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Advice for Students

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Introduction

I think there is one thing all students starting out at university have in common, and that's anxiety. Even if everyone you know has told you uni is nothing to be worried about, starting uni is something you're still going to be a bit nervous about. Uni is a huge investment in your future, but what if you screw up, or don't like the subjects, or the people, or the lifestyle? What is uni really like? The one thing I wanted most when I started uni was advice. When you're starting out in ANYTHING it's always a great idea to speak to someone who's been there. This page tells you some of the things I've learnt about university, and offers all the advice I wish I had when I started uni. :-)
And best of all, the fee for reading this advice is less than a hundred dollars. Bargain! :-P

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Advice for all New Students

Committing to a Degree

Let's assume you've chosen a degree at least. That's always a tough decision, because you're basically told to choose the rest of your future. However, a reassuring piece of advice I was given was not to lose sleep worrying about the name of the degree (or the uni). You get a uni degree to prove to employers you have a brain. Perhaps your high-school result already say that, but you've chosen to go one better and prove you can commit to something for three years, and that will broaden your opportunities (not necessarily restrict them). Almost half of my high-school friends have changed their degree, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, because you've learnt a lot during that year. However, if you do change, make sure you do it sooner and not later. If you're well over half way through your degree and suddenly have an urge to do something else you should probably tough it out to the end - it looks better on paper (although money can be another big factor). Many people who defer degrees - "to have a year off" - never come back. Maybe taking a year off after your degree is a better idea.

Learning Your Way Around Uni

Orientation weeks are fantastic. You might not take it all in, but you're given basically all the information you need to survive/operate at uni. It usually only take a few weeks before you're able to find your way around uni, know where most of the important rooms/buildings are, and use the library. Don't miss orientation week, and go to everything - even though you might think some of the little seminars seem dull. It's also a great chance to meet people. Before uni starts most students are carefree, happy little campers... but the further you get into semester, the more students have to worry about assignments and exams. The beginning of the semester is your best opportunity to make friends; talk to everyone.

Attend Lectures

Before my first day of uni I asked a friend "what I'd need to take into lectures" she said "forget about taking notes (most notes are online these days), just take a pillow". Indeed, most lectures are long and (by definition) boring compared to what you're used to in school. Your first few are probably going to be very painful.... and staring at the clock will only make you more restless. However, as you persist, your tolerance increases, and you'll adapt and learn how to manage. Maybe you take notes, print out and highlight notes (which is what I suggest), maybe you borrow notes, or maybe the only way you can stay awake is to draw during lectures (not that I've ever done that - honest), the important thing is you MUST come. Even in dull lectures where I didn't think I was learning anything I was better off for going. Not only is it a social thing, but just by seeing material, you'll find it's easier to take in the second time - so don't panic if you don't understand a lecture(r), just keep coming to lectures (and tutes and pracs too of course) or you'll miss critical information about assessment (especially in the final few weeks, but dude, just come every week okay).

I found first year really easy, most of it was revision for me, not terrifically exciting stuff, but I still came to everything. Many other students decided they already knew everything, and so stopped coming to everything and said they could read the notes online. Those people failed. The stuff we were doing was easy, but they just got more and more complacent and lazy (by always staying at home) - if you stop coming to uni the same will probably happened to you.

"Out of sight, out of mind." - - well known principle.

Avoid the Last Minute Rush

Most people also tend to leave everything to the last minute. This may have worked in high-school, and may even work in first year uni, but you will eventually fail, and, furthermore, all your work be rushed and mistake-ridden. Here's a crazy idea: why not try (AT LEAST ONCE) finishing something early for a change! I try finishing everything as quick as I can - it's the "get it out of the way and then play" philosophy. While everyone else was stressing out with four assignments due in a week, I had already finished (or virtually finished) everything, and was bouncing around like a happy little cherub. Actually, it probably annoyed some people I was always finished early, but hey, it's great for your self-esteem when you can say: "oh that assignment, I finished that a week ago". :-)
However, if you DO finish an assignment, waiting till the due date to submit is still a good idea. It's likely your lecturer will say something in class which makes you realize you've made mistakes. But the best advantage of starting assignments early is feedback. Have enough time before the due date so that you can show a draft to your lecturer/tutor, ask him what's it's worth - plan for it. He'll hopefully be nice enough to give it a brief read, and give some good feedback. If you make all the changes he'll suggest it, you'll probably get a HD. Now that I think about it, it's actually a psychological thing too: if you ask for advice, thank him, and take his advice, (or if he's said "it looks good, I have no time to read it though") he's not likely to suddenly go over it with a tooth-comb and deduct marks, he'll think: "I've seen this one before, I already know it's good, because I helped with it". This is a really smart practice, although maybe not appropriate/possible in a bigger uni with higher student to staff ratio. If that's the case find someone else qualified to proof-read it; even parents will find heaps of mistakes.

Take an Interest in Subjects

I also recommend the idea of taking a deliberate interest in the subject. Rather than being a person who runs away from uni the second when the lesson ends, consider staying behind after tutes to talk about assignments, problems and ideas with others. It really helps actually; the five minutes after a lecture can be more valuable than the whole lecture if you bother to stay. In JCU a large group of us befriended/annoyed asked nerdy questions (many of them serious) and joked around all our lecturers after almost every lesson - it was great! Believe me when I say it's beneficial to know your lecturers and tutors (just so long as you don't become a nuisance).

Taking Notes

I found every subject was a bit different. In some subjects the online lecture notes were excellent, so I printed all of them as soon as I could, took the appropriate one(s) into class and highlighted them as the lecturer talked. To study I just read the notes again and again. If the notes were not so good, or we only had a textbook, then I wrote my own notes. Now that may sound like overkill, but it kept me awake during lectures, I did great on exams, and my notes were worth something too. Writing stuff out of paper helps you understand it and memorize it (it's a great study technique). But the notes paid off even more when students starting asking for them, and when I started tutoring subjects I was able to do minimum preparation, because I still had great notes. In my case I ended up sharing these notes, and other files and info on my own website (yes, you're looking at version two of that site), which was great for me when I tutored. I believe in the "students should help each other" policy. A good deed always makes me feel good (although I dragged a dead kangaroo off the road yesterday and that wasn't all roses), and you never know when a good deed will be repaid. Incidentally, can I borrow a twenty? :-P

Reading a textbook is annoying for most people, but if you have to do it, then just do it. If they expect you to read a chapter or two every week you may struggle to keep up, but keep reading anyway; you can catch up during your study for exams. I've always had the problem whereby, when reading a book, my mind quickly wanders off to something more interesting, and three pages later I realize I haven't paid attention to a word I've read. This problem isn't uncommon, and my recommendation is to use highlighters. By highlighting the most important sentences, you'll force yourself to pay attention to the text, and if your mind wanders off, you'll quickly notice that you've stopped highlighting, and see exactly where you stopped. More importantly, if you've highlighted a chapter, when you come back to read it before the exam you'll be able to skim over it five times as quickly, because it will all be familiar. I like using two colour highlighters, but that's perhaps overkill. Also, if it's an open book exam (or just a book you use frequently) go a step further and put dog-tags wherever they're important.

