.

  30. #31 Isis the Scientist
    March 8, 2009

    I think the most important skill an undergraduate needs to develop is the ability to ask questions and to independently seek the answers. Many basic study skills can be cultivated, but this requires a real change in attitude about learning.

  31. #32 Jon H
    March 11, 2009

    Seems to me that the common practice nowadays, of using Powerpoint and handing out copies to the students is essentially antithetical to the development of good notetaking skills. It encourages students to not bother, although often the slides are nigh-incomprehensible without additional information.

  32. #33 Jon H
    March 11, 2009

    I never really learned how to study in high school (which was an excellent Connecticut public school), or even much of college. No, I didn’t do terribly well in either.

    In 2003/2004, during a period of unemployment, I was thinking about entering a graduate Comp Sci. program, and enrolled in a community college study skills course. I was in my early 30s at the time.

    The first day, we were given a test to determine our ability coming in. I scored high enough (much higher than the other students) that the teacher took me aside and suggested I was there by mistake. But I still learned some things from the class, so it wasn’t a waste of time, of which I had plenty anyway. (The teacher was nice enough to see my point when I explained that I wasn’t going to get anything from the “how to use a library” assignment.)

    It was quite inexpensive. If such classes are available during summer break, they’d be worth taking for many students as long as they take it seriously and don’t get an attitude about being in a class with students of more modest abilities.

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