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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

What I wish I’d known when I was a young student

There are ways to get the most out of university, writes Sarah Rasmi – and only a few of them involve getting buried in books
Students at the newly opened Zayed University Campus. New students have to juggle studies and extra curricular activities (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National)
Students at the newly opened Zayed University Campus. New students have to juggle studies and extra curricular activities (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National)

How do I get the most out of university? This is a question that thousands of students across the country will have asked themselves over the past few weeks. Everyone seems to have advice on this issue, but what are the real secrets of a successful university experience?

I have transitioned from an undergraduate student in 2001 to a graduate student in 2006 and a postdoctoral research associate in 2012. I began my first faculty position in 2013.

That’s right – I’ve been in the university bubble for the past 15 years. Throughout this process, I have studied and worked at public and private institutions in Australia, Canada, Egypt and the UAE. Here is the advice that I wish someone had shared with me.

Take this unique opportunity and learn about a variety of things. Most university programmes allow you to take courses that are outside your college.

For example, a natural sciences student can take a philosophy course as part of their degree requirements. Many students don’t take these courses seriously, choosing instead to expend their effort and energy on their major courses.

This is a mistake because general knowledge is a great asset to personal and professional development. Going to university is a rare opportunity to learn a variety of things from those acknowledged as experts.

Grades are important, but they aren’t everything. They determine whether you make the dean’s list and can affect your job prospects and graduate school applications.

But grades need to be kept in perspective. Many students are too focused on getting a specific grade, which makes them lose sight of gaining knowledge.

It is better to really understand what you are studying and get an average grade, than to memorise something for a test, score an A, and forget it right after. The good news is that really understanding something also makes it more likely that you will get the high grade that you are looking for.

Get to know your professors. Many people assume that professors only teach. In fact, my friends are often surprised when I tell them that teaching is just a small part of what I do.

Most universities expect their staff to teach, research and practice. For example, a business professor might publish research and offer corporate training in addition to teaching their courses.

So, get to know your professors by speaking to them about their interests and experiences, or by volunteering to work on their continuing projects. You will learn a lot and get valuable time with your professor, which can help you when you are on the job market or applying for graduate school.

Study hard, but have fun too. You are at university to gain an education that will prepare you for your career. It is important to study, but you also need to unwind and have fun. Many students become stressed during the school year, especially around midterm and final exams. Research shows that chronic stress is really bad for our physical and mental health.

Luckily, there are many ways to cope with stress and offset these negative effects. Something as simple as going for a run or taking a yoga class can boost your energy and mood.

Spending time with other students can also be fun and relaxing, and is a great way to network.

Remember, your university peers will enter the job market at the same time as you. Having a wide social circle can help you when you are looking for a job – either right out of college or many years later.

Going to university is much more than getting a degree. It’s a chance for you to expand your knowledge and skill set, while making personal and professional connections that will benefit you for years to come.

Dr Sarah Rasmi is an assistant professor of psychology at United Arab Emirates University and is the author of many articles on parenting

On Twitter: @DrSarahRasmi