"Principle of temporal locality: objects referred to are likely to be referred to again in the near future" -- (not just applicable to computer memory)

Studying for Exams

Exam time can be really stressful (particularly the first set of exams), but I find a start-early, laid-back approach works really well. Don't party and get drunk after semester ends - wait until exams end before you start to party. My best study ever was actually just reading and reciting notes in a deck chair on my front lawn (we have a really huge front lawn actually) sipping on lemonade and trying to get a tan. If it wasn't for the title on the book, you would think I was on holidays. It took me two years, but I had learnt that worrying about exams doesn't help. Besides which, if you're organized and pace yourself you, you probably have no reason to worry, and you won't have any guilt about not doing the best you can do.

Sitting Exams

It's like this; if you've prepared well, you shouldn't need to be stressed. Don't ruin that by letting other people stress you out; avoid such people before and after the exam. I can't really give you any advice here that you haven't heard many times from high-school teachers. All students make stupid mistakes on exams, but if you are calm and rational, you'll make less mistakes. Spend at least ten minutes before you put pen to paper just reading each question, to see what's there, and work out how much time you can devote to each question (I missed a whole page once - I just didn't see it!). If you have to go quickly then go quickly. Identify the hardest/longest questions and do them last. On the other hand, if you calculate that you have plenty of time per question then pace yourself. Throughout school and uni I was always the last person to finish an exam - I was famous for it in fact. I remember times when half the class left after an hour, I was all on my own after two hours, and yet I wouldn't leave until my three hours were up (well SOMEONE had to make sure the exam ladies were earning their money). However, I didn't (necessarily) stay longer because I am slow, but because I paced myself and re-checked everything meticulously at the end. If a mere three hours counts for over fifty percent of your course, then you're either impatient or silly if your desire is to get out early. If you rush the whole thing and don't even bother to double check answers - you will make mistakes!

"Slow and steady wins the race." - - the tortoise and the hare.

One last note on exams: when the exam is finished, go home, relax for a couple of hours, watch a cartoon and feel free to forget everything - and then start studying for the next one! Most students like to talk about their answers straight after an exam - I call it "exam post mortem" - and it rarely makes you feel good (maybe you're experiences are different), so maybe you should just say "I did the best I could, I'm happy with that, but I'm not going to discuss answers with you, because it will probably cause me stress. So piss off Robin!". :-)

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Advice for I.T. Students

Why Choose IT

You chose a course in computing, are you crazy!!

Only kidding. :-) IT doesn't have the same hype and opportunities it use to, but if you like programming, or just love computers, then IT isn't a bad degree to do; it's only three years, and even if you do a 180 degree change in direction, you've still picked up lots of practical skills you'll use in any office job. You'll learn about problem solving and you'll learn about computers (well duh!).

Stay Realistic

The thought of spending the rest of my life in front of a computer has actually been a fairly scary concept for me, and I worried about at lot during first and second year. However, I eventually reminded myself that MOST people - not just those in IT - are stuck behind a desk, staring at a computer and typing throughout the day. The trick is to stay healthy.... make sure you're not ALWAYS behind a computer. Just get out the house! What I will say about an IT degree is: I hope you like logic, and enjoy programming (and hopefully you have good problem solving skills), otherwise this may not be the right degree for you. Many people also have the illusion of becoming games programmers, and, although it's okay to dream big, you have to be realistic... only the best of the best become games programmers...... maybe your only website designing or "document monkey" material.

Develop Your Resume and Portfolio - Paper and Online

As you study and hopefully do well in subjects, it's time start thinking about developing your resume. Every project you do can count towards you resume, and during holidays you should consider trying to gain other relevant experiences too. Find a good template for a resume (not mine though) and keep adding to it. As you may have noticed, I have a website (hooray captain obvious!). I like to advocate that all IT students should make their own little website. It's good practice, and starting off your "IT work experience" by offering to make websites for companies is not a bad idea - something you can add to your resume quickly and you might even get a small amount of money. This website is clever in that it separates out my "professional pages" (which are ultimately trying to sell me to employees), from my personal stuff. Strictly speaking I probably shouldn't link the professional stuff to my personal stuff (possibly some of my photos will put employers off ;-) - I'll fix it when I finish my PhD maybe).

To make a good website takes patience and experience, but even for those without artistic talent there is hope. Find a well designed site and replicate/modify their design; or perhaps browse a site that sells templates and "trace" parts of it. Don't copy anything exactly (that's plagiarism!), but you can copy parts.

This site I made completely myself, starting with hand-drawn story board sketches (all projects should have a design and planning stage) and took about one week to make (another week to add content)... my first website looked like crap - and although this current version is no masterpiece it's at least an improvement! Like all things it takes practice to improve. On the topic of websites: any man and his dog can make websites these days, if you want a real-life web-design job you should learn how to make dynamic websites (PHP and MySQL or ASP) and effective website - not something overkill with loud pictures and no content. Oh; make yourself a business card too and keep copies in your wallet - you never know when you might meet someone who you can palm it off to. I made mine in Fireworks, but MS Publisher will do.

Networking and Hardware Skills

The most important thing you can do at uni is networking. And I'm not talking about networking computers here. I'm talking about people networking, and uni is a great place to pick up those skills. Computer networking and playing around with hardware is also important, but I actually found we did VERY little hardware stuff in uni, the focus was all on software (databases, programming, a little bit of multimedia and so on). If you want better hardware skills, so that you become on of those leet people that "builds" and fixes their own computers (and ultimately has everyone asking them for free help), then I recommend you do that outside of uni. If there are no courses to take then find some online material and just play around with shit. Get an inexpensive old box, format it, install something new, network it... break something accidentally, get frustrated that you can't find the problem, find a bigger nerd who can fix the problem, and buy him a popsicle for his troubles (or maybe promise him you'll introduce him to a girl).... it's all part of the learning process.

The Anguishes of Programming

"I don't suffer insanity, I enjoy every minute of it" -- JCU student diary

Soon enough you will discover troubleshooting and programming can be VERY frustrating - a single bad line of code can cost you hours or even days - but there is a mantra we all used at JCU: "Don't code angry". The only way to solve a problem is by thinking rationally, and we all know anger makes you irrational. This leads to a philosophy which you can apply throughout life: you can't enjoy life if you only view every obstacle as a problem. The trick (as told to me by a very nice lady called Cheryl) is to see it as a challenge, and not a problem. Once I learn the concept, I was able to survive those moments when something didn't work, debug/think about them more logically, and each when I solved one of these little "challenges" I would celebrate my awesome victory by yelling "who's the man!" and jumping into the air. Some people thought I was nuts.

