How to succeed in the university

how to succeed in university education and how to succeed in your study at university how to succeed at university an essential guide
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Published Date:16-07-2017
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A PRACTICAL, EASY-TO-READ GUIDE FOR SUCCESS AT UNIVERSITY AND BEYOND to how SUCCEED at UNIVERSITY (AND GET A GREAT JOB) MASTERING the CRITICAL SKILLS YOU NEED for SCHOOL, WORK, and LIFE THOMAS R. KLASSEN & JOHN A. DWYERon campus UBC Press is delighted to launch its On Campus imprint, featuring books, essays, and other materials designed to help students success- fully tackle the intellectual and social challenges encountered at university or college today. On Campus will include a range of inter- esting, sometimes unconventional, perhaps humorous, but always use- ful information and advice for students to download for free or to purchase in print. In the past, such materials were only available in- formally, posted online by a professor for a class or photocopied and handed out manually year after year. The purpose of the On Campus imprint is to encourage wider availability of these underground sources of wisdom and to provide a hub where students can expect to find pertinent and accessible information on all kinds of topics related to university or college life. On Campus materials, while not peer- reviewed in the formal sense, do undergo a thorough assessment to ensure their suitability and value for their target audience. The inaugural On Campus publication is How to Succeed at University (and Get a Great Job), written by York University profes- sors Thomas R. Klassen and John A. Dwyer. Already a word-of-mouth phenomenon with steady sales in university bookstores, this revised edition will be an excellent resource for university students and gradu- ates, college and high school students, as well as instructors, guidance counsellors, and parents. Lively, funny at times, and highly accessible, this practical guide argues that the best preparation for succeeding at life and on the job is succeeding at university. It is a prime example of the kinds of resources that UBC Press is proud to offer to the univer- sity community under the On Campus imprint.A print edition of this book is available from your local bookstore or you can order it online at www.ubcpress.caDEDICATED TO Sue Han by Thomas R. Klassen AND Dawn Bradley by John A. DwyerContents Preface 1 1 University as Preparation for a Great Job / 3 What’s university all about? 5 What to expect after graduation 6 Will I get a well-paid job? 8 How to select courses 8 Mature, returning, and part-time students 9 What job-related skills can I learn in my courses? 10 2 Skills for Success at School and Work / 13 Oral presentations 13 Group work 21 Being a proactive professional 23 Using numbers 28 Taking notes 29 Getting yourself organized 32 3 Prospering in the Classroom and Workplace / 38 Exams, a fact of life 38 Strategies for multiple-choice exams 43 Strategies for written exams 46 The usefulness of essays 50 v vi Contents Writing for the academic reader 54 How to organize an essay 57 The basic structure of an essay 60 Essay writing as a process 65 Common essay-writing errors 70 Lab reports and similar assignments 74 The last word 74 4 Strengthening Your Critical Skills / 75 What are critical skills? 76 Communication and critical thinking 77 Strengthening your critical skills 79 The limitations of narrative 81 Contextualizing information 83 The significance of theories 87 Theoretical levels and forms 89 Practical tips to help you on your way 94 5 Active Listening and Active Reading / 97 Passive listening 98 Active listening 98 Active reading 99 Reading at an academic level 100 Perfecting your skills 104 6 Researching a Topic / 106 Rules of thumb for researchers 107 Two research strategies 111 7 Practical Problem Solving for School, Work, and Life / 113 Why applied problem solving is so important 113 Problem solving as a process 115 Contents vii Step one: defining the problem 118 Step two: discovering causes 119 Step three: establishing solutions 123 Step four: making a choice 123 Step five: implementation 125 Step six: benchmarking and evaluating 126 Step seven: remaining vigilant 127 Problem solving as a life skill 127 8 Creative Problem Solving for Life and Work / 129 Relation to problem solving 130 The rigid structures of the mind 131 Creative problem-solving techniques 134 Creatively reconfiguring the problem 139 Maximizing creative solutions 140 The right environment for creative thinking 140 9 Finding and Gengtti the Great Job / 144 The importance of networking 146 Resumes 147 The cover letter 150 Networking and the information interview 155 The real interview 160 Decoding interview questions 163 Interview styles 172 References 174 After the interview 176 10 Managing Social Media / 184 Five rules for social media 185 Social media and relationship building 186 Branding yourself 188 Internet dating as metaphor 191 viii Contents 11 Success at Work and Beyond 193 The first job 194 Staying sharp 197 Dealing with the transition 198 Graduate, professional, vocational, and on-line education 200 Further success 204 Notes 205 More Resources 207 About the Authors 210Preface We wrote this book to answer many of the questions that univer- sity students, and recent graduates, have about succeeding in their courses and in their post-school careers. All of our advice is a re- sponse to questions from the thousands of students we have taught at Ryerson University, Trent University, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, North Island College on Van- couver Island, and York University in Canada. The book is the result of efforts by many people. Students and colleagues