Science In The House! Advice For New STEM Students
Today, we compiled some advice specifically for students interested in science at Columbia. If you’re curious about what your first science lecture will be like, how to get into on-campus research, or how to take full advantage of the resources available to you, read on!
Yes, we’re in the midst of a well-deserved summer break, and these few months should be all about catching up with friends and family, and making some extra $$$ if possible. Yet, if you’re an incoming Columbia freshman, you’re probably already thinking way ahead into the future, you overachiever. Today, specifically for our future STEM students, we have some tips and tricks you can keep in the back of your head as you walk onto College Walk come September. Here at Bwog, we’ve got you covered.
No matter your previous science background, Columbia is going to challenge you academically. This fall, you’re most likely taking general chemistry, and probably physics and/or math. On your first day of class, you’re going to find yourself in 309 Havemeyer, or some other similarly vast auditorium-like classroom, surrounded by more than a hundred of your peers. At Columbia, you’ll quickly learn that you’re responsible for your own learning – if anything, this school teaches you independence. Here’s what we did that helped:
- Make friends in your classes.
- As a STEM student, you’ll tend to see the same faces in your lectures, recitations, and office hours. You’ll soon recognize the same classmates in whatever it is you study – in other words, your fellow pre-meds, civil engineers, physicists, etc. It’s always good to have a few trustworthy friends with whom you can study, get notes from, ask to turn in your homework when you’re sick, gripe about exams with, etc. These classes are always easier with a friend.
- Figure out what type of student you are, and work towards your strengths
- Some students are auditory learners, and learn best during live lectures. If this is you, make attending lecture your priority. This might mean signing up for a lecture at a reasonable time (maybe not an 8:40?). Others prefer to learn by reading (including yours truly). For these types of learners, reading the class notes or textbook may be sufficient, and might be more helpful than merely going to lecture. Note that we’re not condoning that people skip lecture! Just analyze your learning style and organize your time accordingly.
- Do the assigned problems.
- This is probably the most important tip there is. Introductory lecture courses tend to be straightforward; the questions that you encounter in your assignments will be very similar to the questions that you encounter on exams. For every practice problem you encounter in your textbook assignments, practice tests, or additional problem sets, circle the ones you don’t get correct the first time. Return to them before the exam, and make sure you know how to do them. This may mean doing the same problem twice or thrice.
- If you need help, seek help
- Recitations are your first line of defense, followed by office hours. Furthermore, lots of people don’t know about CSA Tutoring, which offers tutors for every introductory science lecture course. If you’re stuck on a specific question in your problem set, try googling it verbatim (oftentimes, if you skim through a couple links, you’ll find the answers to the same or similar problem).
The tips above were compiled from our regularly occurring science advice column. Click here for more tips for succeeding in your science lectures. Click here for ways to come back from a bad test grade (it happens to all of us).
You’re ambitious, and we think that the bigger your dreams, the better. You might want to help find a cure for cancer, design a greener vehicle, or build safer cybersecurity. Research allows you to apply classroom learning to the real world, and may give you broader insight on what you want to do after graduation.
After acclimating yourself with your classes, Columbia’s social atmosphere, and New York City, you should definitely consider getting into research! You can start as a freshman, as early as your fall semester. Here’s how:
- See what topics are out there.
- Check out the websites of your major department (or departments you’re interested in). Department websites usually have faculty profiles, and faculty often have their own websites. While reading through the profiles, take note of the ones that spark interest in you. Think about your greater scientific interests: do you want to learn about cancer cell division? Explore the atmospheres on different planets? Learn how monkeys communicate with each other? There’s bound to be a lab for that!
- Contact people to talk about opportunities.
- Yes, it is up to YOU to contact professors and see if they have the time/funding to accept a new student into their group. Don’t be afraid, though, because most scientists are excited about their work and are open to chatting with students. If you’re sending out an email, be sure to personalize the email to each professor (no generic letters)! Read through a couple of the professor’s research paper abstracts, and mention your interest in specific projects that the lab has worked on. In your email, attach a document that will detail your grades, work availability, and relevant courses. Although emails work fine, a better idea would be to see if they have office hours, or a time where you could go chat in person!
Click here and here for full articles on finding on-campus science research. Click here for how to efficiently and effectively read a scientific article. Click here for how to prepare for a meeting with a potential research mentor. Click here for how to ask for recommendation letters. And finally, click here to find out what the heck an MD/PhD is.
- Take care of yourself first.
- Your friends might have your back, but the only person who knows how you’re truly doing is you. These next few years, you’re going to experience sleepless nights, stressful exams, and personal/social/professional challenges. While it never seems like it at the moment, everything always just happens to turn out okay. Get enough sleep, eat regularly, and go out once in a while. Try not to talk about schoolwork too much at dinner. Call home once in a while! Always remember that Columbia provides 24/7 support if things don’t seem to get better.
- Keep your goals close at heart.
- Especially as a freshman, you’re going to be in lecture with hundreds of people. You’re going to feel like a number at times. Make sure you stay passionate about science by doing the things that inspire you. Volunteer to teach health in NYC public schools, design a formula one race car, or work in a lab where you can apply the concepts you’ve learned in class (all possible at Columbia)! In other words, get involved outside of the classroom.
- Stay in touch with Bwog Science!
- Bwog Science is the section of Bwog dedicated specifically for Barnumbia (that is Barnard/Columbia) students interested in STEM. When school starts up in the fall, Bwog Science will continue with a regularly occurring science advice column, as well as cover interesting science happening on campus. If you’re interested in writing for Bwog Science, come to our first open meeting in September! We’d love to have you join us!