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Insights What academic advice would you tell your 18 year old self? - Comments

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symbolipoint

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At least a few things:

Study metallurgy; start learning computer programming earlier, and stay with it longer; learn at least two languages other than my own, at least to the intermediate level. Learn MORE about Photography, especially equipment, materials, and applications.

EDIT: I now see, I misunderstood how the topic was classified. It was part of "Insights Articles". Regardless, what I say is what I would tell myself if I could go back and give myself some counsel.

Greg, what I said here is not really meant for an Insights article.
 
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HAYAO

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As a chemist, I would say study mathematics and physics well. They will help you understand semi-classical to quantum realm of the chemical phenomenons you are seeing in a more rigorous way.

I've seen physicists going chemists, but not the other way around save for few people (I've seen one on this forum too). What you learned in physics can be easier to apply to chemistry because you know the more fundamental and general form of laws of nature, while what you learn in chemistry consists of many approximations to them.

I regret not taking optional physics courses, A LOT...especially when my chemistry professors teaching physics were very unmotivated and had poor teaching ability.
 

Wrichik Basu

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@Greg Bernhardt great advice by the advisors, something that I would like to keep in mind, being an 18 year old.

While all the advisors have given important advice, @Demystifier, @Choppy and @haushofer have spoken what I always believed. My school is loaded with over-smart students, and it seems teachers only value them because they somehow get marks in the exams.
 

gleem

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Actually I think 18 is too old to wait to give anybody academic advice. Students should have the basics rules for success inculcated by the time they enter high school. This gives them time to test themselves before making that important career decision. By waiting to 18 just gives them more time to develop non productive attitudes and/or behaviors which must eventually be corrected.


My school is loaded with over-smart students, and it seems teachers only value them because they somehow get marks in the exams.
Smartness counts but diligence may be more important even for the smart. Most of us are not geniuses. It is diligence that is the field leveler for the success for the majority of us. Diligence produces good marks too.
 

Wrichik Basu

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Smartness counts but diligence may be more important even for the smart. Most of us are not geniuses. It is diligence that is the field leveler for the success for the majority of us. Diligence produces good marks too.
If you can go and teach that to one single teacher in my school, you'll surely get a prize. Everyone knows everything. I have been trying to change the mindset of these people for the last 8 years, and have failed miserably. Teachers want money, students want marks. Who cares about knowledge? The ones who do, like me, suffer in the middle of these people.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Smartness counts but diligence may be more important even for the smart. Most of us are not geniuses. It is diligence that is the field leveler for the success for the majority of us. Diligence produces good marks too.
I've been doing some volunteer work at a school that has allowed me to elevate diligence and hard work to what I regard as it's proper level. They seem to be granting me even more of a free hand next year.

But to the OP, I think my advice for my 18 year old self would be to drink less and have more confidence that the hard work will pay off.

At the time I didn't realize how good the odds were of working 60 hours a week on academics paying off as well as it would.
 

HAYAO

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But to the OP, I think my advice for my 18 year old self would be to drink less and have more confidence that the hard work will pay off.
At the time I didn't realize how good the odds were of working 60 hours a week on academics paying off as well as it would.
Haha. Well I don't know how much you were drinking at the time, but anyhow, I agree.

I would like to add that one should do the "right" hard work.

I am very sure you were naturally able to do the right work and the right effort, but I've seen some people doing hard work the way they shouldn't. Some people will attempt solving the same problems over and over again after some class until they basically memorize the problem and solution itself. Not that I am saying this is necessarily bad because it is important at times especially those that need practice, but they get like almost perfect grades and still be unable to answer conceptual questions. I would probably use more time in actually understanding the concept than just trying to be able to solve problems.
 

