Ask the professor: Advice on how to start the semester off strong

Monday, January 7 will kick off the Spring 2019 semester here at The Woods. The start of any new semester means that for students, the slate has been wiped clean and the opportunity to start anew awaits. One of the most important factors to achieving academic success is getting off to a strong start, but what is the best way to ensure that? We put that question to some our esteemed William Woods professors. Best of luck in 2019!

1.Terry Martin, Professor of Visual Arts
Help professors learn your name by posting a recognizable photo on the Owlnet course mate page. Make sure all your information is up-to-date in Owlnet and your technology is ready for the start of a new semester.

2. Stephen Saravara, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice
I find mental imagery serves as a powerful motivator.  Being from New England I like to picture a plow truck, plowing the road and when I start off on a project I think to myself “just plow the road!”  It also helps to re-imagine Hollywood heroes we have seen take on great challenges and continue to endure.  Some examples include John Rambo in his first movie, or for a good sports twist, the famous movie ” The Peaceful Warrior” (my personal favorite).

Finally, I remember the immortal words of famed pugilist Floyd Patterson who when reminded that he had been knocked down more than any heavyweight champion, responded in kind that “I got up more times than anyone.”

3. James Concannon, Associate Professor of Education
My best advice for starting the semester out strong is to prioritize time.  Students should create a consistent schedule of block time periods in their calendars to study, read, and do assignments.  A general rule of thumb for me was to block off 90 minutes of outside class time for every 50 minutes of in-class time.

4. Joe Potter, Assistant Professor of Theatre
Take a lot of notes. Taking a lot of notes will help you retain the material. Ask questions. Asking the professor pertinent questions is a must for starting the semester off strong. Give more. Give more than what is asked for in the assignment. This acknowledges the notion that you are here to learn. Read, read, read! Read the material and underline key information to remember. Watch the clock! Early is on time. On time is late. Fashionably late is not fashionable and impolite to faculty.

5. Caroline Boyer-Ferhat, Associate Professor of Psychology
I always encourage students to be purposeful in their study. Think about your long-term goals and how this course fits into that plan. For example, if you are taking a general education course this semester, think about how you can apply the skills you will learn in that course to your major and later professional endeavors and work to really master those skills. In Psychology, students are required to write research papers and give presentations in almost all of their classes, so it is important that they are mastering communication skills in English Composition and Introduction to Speech. Focusing on the specific skills that you can gain from a course and not just thinking about them in terms of checking off a box, can help students stay motivated throughout the semester and also set them up for future success.

6. Anthony Cavaiani, Assistant Professor of Communication
Stay current on course readings. It is crucial that you know where the course readings are located. Are they in a textbook you have to order? Are they on Owlnet? Are they online somewhere else? Getting ahead on course readings early in the semester will help increase the chances of you performing well in the course and earning a good grade.

7. Laura Ward, Associate Professor of Equestrian Studies
Review your notes for the day every night. Don’t call it “studying,” think of it more like “brushing your teeth.” Tips for discussing absences (excused or not-excused) with a professor: Never ask a professor “did I miss anything?” or “will I be missing anything?” That statement implies that you believe the professor develops worthless course content. Also, do not make your absence into more work for the professor. An email saying “tell me what I missed” (even w/a please), is just that. Take the initiative to review the syllabus for the topic of the day(s) you missed and come to the professor already having the problem of your absence solved. “I have looked at the syllabus and see that we went over x,y,z. I have finished the assigned readings and my roommate is letting me review her notes. May I schedule a meeting to discuss what else I missed?”

8. Craig Bruce Smith, Assistant Professor of History
Start your research papers early. Of all the assignments in a semester research papers seem to cause students the most stress and anxiety, so why wait until right before the due date? That doesn’t mean you have to write them the first week of class, but start conceptualizing and researching as soon as you can. This will also allow you to meet with your professor to get assistance and discuss drafts of your paper. Most of the issues I see on papers, from theses to sources, could have been corrected if students had met with me earlier in the semester.

9. Hannah Bolados, Assistant Professor of Spanish
Read your syllabus! No really, read it…all of it…and refer back to it throughout the semester. Why is this important?  The syllabus is your course manual for the semester. Not only does it spell out the content of the class and what is expected from students, but it also provides an outline of when the material will be covered and the deadlines for assignments. Even if your instructor goes over the highlights of the syllabus on the first day of class, it is your responsibility as a student to read it and refer back to it throughout the semester. This will also help you avoid a common instructor pet peeve of asking a question that is easily found in your syllabus.

10. Stephen Forsha, Assistant Professor of Business
My tip would be, “get something done” and make it a habit.  Every day, complete something in each course you are taking.  Even if it is a small task, get something done for each course every day.  When you think you have nothing left to do, think a bit harder, review, reflect, re-read, write, edit, etc.  Push your efforts beyond your own ‘academic comfort zone’ and take the risk of learning more than the minimum requirements.  There are always tasks to be completed so make a conscious effort to do so until getting things done becomes a habit in your life.  In your courses, this will help you manage your workload and help you engage in the material in a less stressful manner than cramming and procrastinating.  You will also have ownership of your education by continually working to increase your knowledge, developing a mentality of independent learning that will benefit you throughout your life. You won’t be successful by waiting for things to happen.  Success comes by getting things done over and over and over again.  So in the end, it is about the effort you exert that will help you achieve your goals.  It is the grit you develop through these repetitive efforts that will help you be successful.