Smart Programming

Something you will probably hear from many lecturers is: "don't spaghetti code". Almost all people ignore this advice during uni, and most never ever realize what it costs them. Spaghetti coding is jumping straight into a problem without thinking or planning it first, and most of you are guilty of it. All successful (smart) businesses plan a project before they execute it; you should do the same.

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe" - - Abraham Lincoln

For your first few assignments, will probably be small enough that you can easily get away with spaghetti coding. But in time, the concept of planning will make sense to you. If you have six months to write a software application, you should spend the first two months (depending on the project) gathering requirements, planning a perfect solution, working out what modules, classes, methods and functions you need, how to conform to object oriented and software engineering principles, and write documentation. THEN you can start programming. An impatient person will not want to wait two months, he'll jump straight into it.... but his program will not be as good - the code will be messy - and if he will possibly waste three months of more doing what we call "rework". If you do it right the first time, then adding extra functionality can be done with a snap of your fingers. In the real world, software expands and undergoes through several versions; hence writing good code, object oriented is critical. Such is the value of smart planning, and if you're part of a team you HAVE to be able to plan and work together - it's a very, very valuable skill - and the reason you shouldn't rush off without other team members (which is called "heroics") - you have to work as a team. I've had some interesting experiences with group projects, but I can say that a by-the-book approach works better, coding in the same room is good, coding in pairs can work quite well.... taking breaks are critical, and heroics is bad - you all need a central vision.

Documenting Your Work

Whenever you write a program, treat it like you were a professional. The lecturer is your client and your documentation should be written professionally - avoid the jokes and colloquialism (even though it's tempting for many of us). Even if it's a small project (even if the "project team" is just you), treat it like a bigger one. On a personal note, I have always been guilty of flowery english, and whenever I write something, a letter, an assignment, a page of advice to students, it always turns out much longer than I expect. If you're writing a detailed plan or user manual, or software architecture document, you should not use flowery language - use bullet points if you have to - just don't get verbose. Use the principle of KISS (keep it simple stupid). Luckily we did a course called "effective writing", and I felt I got a lot out of that (not that I applied those principles in this document) :-).

Oh, and when you write code, you should always write comments. You don't have to have one comment per line (especially it's obvious to even a non-programmer what that line does), but try at least to separate out blocks of code (maybe every four to eight lines) and include a comment which explains what's each "block" does. You may not see value in commenting at first, but when you look at another persons code, or when you look back at your own code after forgetting what it was all about, then you will understand. Every piece of code I've written I've revisited twice or more, to re-use or remember something - and I find comments were essential for that purpose alone.

Follow criteria to the letter

When you're doing an assignment the criteria document is your bible. Place it on the wall, worship it and read it often. DON'T let it get buried under paper. The lecturer is your client/customer, and this criteria is your requirements document, do what is asked to the letter - the customer is always right. It very rarely benefits you to do more than this (grade-wise anyhow).

Let me tell you a story. We had a big assignment for computer graphics, which involved making a 3d model in OpenGL, and most people had a lot of fun with it.

One students, who was (I have to say) a weak programmer, had shitty looking box model, however he had gone through the criteria sheet, and done most of what was asked for (even if it was done poorly) and therefore guaranteed he would get the marks. He got a HD.

Another student, by far the best programmer in the class, produced an amazing assignment, and he had obviously spent a lot of time on it. His code loaded a complex 3D model of a quake character from a file, and it allowed you to make your own animations and all this other cool stuff, which no one else in the class was even capable of, but most of which was NOT specifically asked for in criteria. He failed.

Now, the reason he failed is simple: unlike the first student, he did not tick off one criteria point after the other. He probably read it once and said: "okay, I have to make a 3D model, this will be awesome", and then did his own thing from there. His character could do a realistic back flip, but because he hadn't followed criteria he hadn't programmed the model to kick when you pressed the 'k' key and lost two marks.... just one of numerous simple requirements he had overlooked because he'd got so caught up in his own thing. The irony is it would have taken him perhaps a single day to get his HD, but by doing his own thing he has spent weeks and still failed.

Now will you learn from this story? I hope you will. I talked before about how you should go the extra mile and do your own thing (it's what separates you from people who are only interested in making a certain grade), but I ONLY advise that if you have time to spare. Come second year you will have very little time to spare, so I advise you to do only what each assignment asks - do only what you have to. And then, if there is time left over you can "gold plate it" - make it pretty and add extra functionality to impress your lecturer... but just know that there are rarely any marks for making it look good.

If you ever do tutoring you will understand how marking works. Tutors spend VERY little time marking each assignment (say, 5-10 minutes per assignment), and tick off each item on the check list/criteria sheet. If it's not obvious they lose marks. Furthermore you can often lost marks in documentation if it's too long. Smart people lay their assignments out so that the marker can see the whole thing in an instant, read their concise answers/solutions/sections, and give them the mark one after the other. It's actually really satisfying to mark a concise, but complete assignment. Another students assignments might have included five times as much content, effort and time, and look aesthetically brilliant, but is likely to yield a poorer mark. Remember that, and always give the tutor/lecturer what he wants. The customer is always right, no matter how much you disagree with him. Pretend you are the customer. Hell, try marking your own assignment before you submit it..... no not in red pen you goof, I mean pretend to mark it!

Be Organized Grasshopper.

It should go without-out saying you should be organized; keep everything together, and keep a neat, clean room. Not only will it save you time searching for stuff, but no-one likes a messy room - most chicks certainly don't. But in organizing your stuff for uni, and all the rest of it, you should also have an organized computer. The more shit you install, the most junk collects in your computer, and before you know it your computer will be full of spyware and bugs. If it gets too crowded and crashes all the time, it might be time to format it and re-install everything, which is a bit scary the first time, but sometimes a necessity. It's about keeping your computer clean. As a computer student I suggest checking your e-mail once a day (or you'll miss more critical information and opportunities) and always do "house-keeping" - putting e-mails into appropriate folders. Even more importantly, organize all your files on disk: I find the best method is to have a separate folder for each subject, and also use folders for downloads, pictures, music etc. Just do a little planning, find a system you like and stick with it, or else, you'll spend hours searching for "lost files".

TIP: Right click any folder in Explorer and click "search" to perform a recursive search for a file (also useful for listing/viewing files). Use * as a wildcard (eg: *.jpg).

Backup or Lose It Buddy

How many copies of your documents do you keep at the moment? If the answer is one, take yourself outside and beat yourself to death with your own shoes. When you lose everything you'll feel sick to your stomach for weeks. As an IT student you are bound to have at least two significant losses of work every year. Whether you lose an hours work, a day's work, or everything (I and I mean everything) is up to you. Programs crash (especially on windows), so save every five minutes. In fact, just writing this page I lost a few paragraphs (we had a blackout - it happens). Also, when you have a big piece of work, especially a programming assignment, copy the whole file or folder occasionally and rename it to <foldername or file name>_bk1. I do this all the time so that, if I do stuff up my program, I can go back and see where I went wrong. If you're familiar with version control software, even better. It's not uncommon to accidentally delete/modify something you need and then lose it by saving, which is why you need historical backups.

