Advice to New Undergraduates

The key to success as a busy student with too much to do and too little time: Time management is the key. The person who is best organized gets the most done! Purchase and use a daily planner, or use an on-line calendar. Prioritize tasks and commitments at least once daily on a separate “to-do” list.    

How to be noticed as a serious student by an instructor in a large class of several hundred? You need to make a positive impression on all occasions – and with all instructors -- that you are an articulate, intelligent, exceptionally eager learner, one that he/she will inevitably recall when you need a letter of recommendation, or when he/she needs an assistant on a research project, a candidate for a fellowship, etc. Arrive early, sit in the front of the class, avoid annoying mannerisms, do not eat or chew gum, but do take copious notes, look – and be – interested in the instructor’s presentation (even if sometimes it’s torture!). Ask an exceptionally perceptive and pertinent question if the instructor asks, “Are there any questions?” Or ask such a question prior to the instructor’s exit from the lecture hall or   classroom. Go to your instructor’s posted office hours at least once per semester. There will not be 300 students in line! Prepare your visit in advance; know something about his/her interests and research; maybe read some of the professor’s articles or books. If you meet an instructor walking across campus, have something to ask after you say, “Hello,” as, “How did you get interested in X ?” or “Where did you did you earn your doctorate?”

Advisement and Networking: Usually students are assigned one advisor in their major department. Obtain advice also from others: professors, and dependable, older, upper-division and graduate students. This way you have options. Much useful dissemination of valuable information exchanged on a college campus does not occur in the classroom. Read your university's catalog (though it may be soporific!); learn how the university is organized, what services are available to students, and where these are located.

Keep a file with all communications and receipts from the university -- for future reference. Keep your study plan therein, and your grade reports. Take your file with you when you go to see an advisor. Go prepared to make a positive impression on your advisor: arrive with a detailed plan of study as a basis for discussion, for approval or modification. Keep notes on what your advisor tells you. Double-check the advisor's advice, if possible. 

Accelerating Your Undergrad Studies. Fresno State allows undergraduate students to challenge certain courses, including General Education courses by Credit by Examination.  You may enroll in a certain number of required courses, but usually not in the major, on a Pass/Fail basis called Credit/No Credit. (See 2008-09 Fresno State GeneralCatalog, p.74-75). Always enroll in any "fun," non-required, enrichment courses (Basic 1A, etc.) through CR/NC. Consider taking required GE courses during the summer at a Community College; be sure to check in advance with an advisor, or with the Evaluations Office, 278-4076, if the course units will count at Fresno State.

Research: As a junior, try to get involved in a professor’s research or in writing grants, particularly if your major is in the sciences. Request Independent Study (190) credits for a substantial amount of work.

Writing and Presentation Skills Development: Writing is a skill each of us can always improve -- a lifelong effort -- and requires practice; one may become "rusty" at writing. As for oral presentations, it is necessary to thoroughly prepare when it is your turn to "shine." In the future look for opportunities to make oral presentations in your discipline. If possible, attend professional meetings, especially if they are scheduled on the West Coast. Try to get on the program to make an oral presentation or joint presentation, or poster session. Mingle with other presenters. Such meetings are valuable for meeting people, "networking, and "exposure to new "cutting edge" ideas.

Work on Campus! Preferably as a student assistant in your major department office, for convenience (it’s close to your studies!) and it’s great for networking opportunities. Schedule up to 20 work hours of work around your courses. Learn how to deal with people, and there are potential, real advantages from knowing the department chair, faculty, staff, = a source of recommendations later on.

Apply for All Fresno State Scholarships for Which you Are Eligible On-Line!  Also check scholarships by searching online for major corporations, like this: “Target + scholarships for college,” or “Target + scholarships for minorities for college.” Polish your personal statement; retain an E-copy in your computer.

Broaden Your Horizons! Participate in a Junior Year of Study Abroad. Check with the international Programs office in FFS 111. Such an experience will be life-changing, and you will develop valuable coping and problem-solving skills that employers look for!

Crime Stats: What, where, what time of day events happen on or near campus. Universities are required by the federal government to maintain up to date crime statistics, and to report on previous years as well.
If you need to report any crime activity or need campus escort service contact university campus police at 278-2132 or 278-4000. (To use a classroom phone to call Campus Police, dial 8-2132, or 8-4000). 

Assertiveness:  If it doesn’t come naturally, being assertive and becoming a leader are skills that one can learn. Others have learned (Dr. Ross for example!), so can you. Plan to become a leader, an administrator, a boss. Deliberately observe real leaders in action: what qualities do those persons have? People usually treat you the way you treat them. But not always. What if a pathological grouch doesn't respond by adhering to the usual, Golden Rule pattern of behavior? What then? Defend yourself. But how? These are skills that can be learned: take a course (as Women Studies 112), or purchase a self-help book on the topic at Border's, or Barnes and Noble.

Plan ahead, starting now. Where do you want to be, where do you see yourself in five, ten or more years? Postdoc work? Teaching combined with important research? Administration + research? On a job?

Printed Resources: Getting What You Came for: the Smart Student's Guide to Earning a Master's or a Ph.D. (Revised Edition), by Robert L. Peters. ISBN 13: 97803774524777. Despite the title, this volume contains invaluable information for undergraduates as well, especially those who plan to earn advanced, postgraduate and/or professional degrees. There is a copy of Dr. Peters’ book in the Fresno State library. It is a book to read, keep and use as a reference later on.

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