at York University urged us to write the first version, A Practical Guide to a Great Job after University. The encouraging responses from many readers – parents, academic advisors and guidance counsellors, and others, but most importantly students – enticed us to write an expanded second edition, Flourishing in University and Beyond. Hundreds of students told us in e-mails, classrooms, and meet- ings that the book helped them find their way and sometimes changed their lives. York University and other universities have made it a required text for students who are beginning their post- secondary studies and a recommended text for those about to graduate. The book garnered positive reviews, including coverage in the Globe and Mail and other newspapers. That so many people benefitted from our advice and tips persuaded us to write a further revised and improved third edition. This you hold in your hands or see on your screen. 1 2 Preface This edition includes new material on active listening, note taking, and managing social media, as well as updates of all the previous chapters. In writing this edition, we have been blessed to have the support of UBC Press. Emily Andrew, senior editor in Toronto, was an early champion of the book; without her assist- ance, the project would not have proceeded. In her quiet and effective manner, Melissa Pitts, director of UBC Press, ensured that all the elements of the book came together and fit perfectly. Holly Keller, manager of Production and Editorial Services, and her staff piloted the manuscript from ill-formed words to the lovely final product. We remain grateful to former and current colleagues at York University – Steve Glassman, Michael Jackel, and Michael Legris – who championed the earlier versions of the book. We are also deeply appreciative of our colleagues at the university and beyond who inspired us to write a work that integrates university studies and life skills, two sets of competencies that are too often separated. In this edition, we continue to break down the barriers be- tween the university experience and post-graduation careers. We steadfastly believe that the skills for academic and employment success are similar and that they can be learned. We know that people who combine sound advice with motivation invariably flour - ish in school and beyond.Chapter 1 University as Preparaon ti for a Great Job The best time is always the present time, because it alone offers the opportunity for action. — Georges Vanier O btaining a university education is more expensive than ever, and more competitive. Unlike in the past, finishing a degree is not an assurance of a job, much less a good job. The labour market is more cutthroat, desirable jobs are fewer, and employers have higher ex- pectations. New graduates must compete for jobs, not only with each other but often with people in other regions and countries. Although students know that university is important to get a great job, seeing the relationship between the two can be difficult. Many courses seem irrelevant or overly abstract, and professors ap- pear to have little understanding or appreciation of the real world. Sure, Shakespeare, Marx, and Plato are important to them, but what about to future employers? Many bosses and older colleagues, particularly in smaller companies, may not have gone to university and probably don’t appreciate the hard work involved in getting a degree. As a result, it’s easy to become cynical or depressed about attending classes, completing library research, assignments, and presentations, and writing exams. By the time you finish your degree, you’ll have paid a lot of money for that little piece of paper. For full-time undergraduates, 1 the average cost of tuition alone is 6,000. The cost of books, materials, and transportation will add considerably to this, as will accommodation for students who don’t live at home. In total, a 3 4 University as Preparation for a Great Job BA or BSc will cost you at least 30,000 and possibly more if you need to re-take courses or decide to change programs. Some programs, such as business and computer science, will set you back an additional several thousand dollars in tuition each year. If you leave home to attend university, the total price tag for an under- graduate degree could be 70,000. When you graduate, you will join the 25 percent of Canadian adults who have completed a university education. You will have worked hard and made many sacrifices – perhaps supported by your family – to join this group. But a degree is no guarantee that you will find a promising career. To fully enjoy the fruits of your efforts, you would like convo- cation to be followed by a great job. The good news is that, if you play your cards right, it can and will be. This implies being smart and strategic about preparing for the job market and translating the skills you’ve learned at university into something sought-after Whether you’re starting post-secondary studies or are in the middle or about to graduate, this book will help you learn the skills to succeed at school and in the challenging job market. It’s meant for all university students, many college and high school students, and their parents. It should be read and applied from the time you begin your university career. But it offers a lot for anyone who is about to leave university for full-time permanent employment. This book will also help you flourish as a student, a profes- sional, and a person. Flourishing involves maximizing both your self-development and your contribution to others, including em- ployers. Ultimately, it’s about the happiness that comes when you live a thoughtful, balanced, and self-directed life. Don’t be misled by these high-sounding words, however. There is nothing impractical about