However, the worst way you can lose is when hardware fails, and hardware fails all the time. If you think your hard-drive will last forever you are a fool! Take yourself outside and beat yourself to death with your own shoes. Hard-drives have a finite life expectancy, and after a few years they will often just die and need replacing... you will lose everything. My advice is to have two hard-drives, and use a program like "second copy", to automatically copy/update all the contents of your "My Documents" folder to your backup hard drive every week (or every day if you specify it). If you lose one of your hard-drive (due to hardware failure or virus) your work will hopefully still exist on the other hard-drive. I also suggest copy your important work to CD-Rs every so often, label them, and keep them somewhere safe. If you're a safety freak you might even keep backups in a separate geographical location. In a fire most people's immediate concern is their own life, but as a nerd, your most important asset is probably your computer - instead of running around to save the other HUMANS who live there, your first thought is probably saving your computer :-). Am I right or am I right? You know I'm right. Stay safe and backup regularly.

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Advice for JCU (small uni) Students

JCU is great university. The Cairns campus is a very new, friendly and fairly small university, which is part of it's charm. A small, new uni like JCU cairns has advantages and disadvantages. The buildings are all new, the facilities are great, the computer labs are good (although we have had a history of networking problems, and they place far too many security restrictions on student users), the campus is always tidy and the surrounds are stunning. There is something inspiring when you're walking from one building to the next and you look up at mountains covered in rainforest, and cross over a stream. Some people even say it's distracting to study at such a beautiful uni, but that's not really a problem when you're inside a classroom or computer lab. Spending more time in nature is a good idea for all of us.

The disadvantages of a small uni is that it hasn't had time to establish a reputation like the other unis, many people don't realize JCU has a decent reputation in IT (and we lead the field in several areas; especially marine biology), but we aren't yet a "research uni" - our uni is too young and small. My theory though is if you get a high GPA you'll get respect no matter what uni you're from. At our campus we don't really have any big clubs to join (we just don't have critical mass for it) - the adventure club and computer club faded away (due to lost members) which is kind of sad. The only really obvious club in Cairns in the women's activist group. As far as I know, there has never been an incidence of sexual harassment on our campus.

JCU Cairns is also notable for three other things: the highest ratio of mature age people for any uni in Australia, a high ratio of lecturers to students, and one of the highest ratios of girls to boy for any uni in Australia. In IT unfortunately, you will only have an opportunity to appreciate the latter when walking between classes. Girls are few and far between in IT, I think we had maybe two girls under thirty in our year level, and both changed to business. However, you are likely to notice straight away there are lots of mature age students, which you simply don't get at other unis. About half of our year level were mature age (although it does vary a lot year to year)! Now this can be intimidating at first, and you might even think it's a case of them and us, but come second year you'll probably appreciate that, just because most and married and have kids, doesn't make them that different. Half of my friends were mature age and married, and could be just as immature and fun loving as the rest of us (if not more so). I also find mature age students are great, because you know they are there to study. In my experience I found they were not just a good influence, but I learnt a lot from them.

Another reason for including this section is some of you may still wonder if you're missing out on something by going to a small uni. Well if you all you want is to party and get drunk, then maybe you do want to go to a bigger uni.... however JCU is unique and wonderful in that small class sizes and the atmosphere make it very easy to make friend and get to know staff. Whereas, at a bigger uni you might just be another faceless number, at JCU most lecturers will get to know you by a first name basis (especially if you make an effort). IT was particularly friendly, and by second year I was socializing with lecturers at uni, playing tennis and a game called broomball with one and by third year I and some of my friends were getting invited to barbeques. A group of us would basically just hang around the lecturer's offices, talk about nerd stuff, and prevent them from doing work... and whenever I think about that, I realize what a great decision it was to go to JCU.

Oh, the other big group at JCU is the mentor program (not really a club). I joined the mentors half way through my honours year, but I really wish I had joined earlier, it was a great group of people.

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Advice for UQ (large uni) Students

Well I'm only just about to move to UQ, so I don't really have any specific advice yet. But, I have visited the uni, and St Lucia is a surprisingly beautiful campus. Based on stories from my friends, the most important thing to do at a big uni is ground yourself. If you live in on-campus accommodation things get noisy, but it's important you don't go out partying and drinking all the time. You're at uni to learn, not waste your parents money. If you're one of numerous students in a course, getting to know staff might be difficult, but if you make friends with the right people - smart people - you can succeed at in a big uni..... errr..... in theory anyhow.

Most of my friends in larger uni's say all their friends are from college; and they don't really get much of a chance to make friends with people in their classes - which sounds like it sux a bit actually. Tutes should be a social and interactive thing - oh, so long as you do some work (and/or catch up later). ;-)

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Advice for Geeky Students

The Introverted Geek

I read a book once that said over two-thirds of people in IT are introverted. If you're always in your room, playing computer games, and don't really go out with friend much (except for movies such as the matrix), then you are a nerd, and probably less social than your average person..... and that's nothing to be ashamed of either - some people are extroverted, but crowds might not really be your thing. People who like technology are often very logic-oriented, and less attracted to something so complex and messy as human interaction and relationships.

"your son has 'the knack'"
"Oh dear, will he live a normal life?"
I'm afraid not ma'am, he's going to be an engineer"
- - Dilbert series

Relating to Normal People

Now, you may just be mildly introverted, but in my time I've know quite a few fellow computer students who were very nerdy, and hence my concern. Nerds get along great with each other, and develop their own unique sense of humour and camaraderie. In the real world however, you'll have to be able to interact with all types of people - not just your own kind. You may be a very good student, and very good with computers, but that alone will not get you a job (or friends for that matter). You need to learn how to network buddy, and the sooner you start forcing yourself to mix with different crowds the better.

"It's not what you know, it's who you know"

For one thing, you should know that most NORMAL people are not interested when you talk about hardware and software companies. Normal people will not understand or laugh at our nerd humour. Normal people do not think the matrix is real, and have not watch the entire series of star-trek, or monty python. :-)

If a girl is nearby and you're talking about Microsoft, or the latest computer game, she WILL LEAVE. Fact of life - very few girls are interested in that stuff. I'll talk more about girls later, but fact is some computer guys "talk shop" so often, they forget how to make "normal conversation", talk to average people (people who are far from computer experts). It's difficult to define what is and isn't normal, but basically the idea is to be successful in life to have to be friendly, talk to people, listen to people, include people and relate to people. And I an expert? Hell no! In fact I was a pretty shy person though most of high-school; but then an engineering teacher, Mr Kennedy, told me I should come out of my shell - and since then I felt I've made light-years of progress.

