A Letter to My College Self

brain-fog

Dear College Me,

I am writing to you from the brand new 2017 to tell you that you survived! Take a moment to smile and relish in that knowledge. Now, I hope you are sitting down because, right now, you are still in college. Did your heart just skip a beat? I bet it did! Don’t worry. It’s not a bad thing. It just goes to show you, things don’t always turn out as planned and that’s ok, better even. You are about to finish your Ph.D.! Yes, this is really you. I am certain.

I wont spoil the story on how you get here because I think you need to experience it in order to appreciate it. What I will tell you is that college is a unique experience that you should take seriously, but also enjoy. Here are a few things that may help you do both.

Frosh Week friends are just that. Don’t feel bad if you don’t hang on to the people you meet during that first week full of parties and orientation That’s all they need to be. Think about it, do you even have anything in common? It’s everyone’s first week in a new place and they are all alone. Everyone, including you, is desperate for friends. Once you get into classes and join various societies and clubs, you meet people that you have things in common with. These people are the ones that you’ll be telling stories about until you’ll wrinkled and grey.

Coffee is like oxygen. Ok, well maybe that is a bit extreme. Between two and four cups a day can improve heart health, longevity and memory. Exams, hint hint! Coffee will help you stay awake in that physics lecture with the monotone professor. Hot chocolate has too much sugar to drink that often and trust me, physics is not one you want to nod off in. You should invest in a good thermos and either volunteer in a lab or make friends in grad school. Labs and grad students usually have a pot of coffee constantly on the go. You can join their coffee club and contribute $0.25 to the pot versus over $2.00 for every cup at the café. This will save you so much, you have no idea.

No one cares about your minor. Stop stressing about fulfilling all the requirements for your major and for a minor. Not once since you graduated has anyone ever cared, let alone asked about your minor in biotechnology. You were thinking a minor in biotechnology sounded impressive right? It’s not even printed on your diploma. Take classes that interest you. Learn what interests you. Don’t worry about sounding impressive on paper.

Take the fluff classes. Fluff classes are basically easy As. Take them. Having a minor and those impressive classes may not matter, but your GPA does if you want to go to grad school. Even employers care when you have very little work experience right out of college. Future employers and grad school supervisors wont blink if you have an A in “Basket Weaving” on your transcript, but a C in “Artificial Cellular Technology” might hurt you.

Standardized tests are not so scary. There are tons of books and websites about how to study for these tests. Don’t let it intimidate you. There is nothing on those tests you haven’t already learned. You should definitely prepare for them, but don’t stress. You spent the entire summer before senior year studying and stressing about writing the OAT and you walked out of the exam laughing. It’s not worth it.

Summer school is for the smart ones. To graduate in four years, you need 5 classes per semester. Being in sciences, you will likely have theory exams as well as lab exams. That could mean up to 10 exams at the end of the semester! Take summer classes so you can lighten the load during the year. Summer classes tend to be easier to digest too; daily classes and only one subject to focus on. Take that “Linear Algebra” everyone is saying is tough. You’ll ace it. Just don’t take English. Reading all those mandatory novels and deciphering poetry in the condensed amount of time…not so smart.

Get to know your professors. At a large school like yours, this is difficult, so volunteer in their labs or be a teaching assistant for the courses you like. The experience is always good, but once you graduate, you’ll need reference letters. You’re more likely to get good ones if the prof can remember you.

Class is not always essential. Go to all your classes when they start. This will allow you to get to know the professor and their teaching style. Some professors are great teachers but some are there for the research and only teach because they have to. If they basically recite the textbook, don’t bother. You can read from the textbook on your own schedule.

Take your own notes. Take them in lectures and make your own notes from the textbook. The act of taking notes helps you learn faster. You are hearing the information, seeing the information and actively writing it. These are three different methods of absorbing it, plus, you have something to study later. If you are good at it, you can even sell your notes as a guide to students who take the course after you.

Join Facebook. Stop being a stick in the mud and just do it. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. How is that for a reversal of a cliché? Facebook will let you stay in touch with so many more people than the old fashioned phone will. Having a network will come in handy when you start looking for jobs. Besides, Facebook is fun and brainless. Trust me, you’ll appreciate having something to do that doesn’t require your brain sometimes.

Apply. Apply. Apply. In terms of scholarships, apply for anything you qualify for. You will get rejected more often than you get something, but don’t get discouraged. If you don’t apply, you definitely wont get anything. Aim for scholarship competitions that have a restricted applicant pool. You are more likely to get something if you are competing against students in your region or with your major than versus the whole country.