Wrichik Basu

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I am very sure you were naturally able to do the right work and the right effort, but I've seen some people doing hard work the way they shouldn't. Some people will attempt solving the same problems over and over again after some class until they basically memorize the problem and solution itself. Not that I am saying this is necessarily bad because it is important at times especially those that need practice, but they get like almost perfect grades and still be unable to answer conceptual questions. I would probably use more time in actually understanding the concept than just trying to be able to solve problems.
I support that. Problem solving does help in understanding the concepts, but that doesn't mean that one should go on solving problems infinitely. I have seen students solve 80 to 90 problems on each chapter. But you ask them something tricky, they will not be able to answer, because they have never learnt anything out of the box. When I study any topic, I solve problems for better understanding, but after that, I study that topic from college level or higher books, so as to learn more and more.

For example, when I first learnt about quantization of charge and then about photons, I was quite interested. I asked my teachers, who never bothered to help me. So I started out with higher level QM books, and now I am happily studying QM.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Haha. Well I don't know how much you were drinking at the time, but anyhow, I agree.

I would like to add that one should do the "right" hard work.

I am very sure you were naturally able to do the right work and the right effort, but I've seen some people doing hard work the way they shouldn't. Some people will attempt solving the same problems over and over again after some class until they basically memorize the problem and solution itself. Not that I am saying this is necessarily bad because it is important at times especially those that need practice, but they get like almost perfect grades and still be unable to answer conceptual questions. I would probably use more time in actually understanding the concept than just trying to be able to solve problems.
My own (18 year old) hard work was pretty balanced: roughly 20% reading and re-reading book, 30% reviewing class notes, and 50% problem solving. Of course, there were some variations, depending on the specific math or physics course in question.

In the 32 years since, I have known hundreds of students who were simply not working even half as hard as they needed to. But I have not known a single student who was honestly putting in 50-60 hours a week on academic work but solving too many problems with too little emphasis on understanding concepts. NOT ONE. This is not to say that they do not exist out there, somewhere. But not having encountered them personally, I do not take much of my time and effort advising hypotheticals.

The more common thing I see is lots of students trying to work smarter instead of harder. Once they are working about 1 hour outside of class for each class hour (when 2-3 hours are needed), they then try and give problem solving short shrift and apply various techniques and succeed at deluding themselves that they understand the concepts when they can still only work a small fraction of the medium difficulty problems.

Adjusting a student's approach once they are working hard enough is a much easier task than getting this generation of sloths working as hard as they need to in the first place.
 
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My road to being 18 year old entering a State Engineering program, ( U of Del.) was not clear or direct.
Due to very late diagnosis of Lazy Eye, and no diagnosis of ADD ( which was not even a thing then); I had been in Learning Disabled (Classified LD) classes up until about 8th grade. Because of this and having an interest in Electronics since 11 or 12 years old, when presented with Electronics option in a Vocational High School - it seems to be a good option to everyone. I completed this 3 year program in 2 and in doing so about half way through 11th I realized I needed more than the Vo-Tec, to Community college path I had been planning. But now my academics were off track, and I had to beg to get moved into the math and science classes that would be necessary for college admissions ( also my High School was, and still is, not very good, today 18% go on to college). Additionally - I felt like I never fit in to HS ( common), and I saw University as a chance for a good reset on almost everything in my life.