Computer games are evil, and television is the devil

So what other advice can I offer? Well my advice is don't play computer games! At the start of every semester I used to uninstall all my games so I remove the temptation. In fact, I haven't played computer games for over a year now. I like to think of computer games are evil, and although this sounds like overkill, think of all the obesity and anti-social behaviour they have caused in society. Like most things, computer games are okay in moderation, but if you have a problem there is no "gameoholics anonymous" group you can join - you need to help yourself and show a little will-power. It's not just playing games though - computer nerds surf the web, download files (what type of files you can probably guess), and chat on the internet for hours these days. It's not healthy. I'll repeat that: spending all day on a computer is not healthy. Television too for that matter. The most successful people I know (or know of), watch less than an hour of tele per day; some even cut it out completely.

Be Active and Exercise (the most important advice of all)

The best advice in this whole document is this: exercise. I've been thin-to-average for a few years now, but I got news: I wasn't always thin. The change started when someone took the time to just take the time to say: "you should really exercise", and he didn't say it in a critical way - he was suggesting a way I could improve my life. He was right. I started losing weight and generally becoming more confident when I started jogging. I hated jogging at first. Why would I want to get sweaty and hot when I could be watching something funny on television. But I persisted, and very soon I started enjoying it. If you want to learn about the benefits just search the web (start here)... basically, you get fit, you get confident, and it feels good. Soon I had lost weight, and then I started playing a lot more of other sports with my friend. Wow... I sound like a commercial here. I guess the difference is what I'm selling is free advice: if you're a computer student, or if you're just overweight, get away from your computer and exercise. Even if you don't exercise, you should get out of the house and do SOMETHING at least once every day. Just walking around uni makes you fitter.

I'll reiterate. Exercise improves your live, but especially critical for those who work with computers.

Joining a sports team or club might be the best thing you've ever done. Sports are more fun than computer games, and if it forces you to meet new people; even better. Start living a little.

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Advice for the Romantically Challenged (i.e. all nerds)

Okay, I'm writing this section, because it's something we all think about, even if we don't talk about it. Very few IT students have girlfriends, and most of them are lonely - fact. Now believe me, I'm no expert in this particular field (<cough>understatement</cough>), but after years of talking to friends I know all the theory (and so would like to think all my advice is sound) :-). The main reason computer students don't have girlfriends is because they don't talk to girl and, in fact, are terrified of girls. Wow, imagine that! The old joke "oh my god, it's a girl, run for it", is part joke, and part truth. There may be the occasional "computer girl" in one of your classes, but even with them you might struggle - and here's why. "Men are from mars and women are from venus". In fact, that is an excellent book, and I suggest buying it and reading it! Women talk about their feeling a lot more than men, they are more sensitive than us, more multi-taking, they hug a lot, and they do girly things.

Okay, here's the bad news. If you're doing IT, and you don't already have a girlfriend, there is a good chance you'll be single for the next three years... and three years is a long time. I think of it as falling into a trap. I made really, really great friends in IT, particularly in second year, and we did everything together. We sat together in the refectory, we played basketball, we played broomball, watched movies occasionally... but always together, and of course we were all blokes (no girls in IT remember). The irony was, in our uni, no-one had more fun, or made more noise, than the IT boys. We use to play cards in the refectory, we yelled at each other down hallways, we performed dares (actually, it was mostly me doing the dares), and I was really lucky I had that. However, with all the noise we generated, and the fact we always sat together, meant I simply didn't get a chance to talk to girls. And do I regret it... well it's hard to say really; it's the old "if you don't know what you're missing how can you miss it" saying, but I belonged to two great group of friends during undergrad and honours (not every year level has as many great characters as my level, and the year below), and that's not something you can ever regret.

It's like this fellahs. If you want a girlfriend then do something about it. You will not get a girlfriend hanging out with a nerdy group of guys, which doesn't mean abandoning old friends completely, it might just means making new ones. At UQ it's much easier - just join a few clubs (force yourself to go if you have to), and the rest should follow... gradually you'll get better at talking to not just girls, but people from all walks of life. At JCU it was near impossible. It's made harder by the fact that unless a person is in your same course, you'll see them once, talk to them, but might not bump into them again for half a year.

If you really want to meet girls I highly recommend learning to dance - i.e. couples dancing! (uqdance) This might be throwing you into the deep end, and be frightening as hell at first, but it's just a great thing to do. The benefits are as follow: you'll learn a new life skill, girls like a guy who can dance, you'll gain confidence just be being around women and leading them (even though you'll inevitable suck the first month or so), and you'll meet heaps of nice people. The best thing I found actually, was that Salsa dancing was a way to unwind, and completely forget about uni and work up a sweat; dancing is more energetic than you think! Okay, that's enough about dancing, as a disclaimer, there were almost no girls my age (no single girls anyhow) at the place I danced in Cairns (it was a pretty small place), but I still had heaps of fun; even when dancing with the really old girls, and that's why I kept going every week. I'm sure there are other ways to meet women, sporting clubs and so on, but couples dancing is really, really fun. There are a couple of places you can learn Salsa dancing in Cairns, and if you persist at it a great place called Casa de Meze where you can meet people (including girls your own age) outside your dance classes.

By the way, don't ever seem to eager or desperate, it scares women off... so even if you're crazy about a girl, play it cool: "you seem like a nice girl, would you like a coffee" (note that "coffee" implies sophistication), will girl down better than "I think I love you". And hey; if she says no, she's not rejecting you, she's rejecting the coffee; you'll find another girl. Lots of people have fear of rejection, so just be spontaneous, and if a girl says no, smile and say "that's cool" - she might have a boyfriend, emotional baggage, love someone else.... it doesn't matter, you have nothing to lose by asking, and everything to gain (each time it should get easier too). They say you find love when you least expect it, and often when you're not even looking for it - which is what happened to me in Brisbane. "Playing it cool" is the best way to behave when you're talking to a girl. I'm also pretty certain confidence is what wins most of them over - even if you're not male-model material (hell who is?) if you have confidence you have a chance. I always hated those jerks and bullies from high-school who managed to go out with nice, attractive girls. What girl in her right mind would go out with a such a jerk?! The answer is most girls would. Sad but true. He has something you don't, he has a ego.... so why don't you develop your own ego. Having an ego doesn't necessarily mean you're an arrogant prick; it means you hold your head high and carry yourself with confidence.

