As Lauren Houska finishes her university agriculture and communications studies, she has a few suggestions for fellow students.
In the thick of Dead Week here at Iowa State University, last-minute projects are being finished, Netflix is being watched while notes sit idly open, and students are closing down the library instead of Welch Avenue bars at 2:00 a.m. As graduation day looms, I think of the freshmen who are just finishing up their first semester. If your first semester was anything like mine, you can definitely see room for improvement. I had the opportunity to be an undergraduate teaching assistant (TA) in animal science for the past three semesters, so I have spent a little time on the inside. I have heard professors talk about "those kids" and let me assure you, you do not want to be one of them. So, here are a few pro tips to help you out next semester.
- Learn how to write an e-mail. Yes, you know how to send one, but do you know how to write one? If it doesn't start with Dr., Mrs., Ms., or Mr., you are probably doing it WRONG. I once read an e-mail to a professor that started with "yo"--it physically hurt me to read it. Respect your professors, and they will respect you. Do not demand a better grade by using poor grammar and texting lingo. Ask politely for a discussion about your grade and be respectful of their time--you will see how much better life can be.
- Make friends with the staff in your department. I bet you're already best friends with your department's administrative team, but if you're not, learn their names and tell them hello. If you are trying to get in to see an extremely busy professor or get information about an opportunity in the department, you've got a friendly face to help you out!
- Respect guest lecturers. Sure, if you get up and walk out or spend the whole time chatting with your classmate during your professor's lecture, you're probably not on their favorites list. However, if a professor has taken the time to bring in a professional from your field, do NOT embarrass your professor by being disrespectful. Listen, take notes, contribute to the discussion, and when the class is over, thank them for coming. You're going to impress two birds with one extremely professional stone.
- Problem solving is a valuable skill. As a TA, I fielded questions from many students on how to complete projects. One assignment required a YouTube-compatible video file, and it was due at 11:59 p.m. I had e-mail silence all week, and the night it was due I had more than 15 students wanting to know why their video wouldn't upload. Professors don't always assign things just to ensure you know the material; part of your assignment is to just figure it out on your own.
- Be nice to the TA. Okay, so this is a little self-serving, but hear me out. Unless you've got an undergrad TA on a power trip (which is impossible, we have no power), we are generally pretty nice people. We're always willing to help as long as you respect our time, and while I can't change your grade, I can help you get a better one. All you have to do is ask.