By Dr. Geoff Crawford
Former Senior Lecturer in Microbiology
NOTE: COVID-19 has changed things radically on campus and these disruptions may continue for some time. Please read my advice below and adjust these recommendations as necessary to the current situation at Monash.
Me. I totally stuffed up Year 12 – passed two subjects. I worked for a few years and then enrolled at Monash via a special scheme. It was my last chance and I was scared! I worked hard in first year and did well. Stayed for another six years and left with a PhD in germs. I worked in industry and then became a senior lecturer in microbiology, working in a number of roles.
You. You’re probably new to Monash and may be feeling a bit scared too. You may be apprehensive about the transition from school to uni. This article aims to make you a better student, from the point of view of the lecturer, tutor, teaching staff or mentor.
If you make your lecturer happy, you will do well.
The Lecturer is probably heavily involved in research, managing research students and chasing grants. And is also expected to teach you. Most of us love teaching but many see it as a diversion from our research, so keep us happy.
First Years. Have a great time – I did. Lots of friends disappeared in second year never to be seen again. My trick was to look at Monash as employment. I worked five or six days a week at my “Monash Job”. That included working hard and cuppas in the cafes, cogitating on the lawns or finding recreational reading in the library.
Set your sights high. Aiming for just a pass is dangerous. If you drop off a bit you fail. Aim for a credit and if you drop off a bit you pass.
Make adult decisions. Student X was a nice person and a karate champion. We had a three-week period wherein the students had to be available every Tuesday for project work. X asked if he could miss one of those Tuesdays to go to a karate championship. I said no. He made an adult decision to go to the championship and won a comp. He failed but he was OK with that – his decision.
DON’T PLAGIARISE! This is the biggie – you can be booted out for this. Some examples from my experience.
- A student handed in a report on a rather complicated topic. I saw a very unusual mistake. I had seen that mistake the previous year. This was back in the days of paper submissions; the student had whited out the name and wrote in her own on a prac from a previous year.
- A student missed a prac class and asked his mate for the results but the student just copied the whole prac report. Turnitin picked it up and both students were in trouble.
- We all differ in our ability to write concise and correct English. A student handed in an assignment. The first three paragraphs were in the student’s normal style but the fourth was perfect – not referenced. I located that paragraph in a textbook in the library!
- Is the easiest way to learn.
- Please come. Lecture notes will not give you the emphasis and handy hints you need. It makes me feel good standing in front of a full audience who do not disappear by week two.
- Arrive early – I will.
- Sit down the front – we love this. As a student I was sitting in a second-year microbiology lecture when the lecturer threw me a cardboard model of a poliovirus. I thought that was pretty cool and eventually did Honours with him.
- You are too adult for paper planes, phones or excessive talking.
- Ask questions. That will make us happy. There is no such thing as a dumb question unless you are trying to be a smart aleck.
- Never ask – “Is this on the exam?” or “Do I need to know this?”. A good lecturer will tell you this with words like “this is important” or “you need to know this”. Remember Ancora imparo – you are still learning.
Study. Yes, you should do a fair bit of that, but we will not know how you are going until assessment time. Do not blame me for you failing. If the wheels are starting to fall off then do something quickly. Talk to me or one of the many student counsellors at Monash.
Manage your Time. Get a diary, wall chart etc. Put in all the assessment requirements and due dates. Aim to finish each early. Start writing and researching early. Holidays are for catching up. Do not come knocking on my door looking for extensions; we have heard all the excuses dozens of times. If the assessments dribble in from two hundred students it makes it hard for me to provide consistent and timely feedback. I do give extensions but too many = a bad impression.
Get Started. Just write. I usually mull over the topic for two days and then start jotting down notes. If you do that, you can then flesh them out and chase up suitable information and references. Not perfect but you have made a start. It is easier to edit from that point. You getting your stuff in on time = happy lecturer.
“My computer died.” How many times have I heard this? In some cases it may have even been true. The solution is to aim to get the assessment done days before the deadline so the problem can be rectified in time. Result = happy lecturer.
The Tea Room. We do talk about our students in the tea room – the good and the bad. We compare “notes”. Aim for being the “good”.
Non-exam assessments. Work hard on these. Well researched and presented assignments = happy lecturer. This really is a free kick for you. No exam stress, you can chase up lots of information, talk to your friends and put it all together at your leisure (time management!). There is nothing better than walking into an exam knowing that you have a swag of marks already. I used poster presentations for my third-year students. One poster on potting mixes and bacteria was so good that we turned it into a paper that was published in the Medical Journal of Australia. That looked great on her CV and she received a great mark.
Look after your grandparents. During exam time grandparents die a lot leading to special consideration or requests for a deferred exam. I once had an unfortunate student who lost five grandparents over two years! Keep your grandparents healthy and that will keep me happy. Deferred exams are actually a pain for both of us. You will be studying over the break and I will not be able to finalise results. Let’s keep your grandparents healthy.
RTFR. Read the flaming requirements. I had a student do a lovely essay on the wrong topic and another who handed in a two-line answer where I was expecting two pages. None of us were happy. One of my better students did not turn over the last page of the exam and lost a potential thirty marks.
Use ‘Student Rat Cunning’. I’ve coined this term to encourage you to use every bit of information to your advantage. Read as much as you can about your course and the subjects, read every handout that you are given and listen carefully to hints given in lectures. Here is an example from my class: we are diagnosing the cause of disease in a patient and have a result showing the response to a range of viruses: A B C D E F G. The results show that C is correct. I now ask the students if they know what other viruses will cause the same symptoms. Do you know?
Failures on your student record? You are sitting at a job interview and there are a few Fs sprinkled in your record. Two outcomes – you get a tick for perseverance in obtaining your degree or you get a cross for the Fs. Keep your lecturer happy and there will be fewer or no Fs on that student record because you will be working hard.
Try not to be excluded. If you have repeated poor performance in your course, you risk being chucked out. In the bad old days, exclusions were very rare, and we talked about the student majoring in “Fourth Year Eight Ball”. Now exclusions are commoner. Let’s help each other avoid this.
Higher Stuff. You decide early on that you might want to do Honours (Hons) or Post-Grad (PG) study. Check the rules regarding eligibility and marks. That is the benchmark that you are aiming for. As the years go by check out the lecturers in your favourite subjects. One of those could be your supervisor – choose the one you like: not the one with the reputation. Again, when you elect to do Hons that will make the lecturer happy. You can also be sure that the lecturer has checked you out as a potential Hons student due your diligence, results and ability to keep them happy.
Have a great time at Monash.
Dr Geoff is a semi-retired senior lecturer in microbiology. He currently tutors med students, and offers education & training consultancy through his company ACCESS ACADEMIx.