DON'T be too embarrassed to go into the bookshop and buy yourself a good book on dating and meeting girls! The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to compete. I regret leaving it until I was 22... don't be the same. The sooner you practice being confident, and making friends with girls, the sooner you'll realize that women are not evil and snobby (well actually, I've found a lot of the pretty one's are, but I've learnt to avoid them). In fact, forget about the whole "I want a girlfriend" thing for a moment and you'll find that just having a few close female friends is a really wonderful thing..... and if they decide you're a good guy, and start to confide in you - well that makes you feel really, really special. Trust me. I've made lots of female friends through dancing, and it makes all the difference having them around; and their friendship means a lot to me. :-)

"Contrary to belief, having an over inflated ego is not a negative attribute" -- Donald Trump

Oh, if you do get a girlfriend I don't really know what advice to give you :-). I guess, don't fall in love to heavily, don't get too attached and take things slowly. It's not uncommon to be going out with a girl who isn't right for you (most people put on an act on the first few dates). I've had a few friends who didn't belong with their girlfriends and/or boyfriend. In most relationships someone dominates, but if you're getting used or poorly treated you better hope your friends will help ground you and tell you want a tool you are for putting up with such nastiness. I hope that you don't have such nasty experiences, or if you do, that you recover quickly.

On the other hand, if she's a special girl, and yet you don't shower her with affection - if you still spend all your time in front of your computer - then you are a damn fool. Relationships can be wonderful, love is part of what defines us humans, so if you do have something special try not to screw it up.

Remember you still have your whole life ahead of you, and you're allowed to take chances and make mistakes. A person who always succeeds and never fails has had a sheltered life... the man who makes mistakes, shakes it off, smiles, and walks again, deserves the admiration. In other words, it's not the end of the world if you get dumped.

"I would rather have loved and lost than never loved at all" -- famous author, famous words

So there you go... love advice from the inexperienced, but good advice nonetheless. My final message is one of hope:

It will happen, you just need to be patient.

May the force be with you as you bravely go where few nerds have gone before. Best of luck. :-)

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Advice for Job Hunters

Don't Let Rejection Get you Down.

Back to the serious side. Even once you have your degree, job hunting is difficult, and, for most people, a depressing experience too. I'll start by telling you another of my own stories. There are pretty much NO jobs in IT in Cairns, save for a few people who do web-development, and a few stores that sell computer hardware. There is certainly nothing advanced or stable in the way of programming here, so those who get IT degrees in Cairns should be prepared to leave to a place like Brisbane or Sydney if they want decent employment. However, it was my goal that, during uni, I could do some work developing websites. To apply for work I simply found a list of every website company in cairns, and e-mailed them (one after the other) with my resume and talked about my desire for holiday employment. I had a list of about twelve companies, but much later realized only three were real companies, the rest were individuals who's websites made them appear like larger companies - some didn't even exists anymore.

I waited and waited..... but I didn't get any replies. In the process of waiting, and then asking someone else, a depressed feeling started to emerge. I wanted work, but I wasn't getting any.

Now that those holidays are long and gone I've realize a few things. Firstly, my mistakes were numerous: e-mailing one company after the other is foolish, few people want websites during the christmas period so the chance of them hiring you is zero. I had though that, because I had a solid resume, they'd find something for me to do. Wrong.

A year later, a terrific part time holiday job actually found me. I'd made good friend with our main IT lecturer in Cairns, Dr Phillip Musumeci (bloody nice bloke), and a Queensland Senator (Jan McLucas) had asked him if he knew anyone willing to make a website. Now this was incredibly luckily really, and turned out to be a brilliant opportunity for me (for two months I was working for a Senator - which sounds great on a resume), but it shows you that by making friends with lecturers, opportunities present themselves. I got along really well with Jan actually.

Uni is a really good place to work too. If you talk around you might surprise yourself by landing a pretty sweet part-time job. Make sure you're on the employment mailing lists too of course!

Applying for Jobs: Do it in Person, not Electronically.

So what is my advice to students applying for jobs. Well networking during uni is a good start, but when looking for work outside of the sheltered world of university you have to double your networking efforts. I read a book called "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Finding Your Dream Job Online" which was quite interesting. The book said, if you're going to use the internet, you can try the "shotgun approach", where you do some preparation, send an customized e-mail to every advertisement you can find (possibly even hundreds of adds), keep records of all mail, and hope you get somewhere. However, even Brisbane is probably not large enough for this to work - it's very easy for employers to say: "we don't have anything to suit you", or "your GPA isn't as high as we want", or perhaps not reply at all. An e-mail does not have a face - it's just text, and it's very easy to reject - there is no "attachment". I suggest visiting companies in person - finding some excuse, befriending someone who works there, or just rocking up with a confident, friendly smile "I've just started looking for work, and was thinking about working here, is there someone I can speak too". Now most IT students won't have enough confidence for that, and instead get depressed when their job hunt doesn't go as they had hoped, but you have to snap out of it, and start working your way up slowly. Start with little steps.

Basically networking is about getting out of the house, not just sending electronic communication. As soon as you place a face to a name, that name has meaning... meaning to employers, to lecturers, to girls, to anyone. Don't look desperate either. Any one of these people would be lucky to have you, so hold that head up, and if you face rejection then that's their loss (that's the type of outlook you should adopt). Funny how this concept of confidence affects your whole life..... your work life, your home life, your (dare I say it) love life and your social life. If you are not a confident person uni is your chance to grow. People at university are nice..... and generally don't have the same hang ups high-school students.

Most jobs positions are never even advertised, they are given to people by word of mouth. If you have contacts, and develop a reputation as a friendly person, a reasonable person, and someone competent (well in at least some area anyhow), you might be offered jobs you would never have found out about otherwise. Friend and family can help you, so accept their help.

A friend of mine commented, that after he had his first job, and started socializing with people in the workforce, he was suddenly offered all these other little jobs which he had to turn down. Another friend made his own employment by fixing people's computers, and by word of mouth he eventually had more work than time for. A nice older guy I met and talked to once makes/maintains web pages for $50 per hour (any they weren't that crash hot either) had designed several sites, and those kept generating work for him, because his 20 odd clients were always needing/wanting changes. An family friend a several years older than me does consulting jobs (most recently working for the police I think) and advises it as a great option for IT students. Your goal is to get over that first hurdle. After that, you'll find it's not so difficult after all.

Confident People Win Jobs

But while I'm still talking about finding employment, there was is a piece of advice a friend of mine, Jon Roberts, e-mailed everyone the christmas just after he moved to Brisbane. In fact, I'll copy the whole e-mail here, but the basic idea was this: "to get a job in IT, you have to lie". Now I don't ever condone lying (I'm a very honest person - honestly), but I will say that you do have to be creative when applying for a job in IT. To get experience you need a job, but it seems every job wants someone with experience, so it's a catch twenty two. Someone else told me a story about a job add in a newspaper asking for three years experience in a programming language that had only been around for two years! Now that's a tough ask. So if you don't want to resort to lying (not yet anyhow) do the over-confident thing and say: "I don't have that specific experience, but I have similar experience and I guarantee you I'll be proficient in <that language or program> before you even give me my first pay check". If you work hard you can hopefully live up to your claims, but even if you don't, you won't necessarily get fired - so, basically you don't have much to lose by making that claim.

Job Interview: Prepare to Sell Yourself

When you apply for a job you have to be ready to sell yourself. To hell with modesty, you want a job. It's better to come off as overconfident than shy. If you do get to an interview attitude is half the battle, the other half is preparation. I'm going to ask a few questions now as if I was an employer, and if you can't answer them in a professional way and answer them immediately, you're not ready for an interview.

