Dear student…

My sister is about two weeks shy from attending university. This letter is for her, and for all young people her age. If you have any further advice, please feel free to contribute in the comments section.

2118947819_23cf5e5a79(image credit: Kuyman on flickr)

Dear Nicole,

Isn’t it great that you are finally able to go to university?! Meeting new people, living away from home, learning how to manage friendships, relationships, groceries… a budget. I’m sure you’ll do great. There’s a few education-related items that most people don’t talk about though. You may find them useful:

  • Your teachers don’t know everything and don’t hold knowledge wrapped up in a box to give it to you. Don’t wait for them. Take charge and search for it yourself.
  • Trust yourself, your instincts, and your sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. If you disagree with your instructor, say it. And be prepared to learn if you are mistaken.
  • Collect and cherish your experiences. Try new things, join organizations, visit museums, raves (are they still happening?), operas, theaters, sporting events, and so on.
  • Don’t rely on the facts and the material that you are given in class. Understand it, but question it. Question its relevance and its significance. And question these publicly.
  • Travel. Visit new places and new countries. But don’t go to the next tourist attraction and don’t waste your time in organized group tours. Go to places that aren’t advertised in mass media. And talk to the locals, learn about their way of living and share your way of living with them. One of my best memories of traveling was a night I spend in Diamond City, Arkansas. Kelly and I slept on a retired couples’ couch for the night. We didn’t know the couple. We met them through a site called They had a hootenanny and invited all of their friends to have a good time with us. We learned about their way of life, about their kids, and their aspirations. We also learned that Diamond City is a “dry” county, which means that people living there drive to the closest county to get their alcohol (go figure). This is what you call a “learning experience.”  Compare this to the lectures that you will be subjected to and you’ll see the difference. I also learned a lot from spending a few hours in a disco at Aguas Calientes, Peru and at a fish tavern in Portugal. Travel provides powerful learning experiences.
  • Meet lots of people. With the help of technology you can even meet (and chat with) people that you will probably never have the chance to see face-to-face. Try things like omegle for example.
  • Be good to people and collaborate/work with as many as you can. It doesn’t matter if they disagree with you or if their outer visible characteristics are different from yours. Learn from them and let them learn from you.
  • Take the time to explore your passions and figure out how you can turn your passions into a career.
  • And don’t forget to play – play with your gadgets and have fun with your friends.

… I have lots more to add, but i’ll stop because I’ll digress to advice beyond education and learning. Enjoy!




On the Popularity of Open Access Journals


ALT-C 2009 Presentations (#altc2009)


  1. cristina Costa

    My advise in a nutshell would be: Work hard, play harder!
    But I need to expand on this… :-)

    Many of us expect the university to provide us with awesome experiences. Wrong! It is not the University, it is us who have to create those opportunities according with the circumstances we are in. HE offers levels of freedom and autonomy High School still lacks. So it is up to us to manage that and make the best of this new phase. You will know if you are managing it well when all the hard work that is demanded from you is accomplished successfully and in a fun way. There is not an unique recipe for that. But each individual is able to write their own… based on their aims, hopes, dreams and purposes.
    You will need to experience and explore this new phase in a pro-active way.

    The role of academia is to let us BE(come). We may struggle at the beginning, but if we are able to manage our freedom we will enjoy the process.
    If you are sleeping 8 hours/night everyday, passively attending classes and feeling miserable you are not fully living the academic spirit (not the way it should!!). Something is wrong! You are taking academia way too serious and not paying attention to what you really want to do!

    Think and act out of the box.

    Live this phase of your life to the fullest. Do not leave much to regret afterwards.

    Make the best of it.

    Have fun.

    With responsibility

    Grow: intellectually and also as an individual!

  2. Hello Nicole,

    An idea from the Dalia Lama permeates through your brother’s posting — I think it is worth saying explicitly as well.

    “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

  3. cristina Costa

    indeed Elisabeth! I totally agree…

    Today I was watching the news… about all these A level students anxiously awaiting for the results… that’s always tough… and I thought again of Nicole and George’s post!

    The reporters tried to emphasize the competition factor. It is true that we all want to get good results and we all want to succeed. [‘better me in that university/ post than someone else’ kind of a thing…] But one thing that I noticed throughout my undergraduate years is that you don’t need to be competitive with anyone else but yourself to succeed and enjoy the different phases of your life. You will find at least two types of people at university (well…that’s a very simple way of describing it but anyway…): Those who are passionate about the topic and really don’t mind sharing their notes, being part of study groups, exploring the areas they are studying with their peers, developing a kind of common understanding which everyone will benefit from… Being part and contributing to a friendly, trustworthily (learning) atmosphere will make everyone involved get so much out of it academically and personally.
    On the other hand, there are others who will choose a more reserved approach, keeping everything for themselves, not willing to share what they know, the resources they have found, etc. Some people see that as being smart and competitive, I see that as being selfish and miserable…
    Anyway, to cut the story short, the best thing is to compete with yourself. Set your aims and purposes and do everything you can to achieve them. Do not discard others as part of that experience. Throughout the process don’t forget there are many people you can help and many more who can help you. It is all about the active, generous exchange amongst like-minded people. If you act according those people will find you / you will find them. Nevertheless, beware of those whose purpose is not to exchange experiences but “extract knowledge” – learning is, and will always be, a two way road! ;- ). Hence, the learning path is so much relevant and motivating when treaded in good company. There are two thoughts that are often shared in a learning community I belong to and which I think are quite appropriate to mention now:
    “we share to learn and we learn to share’ because ‘sharing is caring’.
    Not much different from Elisabeth’s comment :-)

  4. cristina Costa

    Hi – it’s me …Again!
    I keep thinking how important this post is and how much I would have benefited if I had been given such advice when I joined academia… or had I had access to Internet back then…
    Anyway – here is a short video about it: enjoy it. It’s from a very inspiring scholar, who above all was a great, wonderful human being. In the end it is all about people, isn’t it? …And how we get along with each other (the interactions we make, the (learning) relationships we establish, etc)

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