Life Skills for Introductory Biology- Part 1

In a previous post, I discussed the two phenotypes of the introductory biology student. One, the ultra-achiever in high school, is accustomed to following detailed rubrics for coursework, juggling multiple after school obligations like music lessons, an organized sport team, possibly a volunteer or paid job and perhaps so many different classes that lunch and homework were crammed into small time fragments during the day or late at night. These high school super stars follow the rubrics and get A’s. They need someone to provide an infrastructure of support in order to focus their energies on getting everything done. A full-time manager is helpful; someone to arrange transportation, provide supplies, meals, laundry, financial backing. But this student usually monitors his/her own performance in school.

The other, just as bright and capable, chooses a different style. Not as interested in following rubrics or multi-tasking, this student does just enough to stay afloat. Goes through the motions at school. If grades begin to slip, this student will kick up the energy level in short bursts, just enough to pull the grade back up to a level that keeps things moving along, a few last minute study sessions, an extra credit project, a few meetings after school. Most of the time, though, this student’s energy is directed at nonacademic pursuits both school and non-school related, including socializing, Xbox, music, television. A similar infrastructure exists for this student, with the added feature of parental monitoring of progress in school. Usually the parent sounds the alarm about slipping grades after receiving the five week progress report in the mail or online.

What happens when these students come to college? What are the skills needed to succeed in introductory biology? As faculty, we tend to focus more on what course content our students have had before coming to college. On the first day, we ask things like: what other science courses did you take, how many years since you took biology. Maybe we should be asking entirely different questions:

1. Time management: How do you manage your time? Do you leave time in your daily routines for studying, for looking over the assignments you have pending? Do you prioritize your school work around your other activities or it is the other way around?

2. How do you study for exams? Do you re-read the textbook with a highlighter in hand? Have you used the index in your textbook to find particular concepts to re-read? Do you re-write your notes? Do you read your notes with a highlighter in hand? Do you have study groups?

3. How do you get started on a paper writing assignment? Do you open a blank Word document and just begin typing?

4. How do you conduct research for a paper assignment? Do you Google the topic and begin copy/pasting words into a document?

5. How many extracurricular activities do you plan to be involved in during your freshman year?

5. Are you planning on participating on a college sport team?

Many of our beginning college students could benefit from some self-reflection about how they prioritize their learning goals and their other activities. It might not be a bad idea for us as professors and advisors to spend a little time with our new students discussing time management and study strategies that work in college.