Monday, September 8, 2014

Advice to high school students ...

Through high school, you are mostly taught the facts. As an undergraduate, you are taught to teach yourself the facts and how to construct answers to questions. In graduate or professional school, you are taught how to ask the right questions. The irony in this construction lies in the common misconception that Ph.D.s know all the answers, when in fact they mostly know the gaps in knowledge. That is, Socrates was not being so humble with his oft quoted saying, "the more I learn, the more I learn how little I know."

At the recent Herty Medal Award Dinner hosted by the Georgia Local Section of the ACS, I was pleased that nearly an entire table was filled by AP Chemistry students from Luella High School in Henry County. One of them asked our medalist, Luigi Marzilli, for advice on her way to college. I took the liberty of conveying the stages I described above. My point is that the mode of learning undergoes a paradigm shift in going from high school to college. My advice to students is thus to be aware of this change and be deliberate in changing their study habits. Indeed students often struggle as they approach the cliff on the edge of what they know coming from high school and the large body of new material that they are now expected to know in a college class. They often respond by trying to memorize every new fact and figure, but the shear magnitude of data makes such a path difficult to follow. Instead, they need to learn the material conceptually so that they can readily process the problems they face on exams and beyond. This requires practicing the problems and making the connections between the concepts steadily through the term, not in a single cramming session the night before the exam!

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