  • q1) "Tell me about about a time when you've been part of a team, what was your role in the project and what were some problems you encountered?".
  • q2) "Why do you want to apply at this company?" .
  • q3) "What type of experience do you have in programming?".
  • q4) "I noticed you don't have much experience in industry. Why should we employ you, with your degree when we could employ someone else with more experience?"

These are but a few of many challenging questions you might face, and I'd be surprised if you didn't stuttered/struggle when answering them. The first question is actually one I was asked on a application form once, and the most important thing to recognize is that it is actually three questions. In a case like this, the solution is to break it up into parts (mind you, that's much easier if your typing a response - a verbal response is much harder).

  • ans1) "Well... teamwork.... errr at uni we had to do a project where we made a website, and I wrote all the content, because no-one else wanted to do it" is a bad answer - you've just lost the job.
  • ans1)
    "(#1) When have I been part of a team. Well, I've been in quite a few projects with different groups of people. Most recently I was in a group of several students and our task was to designing an efficient, dynamic web site for a gift-registry company.
    (#2) What was my role in that project. My main role in the project was to liaise with the clients and work out their specific requirements ... <etc> ...
    (#2) What problems did we encounter. Well our team didn't have any major problems during the project, and was a success, but there was a bit of a personality clash between two of our team members and I helped them resolve that by ...
    <etc>" - this is a much better answer, and unless you have the gift of the gab, you probably can't produce an answer like this off the top of your head - you have to prepare for such questions. Don't be afraid to ask them to repeat the question (if you're on the phone always have a pen), or even repeat it yourself before you answer it. "I'm sorry, but that was a really long question <make your most adorable smile here>, could you please repeat it again?"

Some of the other questions are almost just as challenging, but if you research the company, and work out what relevant skills you have, what questions they'll ask, you should be prepared.

  • ans2) "I applied for this job, not only because it's one of the best jobs I have seen advertised, but I also think your company would be a good company to work for and I think I'll be challenged here." - once again, just a rough idea. Be careful not to get trapped here - the employer could easily ask "What makes you say that". Hopefully you prepared for this too: "Well, I've taken a look at your website and talked to a few people". What people. "Friends in the industry" - (this could well be a lie, but at least it's a plausible lie)
  • ans3) "Well, I've done quite a few programming course and developed several small programs.... <blah, blah> .... Furthermore university has taught me all the fundamentals of programming languages, so even if I have to learn a new language I'm bound to pick it up very quickly"
  • ans4) "Admittedly, my experience in industry is limited, but I've performed very well at uni, and have been successful in every project I've ever done, so naturally I'm going to perform very well in this company too."

All these answer are answers of a confident person. You should also try and give the impression that you've only just started looking for work, and you're still in the process of "choosing where to work" - because you are in demand. If employees know you've been searching for months they might think "there's probably something wrong with this guy if no-one wants him". In real-estate they describe a property that hasn't been sold after several months as "stale"... you on the other hand want a appear fresh - someone with your act together.

  • q5) "I noticed you have a website with your resume, did you make it yourself"
  • ans5) "Well, now you're just flirting with me!"

The last answer there was just a joke, but remember, if you think your employer/interviewer has a sense of humour then have some fun with them. Don't frown the whole interview. Certainly you should smile and shake their hand firmly when you meet them, and make a casual comment about the weather or any other piece of small talk, because it's likely to get you on friendlier terms and help you relax.

If you're really interested make sure you look at some job seeking sites for more advice on job hunting techniques and advice. Better yet, read a book.

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Advice for Poor Uni Students (almost all of us)

One of the reasons I stayed in JCU to do my undergraduate was definitely money. By staying at home I saved HEAPs of it, and going to JCU was one of the best decisions of my life. That said, it's difficult for me, as a person who lived at home, to give you budgeting advice. My most important advice is: don't spend all your money/allowance partying. Some of my friends spend $60-$120 every night they went clubbing, and some would go clubbing once or twice every week (do the math). I spend, on average $10 every night I go clubbing. The difference is alcohol. I have never really understood what's so great about drinking. I watched lots of my friends boast and talking endlessly about how much they'd drunk "the other night", how pissed they were, how much they vomited, and didn't realized how stupid it all sounded. Ask one of these people how much they spend a year on alcohol and they get defensive.

My message is this: you should be able to have fun without alcohol. They're is actually something a little bit sad about the way so many young people go with the herd and become dependent on alcohol for a "good time" (although I still don't see how a hang-over and loss of memory equals fun); some people even rely on it to become social. I actually go to clubs only really to listen to music and dance, and through that you can get a natural high. I find talking to people in clubs is almost futile due to the noise pollution. Many clubs in Cairns are actually very sleazy places. Anyhow, back on topic: don't waste your money, and don't waste your parents money. There is nothing wrong with a social drink; just make sure you stay sober enough to manage your wallet, and maintain commonsense. If not, you WILL do something stupid which you'll regret tomorrow, or, in some cases, something you'll regret for the rest of your life.

Textbooks are another thing you can save money on. About $100 per text book, at least one book per subject, 8 subjects per year, means up to $1000 on textbooks every year. In first year I just assumed I had to buy all the books, and two of the four I bought, I never touched. After that, I decided I didn't have to rush and buy anything from thing from the bookshop. Instead I went to the second hand bookshop before anyone else, see what they had... asked the lecturer if the book was essential, and sometimes waited until the first couple of weeks to decide what books I needed. Up to you I guess - depends on the subjects. In some degrees you will read entire textbooks is essential, but in IT you might never touch a prescribed text and just use lecture notes. You can always borrow from the library too. Believe it or not, for my first three years I never once borrowed a book from the library (such is the wonder of the internet)!

If you'll never need a book again, and it's not damaged, you can try and sell it though second hand bookstores - they generally sell for 75% original price or less, and take maybe 20% commission. That example would give you back $60 for a $100 book, but it's not bad considering they save you lots of mucking around - they sell pretty quickly, e-mail to say it's sold, and collect your money. My experiences with the second hand bookstore are pretty good.

If you do live away from home, I guess budgeting carefully is the critical thing. Next year I move into a share house, I've done up a budget sheet estimating my incomes and spending and I intend to keep careful records of everything.

Working during uni is something most of us will do at some stage or another. It's good for some extra cash, but be careful. I've had friends who get "addicted", and take on more and more hours. Once you start making money you don't want to stop. But if you take on too many hours a week your uni work will suffer. A guy a year ahead of me was doing 30 hours per week at Dominos while doing honours! Not surprising he dropped out really.