flourishing. Many individuals don’t flourish either at university or in the workplace because they obsess about getting a great job with a big paycheque. They respond uncritically to pressures from parents, friends, and others. Students are constantly bombarded with subtle but powerful messages about getting into one of the elite professions – such as law, medicine, and accounting – or taking specific courses and programs that have a payoff. University as Preparation for a Great Job 5 Your university experience and life will be diminished if you give in to this kind of tunnel vision. A university education can and does lead to financially rewarding and fulfilling employment. But job preparation is not its main purpose. Attempting to address that task would be hopeless in any case. No one can accurately predict what the job market will be like after the four years that are usually required to get a degree. It makes more sense to enjoy your university experience rather than constantly worrying about your future. At the same time, it is good common sense to use your school years to help you succeed in life after your degree. You will flourish much better in university, work, and life if you pay attention to this dynamic relationship. Not understanding how school relates to work, and work to school, means that you’re not fully taking advantage of university studies to prepare yourself for the labour market. You don’t need to be totally consumed with getting a job; in fact, we’ll show how an obsession with gainful employment will probably backfire. But at the very least, you should be considering the connection be- tween school and work. The better you understand this link, the more prepared and the less stressed you will be about your future. And you’ll have much more fun at university as well What’s university all about? “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The classic line from The Wizard of Oz sums up the experience of many new uni- versity students. The standards are higher and the competition for good grades is tougher. And to top it off, the social and cultural transition from high school to university makes everything more difficult. University is about preparing for the rest of your life, not just your job. You’ll discover new and unimagined subjects that inter- est you. University involves many things: learning, meeting new people, making decisions, building new relationships, perhaps leav- ing home, travelling, dealing with money problems, working part- time and sometimes even full-time, and more. 6 University as Preparation for a Great Job You’ll make new friends and might even meet a life partner. You will definitely learn lots about love, life, and your chosen field of study, but much of it will not seem applicable to your job and career after graduation. However, your time in school could – and should – be spent preparing for life in the workforce. As we explain in this book, there is nothing better than univer- sity as a training ground for career ambitions. The bonus is that you can enjoy your university years as much as you like, while still making sure that you’re ready to land the job of your dreams after graduation. Does this sound too good to be true? Read on. What to expect aerft graduation One of the greatest uncertainties about being in university is what will happen afterward – Will I find a good job? Will I like it? Will it pay enough? Will I need to move to find work? Will I get stuck in a rat race? Could I end up unemployed? These are crucial ques- tions. Fortunately, many can be answered right now. When you graduate, you will enter a professional workplace that is different from the one that your parents experienced, or are familiar with, if they attended post-secondary studies. Not so very long ago, a university degree was the ticket to a good and perma- nent position. However, organizations today require more than a degree – they are seeking a flexible problem solver who is good at multi-tasking, adapts well to change, and is a team player. Your parents won’t necessarily understand the pressure that you experience, since they might not have confronted the same kind of pressure. They want you to get a stable position and be- come self-sufficient as quickly as possible. Like your professors, they have a tendency to assume that not much has changed since they were young. Sometimes it helps to remind them what they were doing at your age. But to become truly self-sufficient, and triumph, you must be much more proactive and flexible than they were at your age. Your career trajectory will be tough. This doesn’t automatically mean that it will be stressful, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it will be less interesting. It does mean, however, that you can’t afford to be passive. You need to be strategic, creative, and opportunistic. University as Preparation for a Great Job 7 After four years of studying hard and living on peanuts, hoping to be rewarded with a stable and permanent job right after gradu- ation is perfectly normal. This is unlikely to happen, however, because it’s not how employers hire. Most employers hire recent university graduates on short-term contracts. This is a chance for both parties to test drive each other. Is there a good fit? Is the new employee willing and able to learn? Today’s public- and private-sector employers are not looking for someone who will stay with the organization permanently. They expect professional people to seek new opportunities every five years or so, and they realize that a significant percentage of present employees will be moving on, looking for other challenges and higher pay. Staying too long in one place can even be interpreted negatively – as lack of ambition That’s the reality of the work world that you will