Advice to Students
This is advice for anyone who wants to be a success as an undergraduate but especially in the sciences.
1. don't just pass your courses, excel—you will need to do more than just squeak by; you're not at college just to get a piece of paper that says "You're Educated!" Real education is something you carry in your head and can apply to your life. The purpose of college is to give you the real knowledge, experience and skills to get into and excel during the next stage of your life.
2. know how you learn—really pay attention to which techniques help you learn best and use them. Watch successful people and try what they do. It's not a guarantee you'll do well with their techniques, but it's a start. Things that don't work, drop them. Things that do work, keep them.
2.1 test yourself!!!— one of the biggest mistakes students make is not evaluating their understanding of the material BEFORE an exam. As you study you need to assess continually how well you understand the material—give yourself little quizzes as you go. Be hard on yourself and be honest. If you wait until the test to find out what you really, truly know, by then it will be too late.
3. work hard
4. enjoy challenges & learning & seek out new experiences & people
5. have clear long-term goals and clear short-term milestones
6. become who you want to be—high school's over. No one cares any more if you were the class president or class clown. You will be assessed based on what you do from here on out. You can choose to reinvent yourself (or continue) as a success—if you want to be a doctor, then perform well from here on out.
7. remember you are surrounded by people who care, let them help you—seek out your friends, tutors, TA's & faculty. See them BEFORE things become difficult and things might never become overwhelming!
8. do research!!!!
Interacting with faculty:
Always address the faculty as "Dr. So-and-So" or "Professor So-and-So." Some of them might not be doctors or professors, but most of them will be. You're not in high school any more. Show the faculty that you understand that. Use a different greeting only after they have told you to do so.
Any time you contact the faculty, you should be professional. If you are emailing them, use a salutation (Dear Dr. So-and-So), be clear about what you want, and sign your name. Remember, the faculty are super busy (even though you might only see them 3 hours a week!), and if you don't put in even the most rudimentary effort when asking something of them, your request will probably be put on the bottom of a very tall pile. Also, don't expect your instructors to be tied to email. You should expect at least a 24-hour delay between the time they receive your email and the time they get back to you.
"what chapter are we doing?" or "when's the test?" this makes it look like you are not willing to put in even the simplest amount of effort to check a piece of paper. Not the best impression you want to put forth.
This is not necessarily a requirement for graduate school or medical school, but it practically is. Doing research teaches you a ton about yourself, but it also demonstrates that you are smart, able to work hard and long for delayed gratification, you can work with a team, and you can think properly and logically. If you are going to grad school, research demonstrates to your potential advisor that you already have what it takes for grad school. Research is a great way to meet potential graduate school advisors, a very important step. Good research really makes a big difference when it comes to advancing to the next level. In addition, research is a great way to get an excellent letter of recommendation.
What you want to do:
You want a research project that is YOURS. You don't want just to be washing test tubes. That might be part of your training, especially early on, but if you are working in someone's lab, you should be working towards the time when you will be the lead researcher on a project, even if it's a small one. You want to be an author (if not the lead author) on abstracts and publications and maybe write up a thesis, too (although pubs are more important). Make sure you express this desire to your research mentor.
Start early! You want to be far enough along with your research when you apply to graduate schools. A publication or abstract by the time you apply is a great plus. So start doing research as soon as you can fit it into your schedule. The Spring of your Freshman year is a good idea, but make sure you can comfortably fit it into your schedule. Don't feel like you're unable to do the work, because you're a freshman. Faculty will be much happier to have someone work in their lab for 3-4 years than 1 year. And they will teach you everything you need to know.
To get into research, it's easy. Find someone who does research you think is interesting (if it's dull, you'll hate it and do a horrible job). Send them a short email saying who you are, that you like their research on X, Y & Z, and you were hoping they'd have a position in their lab for you. After that, you sort of "negotiate" the expectations: what kind of project you'd do, how many hours and when, timeline, etc. Don't expect to be paid—you're being paid in experience and publications. You should be able to get research credits for your work, but if you can arrange to get paid, that's good, too. But the bottom line is, whether or not you are paid or get credits, research is well worth it!