Welcome potential STEM first-year and transfer students! Although your entrance into college may not be ideal, Bwog still has some advice on how to start your college career off on the best foot. Deputy Editor (and Astrophysicist-in-Training) Mary Clare Greenlees and Deputy Science Editor Chloe Gong have compiled everything you need to know.

Past Bwog Posts to Cover the Basics

Bwog has had STEM students come and go throughout the years and they love to pass on advice to the next generation! Here are some things our former Science Editor, Alex Tang, wished he knew as a freshman and some advice for new STEM students. In these posts, you will find advice on navigating classes, research, the importance of self-care, and more. Another big one for first-year students is how to approach the big introductory lectures (think gen chem, Mowsh bio, the intro physics sequence, etc.). With large lectures being on Zoom due to COVID precautions—things may be a bit different, but the bones remain the same.

If you want to start getting ahead, we also have written about how to get started in lab research and where to start your search for summer opportunities. This is especially important if you’re thinking about continuing on your science career into grad school. You can also find some more opportunities at the Center for Career Education, the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships page, and department websites. While it’s super great to get started as early as possible, don’t feel pressured to start when you’re still getting a handle on your classes, social life, and being away from home for the first time.

For some general science shenanigans, you can check out Bwog’s Science tag where we review and recap science events (like this pre-med panel and this astronomy outreach lecture), give advice in our Science 101 series, and write the occasional personal for the black hole in the center of our galaxy.

Tips for Doing Zoom as a STEM Student

  • Keep yourself accountable for going to class over Zoom if your time zone allows it. It can be very easy (especially for early morning classes) to just not go, but that can be the easiest way to fall behind. The sole reason I kept going to one of my Zoom classes last semester was because I didn’t want to make my professor feel bad if fewer people were there.
  • If a TA offers office hours, try and make it to them! In my experience, a lot of them will simply start going over the homework if no one else has questions, so it’s a great way to either make yourself start your homework so you can talk or if you’re stuck it can help you along.
  • Do the problem sets together! Social distancing makes it hard to do in-person study groups, but I’ve found that doing Zoom study sessions can be doable.
    • For upperclassmen, it’s easier to start study sessions since many already know each other, but if you’re a first-year or new to the program you can still find your group!
  • Don’t be afraid to email your professors! Depending on if you’re on campus or not, in-person office hours may not be an option, so if you find yourself having questions on the homework or struggling with the content, let your professor know so that they may be able to help! This also goes for extensions—sometimes your homework just isn’t happening for various reasons. Don’t be afraid to send an email saying, “Hey I don’t think I’ll be able to get this done by X date, is there a chance I could get an extension to Y?” Most professors will understand and will grant you the extension.

What to do when you Realize that Science(™) is Hard

  • Help rooms!: Help rooms are primarily staffed by upperclassmen in whatever department you are looking for. Because of social distancing requirements, it’s unclear as to how help rooms will look next semester. But, some departments in the past Spring semester had help rooms staffed over zoom to help students. As a general rule, the students helping you have taken your class before, so they understand the teaching style, problem sets, and exams. They also understand the major and department, so they can also be a great resource for what classes to take and where to go for research opportunities. 
    • With most upperclassmen being off-campus, help rooms will most likely be over Zoom like they were last semester. Check specific department pages to get more info on when they meet!
  • What happens when you open your problem set and realize, oh god! I can’t do this!
    • My friend taught me this but open and close the document immediately—panic is normal, but you can work through it. Next, switch tasks to something mundane for 5 minutes (play 2048, spider solitaire, check social media) and the key is FIVE (5) minutes, it’s tempting to go longer but you need to try and get back on task. After the 5 minutes, open it back up and see what you know, usually you will be able to find something that you recognize. If not, then it’s time to do some reaching out to people who might! Science is all about collaboration and helping others! Who do you reach out to when you struggle?
      • Classmates! Either they understand what the question is asking or they are also struggling, it never hurts to send a quick “hey have you started the physics pset??” text. 
      • Help rooms! They’ve been there before and can help work through problem sets with you.
      • 1-on-1 or Small Group Tutoring: Barnard has a program where you can ask for free tutoring. Help rooms are great but they can’t always spend the whole time with you or hold your hand the full way since there are multiple people who need help. Individualized help is better for some! Don’t be afraid to take advantage of it!
      • The TA/TA Office Hours: Some STEM classes have the luxury of having an involved TA who you recognize and holds office hours. This is a great time to get help if you’re too intimidated by the professor.
      • The Professor/Professor Office Hours: For some, this can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! This is a great time to ask questions you were too afraid to ask in lecture and lets your professor know that you exist.

Final Remarks

Be kind to yourself—it is so easy to compare yourself to your peers, resist that urge! It’s natural to feel like you constantly need to get yourself a leg up above the rest, but remember science is all about collaboration, and instead of working against your classmates, work with them.

It took me a very long time to admit I was struggling in any of my STEM classes because I was too prideful and thought that asking for help meant I was bad at science. I was wrong! This is still something I actively struggle with and learning that it’s okay to ask friends, upperclassmen, the TA, and the professor for help was a big step in the right direction. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed with everything, both Barnard and Columbia have free counseling services at Furman Counseling Center and Counseling and Psychological Services respectively. On the flip side, if you can help classmates with problem sets, it can help increase and solidify your understanding of the material.

Science is all about collaboration to find answers to new things, so don’t be afraid to make some friends along the way.

ahhh pupin, my old friend, i’ll see you in the spring :( via Bwog Archives