That being said - here is my feedback:
  • ADD would have had to be described, there are a number of issues and events I would point to through my youth to convince the 18 year old me that I had a disorder, and there are specific things I needed to do now to succeed. And that it is OK, it will not change, but there are workarounds for some of the issues.
  • I had swam competitively for years, but fearing the work load at Uni I did not swim competitively in college, wrong I should have continued. The neuro-chemical effect of heavy exercise is an excellent therapy for ADD issues - mental focus, anxiety etc.
  • Some specific study habits I developed in College, but too late, so start these ASAP: Study with some white noise or instrumental music. Study in an uncluttered space, with good task (local) lighting, and dim room or background lighting. Use a task timer.
  • Math is a PRACTICE SPORT - do ALL THE PROBLEMS, and go back a day later and do them again ( I tell my kids, Professional Baseball players KNOW how to throw a ball, but they still go out every day and practice, This may seem counter to Dr. C but really is is approaching from another angle, some believe "if I do the work I will pass" - but this is the opposite of I do not understand, so I can not do the work.... Understanding is the objective, and the pathway is doing the work).
  • Keep a notebook handy at all times, before asking a question or commenting - write it down! This changes how your mind is interacting with the information and often leads to better understanding up front. It should be said, a common issue for ADD is blurting out questions and comments at inappropriate times; which is very off putting to instructors and others and taken as a sign of disrespect, i.e. one big reason for ADD students to be labeled as Disruptive - and in in reality be discriminated against academically.
  • I learn tactically and spatially, (advice to all : Learn about how you learn best: verbal, reading, watching or doing, and when during the day you learn best) - so Labs, pen-pencil and paper are my allies. Reading mid morning, physically active tasks first thing in the morning, sitting tasks best from 3 PM to 7 PM, etc. And this is another reason for the notebook ( Short term to long term memory transition is very weak - disaster really.)
  • Sometimes (often) - you will not be able to "understand it all" - if so then just do the work. I see MANY engineering and bright kids getting hug up wanting to "understand it all" - for this I love the MIT lecture on Lumped Abstraction; a concept never taught to me; we get off track asking too many questions and build a roadblock for ourselves, "I can't do this because I do not know everything yet.". I'll note the incredible number of questions we see asking about electron flow in circuit analysis in PF.
  • It is OK to look for and ask for help. ( Remember that notebook? take notes to help you remember the advice.)
  • Get (ask for) a mentor ( College and in your first few jobs)
  • Make a schedule and read / review every day, still a (lack of a) habit I struggle with today. - For ADD, executive processing (or Executive Functioning) tasks such as time management, organization, is another big issue. Develop a by-the-week, day-to-day schedule for the whole semester where you are putting in a 40-50 hour work week for school, while this sounds like a lot but if you actually make a physical schedule you will see the huge amount of free time you have, and then schedule good / healthy activities and interests, rather than having it all be unscheduled ( leaving some time completely free).
But these are not necessarily the things I would be saying to a student that is a good academic student. Looking back at it I really do not know how I survived, my son has many of the same issue and "noise" that he deals with today ...I am sure I would not have succeeded. Personally I now believe, understand and empathize with the fact that different people develop at different rates and at different times in their lives, some people, amazingly to me, really have it together very early. I have watched kids at 12 years old set plans, and execute through to grad school, where somethings I feel like I did not figure out until 40.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Math is a PRACTICE SPORT - do ALL THE PROBLEMS, and go back a day later and do them again ( I tell my kids, Professional Baseball players KNOW how to throw a ball, but they still go out every day and practice, This may seem counter to Dr. C but really is is approaching from another angle, some believe "if I do the work I will pass" - but this is the opposite of I do not understand, so I can not do the work.... Understanding is the objective, and the pathway is doing the work).
I don't see this as counter at all to my viewpoint. I agree completely. Great advice here:

Math is a PRACTICE SPORT - do ALL THE PROBLEMS, and go back a day later and do them again ...

... Understanding is the objective, and the pathway is doing the work.
 
i would tell myself, mostly nice job. the same thing that my 30 years old is telling to my 23 years old right now. only i would prevent myself to buy the stuff that weren't much useful to me. and my 30 years old will probably tell me the same thing about the purchase mistakes i am going to make. like not buying a RPI camera module for a orange pi board. CSIs aren't compatible.
i live with a very annoying muslim family in iran, and i planned my behaviour in a way so i could get the most efficient freedom. no mistakes till this day.
the only thing i would do for myself, is encouraging myself.
 