be entering. Professionals need to be lifelong learners, continually up- dating or developing new skills as these are needed. Learning is being transformed from a stage in the life cycle into a continu- ous process. Individuals are responsible for seeking out the infor- mation and educational opportunities to keep abreast of their field or career trajectory. Those who are passive or reactive are left behind. Given the importance of learning in your future professional life, it only makes sense to learn while at university. Most univer- sity courses are an ideal training ground for skills that will allow you to adapt in the workplace and beyond. After all, you will have a career to manage Your university years offer a unique time to learn, practise, and perfect the skills that are essential for success in the workplace. As a future professional, you will need four sets of skills:  excellent communication (reading, writing, speaking, listening)  the ability to learn and solve problems (in other words, the capacity for critical and creative “value-added” thinking)  teamwork, including social skills (ethics, positive attitude, responsibility)  a willingness to adapt to changing circumstances and to transfer knowledge to new situations. 8 University as Preparation for a Great Job The more of these skills you can acquire, the better prepared you will be to contribute to your profession and to fulfill your career goals. Guess what? These skills (no more and no less) are the key to success in university as well. This book is all about these skills. Will I get a well-paid job? Great jobs usually come with good salaries, and the majority of university graduates end up in well-paying positions. You want to join their ranks and guard against getting stuck in poorly paid and unfulfilling work. Money doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it sure as hell doesn’t hurt either. A good income is a necessity since many graduates begin their first jobs mired in debt. Paying back your loan(s) and perhaps having money to travel, buy some of the things you’ve been de- prived of, and maybe even get married are good incentives to take career preparation and the job search seriously. The good news is that three years after completing a bach- 2 elor’s degree, you will probably be earning about 53,000. This is an average figure, of course. Some graduates will make considerably more and others less. The trick is to be among those who earn more and who, equally importantly, enjoy what they do How to select courses One of the most stressful aspects of attending university is decid- ing on a program, major, or specialization, and courses. Sure, you get advice from guidance teachers, university counsellors, professors, family, and friends, but the decision is ultimately yours to make. And it’s a big decision. Of course, some programs or courses may be off-limits because of various requirements and prerequisites. But there are still tons of choices to be made. Here is the best piece of advice in this book. Make these choices on your own terms, not somebody else’s Trust yourself. Select programs and courses that interest you, without worrying too much initially about getting a job after graduation or earning a good salary. Yes, without considering the University as Preparation for a Great Job 9 labour market This is the most sensible approach because, ultim- ately, you need to find satisfaction in your courses, just as you will need to obtain satisfaction from your work after graduation. For example, there’s no sense in taking accounting only to fail your courses because you have zero interest in balance sheets and annual reports. Many students enrol in business-related programs and courses because they or their parents believe that doing so will result in a great job. The business curriculum is difficult and inflexible. After four or more years, some of these students would rather do anything else than work in business. What a waste of four years Wouldn’t it be preferable to complete a degree in a subject that you like and in which you want to excel? After that, you can always do an MBA (master’s degree in business administration), full-time or part-time, if you are still interested in the business route. Our point is that there’s no need to make yourself miserable; you have choices. They should be your choices As you will read later in this book, a great job can be reached via many, many paths. Your path must be the one that is most en- ticing to you. Don’t make the horrendous mistake of assuming that future success will be gained only through a painful process. Picking courses that appeal to you is the best guarantee that you will succeed in them, and doing well (not necessarily achieving straight A’s) is essential to getting a great job. A smooth road to a desirable job doesn’t require being frustrated and unhappy, failing courses that you dislike, or constantly changing your major or pro- gram. This is a pointlessly expensive and painful way of attaining an education. Mature, returning, and part-time students For a number of reasons, including burnout (almost everyone ex- periences this at some point), you may decide to study part-time or return to university as a mature student. One of the really neat things about universities is that they are always there for you, which means that you can choose how and when to organize your learning. 