Another side affect of making money is your expenditures will often go up. You'll start buying things/gadgets/car-accessories you don't really need; you just figure you have the money there - I can afford it now. Suddenly you're in the habit of spending more, and it's likely that, even though you're making more, your bank balance might be just as low as before. I do the smart thing and save. In my last two years of uni I had an income of about $200 per week - which wasn't bad for only 6 hours of tutoring and pracs (although, in reality, every hour of tute typically requires one hour of prep and correspondence with people). Anyhow, I set up my streamline/keycard account so that it automatically transfers err.. I forgot - I think $200 a month into a savings account ... and therefore I'm always saving a bit of money.

By the way, Citibank has very good, non-balance dependent interest rates for holding accounts (it's owned by the Saudis). Net banking rocks and B-pay rocks!... beats going into the bank every week. Always keep an eye on your money, especially when your dealing with it online... and don't get conned by e-mails! As a rule, any e-mail offering something should be deleted, and any e-mail regarding finance or banking is a con. While I'm on the topic, e-mails to "show your support" and add your name are a waste of time too (they are not verifiable, you'll), and if you believe the old "if you sent it to five people you'll find love, if you don't send it you will get cancer" or "it really happens" you are a tool. Don't be a sucker and don't forward crap unless it's really funny and/or worth reading. The more you're e-mail address gets exposed, the more spam databases you will get added to (which is why I have my e-mail address on this website as an image).

There are moments in life when distrust is commonsense: for instance, you should never trust any e-mail from someone you don't personally know, and never trust salesmen: especially car salesmen and real-estate agents. Always assume they are lying, and telling half-truths - the best con-artists come across as genuine people. I read a fantastic book called "Don't sign anything", by Neil Jenman - fantastic book, very eye-opening. Lot's of my friends have had awful experiences with real-estate agents and landlords, which is why you have to know your rights, and "don't sign anything" until you're certain you're protected.

Anyhow, back on topic, my message is this: even with a pitiful uni-student income - whether it comes from the government, a shitty retail job, or your parents - you can save money, and live decently. You should have emergency money available at all times. Don't be a person who never has more than a few hundred in the bank, and is always bitching that they can't pay next weeks rent. I imagine that would suck, and if I'd knew you'd gone drinking the night before I wouldn't lend you a cent - even if you were my best friend. :-)

Incidentally, never lend more than a few dollars to friends, and if you do, write it down, or you WILL forget. And most importantly, you should keep a spreadsheet for everything (not just financing).

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Advice for Overachievers

This section is NOT for most people. Most people I know should socialize LESS and STUDY MORE. However there are lots of people out there all work and no play - and this section is for you.

The ultimate goal in life is to be happy - the ancient Greeks knew it, and you should know it too. To be successful in life is to be happy.... wealth, influence, or the top grade in every piece of assessment means nothing unless you can smile and laugh each day.

Hey overachiever! Gosh, lets play chess together... or let's not and say that we did. At high school maybe that status alienated you a bit, but the great news is it doesn't have to... and when you get to university, your peers will probably even respect you (and then try stealing your revision notes.... bastards!). The advice I give to overachievers is simple. Have fun at university. Most people will have fun by default, but there are always a few people in society that take their work and grades so seriously they forget how to have fun. Don't be one of these people. For most people the problem is to have less fun, and study more, but maybe your problem is the inverse. Work smart and play hard.

The first few years of high-school I was a shy person, with a small, quiet group of friends, and I basically didn't have much fun - I was far too busy aiming to be dux, because I though I'd be more popular if I did that. Hahahaa... so young and so naive. Anyhow, in grade twelve I had an epiphany. I hated the fact that, after years of hard study, this was pretty much the ONLY year that counted for the rest of my life. I was pretty hung up about it, and decided I needed to just relax a bit - "don't take life to seriously". And to have fun I started socializing more and actually did a bit more of everything - I did debating, stage band, concert band, fundraising and I was student captain too. And did my grades suffer? It's almost counter-intuitive, but my grades didn't change and I still got the awards and results I had wanted since the start of grade eight. The great thing was I didn't go overboard either, I still studied hard when I was at home. I was busier than ever, but the big difference was I was happier.

What you might find is that it helps to get away from study for a few hours each day - it keeps you fresh. Don't burn out by studying five hours straight - that's just crazy.... take a break in the middle and maybe go for a jog. By the time you're back from your jog, you'll feel pretty good - you'll be refreshed, relaxed, revitalized - and you'll be able to study again with new energy.

My other advice for overachievers is take some chances in life. You should enjoy your youth, not live in a bubble. When your friend ask you to go out, don't make excuses (unless you have an assignment due the next day) - "don't over think it just do it" (did I just breach copywrite with Nike?). Sometimes socializing is something you have to force yourself to do - you might think "we'll staying at home is easier": but christ; how many friends do you expect to make by staying at home - go outside and do something fun you study-nut!

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Advice for those Considering Postgrad Studies

What are you crazy!! You want to stay at uni longer than you have to?! Will you people never learn! Arrghh!

I've only just graduated honours, which I guess you could describe as a preview/taste of what research and a PhD is all about. And I actually felt it was a good use of a year too, I leant a lot about how research works. Research is very different from your normal jobs where you're following regulations and doing what you're told..... it's a strange, world of papers, journals, set-backs, problems, and hopefully reward (hopefully being the key word in that sentence).

If you're thinking about lecturing and/or teaching (at any stage in life) you should definitely try tutoring subjects as soon as possible. I and many of my friends were lucky at JCU because they offer lots of tutoring work to students. In fact, two of my friend tutored subjects at uni and ALSO did tutoring/teaching type work at an all boy's high-school in Cairns, which would have been great too. Even if you have no intention of lecturing/teaching, tutoring looks good on your resume, and you'll understand the subject much better by teaching it (explaining a concept to someone always helps you understand it better yourself). When I was first offered tutoring work, I almost rejected it and said "I don't think I'm ready yet", and I would have been a total idiot if I had - I'm glad I threw myself into the role, because I learnt heaps. You learn so much tutoring (and one would hope your students learn something during class too). I have a link here to a very good document about tutoring. I doubt students have the same opportunities to tutor in big unis as I did at JCU, but if you're keen you should approach your lecturers and tell them you're keen.

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Conclusion (advice for EVERYONE)

Hey wow, you mean to say you've read the whole thing! Congratulations, I didn't think anyone in their right mind would read all this! Did you like my section about girls (maybe that's the only section you actually read)? I wrote this page because it's the kind of information I felt I would have benefited from at the start of the year (even if it is a big read). Hopefully everyone who reads this gets something out of it, and so I hope that you found my advice helpful and/or reassuring - who knows, perhaps some of the advice which helps improve my life will help improve your life too. I have meant every word I typed in this document, and my final advice/summary is most important of all:

You're at uni to learn, but there is more to learn at uni than book theory.
Don't always be in front of your computer: take a timeout and get some exercise!
Have fun (in moderation), gain confidence, make new friends and be good to one another.
Don't take too life to seriously, smile, and the rest should follow.

All the best people.
  Sincerely,
       the swan.

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