18 years old? Write down your strong and weak characteristics. See Choppy's list. ENJOY making the weak ones better.
Your boss/tutor of the moment is always one you need to impress - fail at that at, your peril.
Look at Past Papers - and understand how to answer them well. Look them up BEFORE you do the course.
Ask for help if someting's hard - people will give it. But ask three good people if it's for advice!
If at some stage you aren't sure what to do, find a qualification you can enjoy. Work experience is "nice" but a quali will be with you your whole life. Once you start, complete things.
18 is peak for learning, and building who you are. Make sure you use every hour of it the best way you can.
For fun, learn a language. I did three. It makes the world bigger.
 

CWatters

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The harder you work when you are young, the less hard you will have to work when you are older.
 
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Go back and learn all the math you can so this stuff makes sense and you can complete the research you are working on now. Apologize to that hateful teacher that hit you with his pointer stick because he mistakenly thought you were talking. Then kicked you out of pre algebra class for taking it away from him and breaking it into pieces. Better to let him be the bully so you won't suffer the rest of your life for his meanness. Start college at 18 instead of 40! There's a lot of great things you'll do between now and 59 that I can't do because time's running out for me. Retirement is eight years away.
 

Astronuc

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https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/ask-the-advisors-what-academic-advice-would-you-tell-your-18-year-old-self/ Great article. It's more or less along the lines of, if I knew then what I know now, or learned since. And I'd start back as early as 7th grade.

I spent a lot of time at the public library and a local university library reading on math and science, as well as history and religion. I could have used a mentor, or mentors back then. My parents did what they could, which was to encourage me to read/study, but I quickly got beyond their experience, particularly in math and science. If I had some understanding of the process, I would have tried to find a university professor to point me in the right direction, or at least a university based program. I did have the experience of doing a summer study program at a local university. The classes were taught by graduate students in their respective disciplines, but I could have used more guidance throughout the year.
 

Dr. Courtney

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My parents did what they could, which was to encourage me to read/study, but I quickly got beyond their experience, particularly in math and science. If I had some understanding of the process, I would have tried to find a university professor to point me in the right direction, or at least a university based program. I did have the experience of doing a summer study program at a local university. The classes were taught by graduate students in their respective disciplines, but I could have used more guidance throughout the year.
Interesting. I have a standing offer to mentor student research projects, either for competition, publication, or just for personal development. My students have high success rates getting their research published, winning science fairs, and getting into great schools. (Just found out today, one former student has been admitted to Harvard.) But in my view, my services as a research mentor are underutilized. I charge nothing, but I do expect hard work and I guide students to good, solid research. Yet few students are interested. It seems that lots of students want the big name schools, but few are willing to really work for it.
 
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I'd say 'Try yet again to get your head around Calculus beyond the basics'.
 

Astronuc

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I could have used a resource like PF 50 years ago. :oldsmile:
 

jasonRF

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I would tell myself to follow mathwonk's advice and study in groups at least part of the time. I always studied by myself which was probably not the most efficient, and was somewhat isolating given the heavy workload we had.

But the root of the problem was really arrogance. I would tell my 18 year-old self to be humble. When I was 18 I wasn't half as good as I thought I was, so I didn't take advantage of all the help that was available to me (including my peers).
 
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Don't worry, be happy, avoid getting stuck, keep moving, learn all you can all the time but most of all have faith in yourself.
 

symbolipoint

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Mudpie, I think we like to find advice with a little more sense of direction. Something like do not postpone your homework or do not let your responsibilities go to the last minute; study ahead whenever possible; review any course which you need to repeat in order to help ensure better progress the next try.
 
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Mudpie, I think we like to find advice with a little more sense of direction. Something like do not postpone your homework or do not let your responsibilities go to the last minute; study ahead whenever possible; review any course which you need to repeat in order to help ensure better progress the next try.
"There are substantial individual differences in how human beings react to a given situation, so we should be very careful about claiming that x (or even a limited amount of x) is likely to be beneficial for everyone." Alfie Kohn

I truly appreciate your feedback to what I'd tell myself if I were 18 again. I do believe your advice to be genuine and to be true. To be true to my own advice of having faith that what you have expressed to me is like a seed of truth planted that will forever be with me. Thank-you.....
 

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