10 University as Preparation for a Great Job Not everyone can or should be a full-time student. Part-time programs are available in most fields of study. Although some pro - grams don’t accept part-time students, this should not necessarily discourage you, as there may be creative ways to achieve what you want. On-line courses and programs are increasingly available, and they are accessible from anywhere at any time. Studying part-time can be a good strategy, perhaps just for a summer or for a year, or for your entire degree. Part-time school- ing also reinforces one of the most important truths about the world of work – learning does not stop at a predetermined age. The days when post-secondary education started in the late teens, was confined to a few years at university or college, and ended in the early twenties are vanishing. Don’t get hung up on an out- dated model. If you cannot attend a post-secondary institution as soon as you graduate from high school, that’s okay. In fact, having several years of not being in school can be an advantage when you apply to a university program. To tell the truth, professors (including the ones who wrote this book) usually like students who have taken a break from school. These students are highly motivated, have better developed listen- ing skills, and already know that success involves taking courses that appeal to them. Returning students can face particular issues in relating school to their workforce experience, and vice versa. Sometimes they become too instrumental – that is, so concerned about how their education relates to the job market that they forget the joy of learn- ing. In Chapter 11, we cover some matters related to returning to school after being in the workforce for a while. What job-related skills can I learn in my courses? Nearly all the skills that you will learn and use in your courses are exactly what you’ll need for an interesting, challenging, and well- paying job. Surprised? Doing oral presentations, working in groups, meeting dead- lines, overcoming challenges, looking at problems from differing University as Preparation for a Great Job 11 perspectives, concisely summarizing information, identifying links and patterns, locating and sifting sources of information, explain- ing past events and projecting what may occur in the future, writ- ing well and with some analytical depth, and dealing with people in positions of authority are almost certainly part of your ideal job. These are the skills that you can, and must, develop at university. Consider any professional occupation or any senior position in the private or public sector. People who hold these jobs spend hours each day communicating with others: convincing them of new ideas and proposals, obtaining and understanding informa- tion, explaining matters in person or in writing. They also devote considerable time and effort to looking at events and circum- stances in a critical and creative manner to solve problems and make improvements: Why did we have a financial loss this quar - ter? How could we develop a stronger and timelier strategy? Why did some of my students fail? Why were the ethics of our organ- ization breached? How does what happened today relate to what happened last month and might happen tomorrow? Finally, anyone who wants to be a professional must be able to work well with others, including supervisors, colleagues, subordinates, clients, and stakeholders. One of the authors of this book worked for a year as the place- ment director for a prestigious MBA school, where students were recruited by leading Canadian and global corporations. What all these well-known companies wanted in potential employees – even more than high grades – was the ability to solve problems creatively, communicate effectively, work as part of a team, and adapt to changes. When the recruiters for blue-chip companies studied resumes or interviewed candidates, they looked for evidence that these universal skills had been learned. They expertly and ruthlessly sifted out those who merely had good memories, thought inside the box, lacked people skills, or were inflexible. Although higher education is one of the best investments a per- son can make, it is not a guarantee of a good and fulfilling position. You need to use your years in university to acquire, and practise, the all-important four sets of skills: 12 University as Preparation for a Great Job  communication  problem solving  teamwork  adaptability. The amazing thing is that by doing so, you will succeed wonder- fully in your courses and will also find the time to enjoy all the other benefits that a university education provides. The following chapters give you hints and advice on how to acquire – in your courses – the skills that guarantee success at school and work. Chapter 2 looks in more depth at the general skills that you can, and must, acquire at university to ensure your success as a professional. Chapter 3 explains how to use the exams, essays, and reports that you write for your courses to prepare for your first job and career. Chapter 4 reveals how to acquire the critical skills that are essential to success in university. Chapters 5 and 6 help you to become an active listener and reader, and to strengthen re- search skills. Chapters 7 and 8 consider the problem-solving skills that are required to deal with university, the office, and life situa - tions more generally. Chapter 9 shows the nuts and bolts of the post-university job search. Social media, and using them to your advantage, are the focus of Chapter 10. And Chapter 11 closes the book by looking at the workplace and beyond. One final point before proceeding. The skills that are effective and result in success in university and the labour market may be virtually identical, but they do need to be adapted or rejigged to suit their particular context. The skill set may be the same, but the time frame, expectations, and environment will be different. Nobody ever claimed that university was the real world. How- ever, the path from university to the real world is straightforward and exciting if you know what you are doing.

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