Loan refinancing. Repaying loans isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. You’ll want to set up a payment plan that avoids interest as much as possible. Paying lump sums when you have the extra cash or paying the loan off early can have penalties. Your taxes will also be involved. You’ll want some advice on this in order to save as much as possible.

You will fail. I’m not trying to scare you or be overly negative. I’m not only referring to classes either. You have always gotten good grades, you’ve gotten awards and you got into all the schools you wanted. You’ve always sort of been the big fish in the small pond. You’ve never failed, not really. Now, you’re at college with all the big fish. You’re not going to be the best at everything anymore. You may fail classes, you will get your heart broken, you wont get that scholarship or loan you applied for, you may not get into grad school or you wont get call-backs for jobs and people will be mean to you. It will hurt, some of it may be devastating, but you will survive. You will learn that it is ok to fail. You will take what you learned from that failure and take the next step in life smarter than you were before.

Now, knowing what I was only privy to in hindsight, start college, be a sponge, learn all you can, but have some fun too. Most of all don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face because you will, and you’ll be just fine.

Love always,

Future Me

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If We Were Having Coffee — Return to the Blog

coffee beans

If we were having coffee… I wouldn’t really know where to begin. Maybe a cup of coffee, a treat and a “Hi. How are you? I’m still here and I’ve missed you.” would be a good place to start.

Really though, what do you say when you disappear without warning for nearly 7 months? I have been wanting to start writing again for a while, but just didn’t know where to begin. I think the only way to do it is to just jump in. I thought Part-Time Monster’s Weekend Coffee Share would be a good place to get the ball rolling again.

If we were having coffee… I would say that I never intended to disappear. It just sort of happened. Things were not going well, I was not well and I didn’t think sharing my misery was worth it. I planned to wait until the fog lifted a bit. Well, the fog hung around. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months and well, here we are, 7 months later.

If we were having coffee… I’d want to know about all the adventures you had while I was MIA. I would hope you’d have some good memories and news to share.

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you about my adventures over the last while too. I’d tell you my sister got married in May. It was a small wedding, just family. She seems pretty happy. I’m glad.

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you Hubby got hired by a fancy private school. It was a big relief. Since enrollment at the school board he is tenured at had dropped, they didn’t have a position for him. The private school has taken some getting used to, but he has not been sworn at, spat on or shoved by any of the students yet. I’d say that’s an improvement already!

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you I turned 30 in June. I was not happy to hit the big 3-0, but my birthday cake was pretty yummy, so maybe it was worth it.

If we were having coffee… I’d show you some of the pictures from our trip to Costa Rica. It was my first time in the Pacific Ocean. Being the low season, we had the hotel pool and beach garden to ourselves most of the time. We also took a few day trips; snorkeling, hiking a volcano and swimming in natural hot springs under waterfalls. I was in complete awe. Living in a big city you sometimes forget these magical places exist.

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you I missed the latter half of the summer. I got the flu/pneumonia/sinusitis from hell. It ended up sending me to the hospital where they quarantined me. They thought it was meningitis at first. The only way to diagnose that is a spinal tap. That was an adventure all on it’s own. It is nothing like you see on House or Grey’s Anatomy. Anyway, to make a long story short, it was scary, it lasted about a month and I feel much better now.

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you that I started dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) last month. It consists of group therapy and an individual therapy session every week. I am trying to keep an open mind, but I’m not sure it is what I need.

If we were having coffee… I would tell you that the situation with my supervisor got worse. Much worse. I was going to quit, but, then it got better. For the last year I have been talking to her about problems we are having in the lab and the communication problems she and I have. I don’t know if she wasn’t understanding me, or if she wasn’t listening or what. I thought I was pretty clear. Anyway, I took one more stab at it and for some reason, this time I got through. This time she heard me. We were both in her office tearing up. She apologized for everything, especially not listening to me. I really appreciated that. Things haven’t gone back to normal and I don’t think they will, but I am so relieved. It is so much easier to go to work now.

If we were having coffee… I’d tell you that I am still stuck in terms of the research I am doing for my Ph.D. I am trying to focus on the positive things. Speaking of, I had another publication come out this month. It is good for my CV, but the excitement of being published dies pretty quickly when the people who matter don’t read it because they have no idea what you are talking about. I guess I can’t blame them for that.

If we were having coffee… I’d apologize for keeping you so long! I hope you have a great weekend. I am looking forward to next week.

This conversation coffee post is part of a weekly link-up hosted by Part-Time Monster. Join the fun!

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