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W&M faculty offer their best advice for incoming students

  • Aerial view of two people moving items into dorms
    Pro tips:  To help start the fall semester on the most positive of notes, W&M News asked 10 faculty members for their best advice for new students.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Whether fresh off of inspiring high school graduation speeches or transferring from another institution of higher learning, new students at William & Mary are faced with a whirlwind of academics, extracurriculars, choices and change.

The start of a new academic year is a time of great excitement and possibilities, but it’s also fraught with nerves and questions. Top among them, after where to eat and how to sort laundry, is how to navigate the rigorous academic sea.

In her book “Will This Be on the Test? What Your Professors Really Want You to Know About Succeeding in College,” retired W&M Math and Education Professor Dana Johnson includes her favorite pieces of advice for students: Turn off your cell phone before class starts, go to the office hours of each of your professors within the first month of class to familiarize yourself and meet someone in each of your classes so you can trade notes if you miss class.

To help start the fall semester on the most positive of notes, W&M News asked 10 faculty members for their best advice for new students.

Phil Daileader (professor, history)

Ask questions. Professors know that college is new to you, and we are happy to explain anything that needs to be explained. Talk to us before class, after class, during office hours, by appointment — whatever works.

Keep an even keel. During your first semester, you will have some great days and some days that you will wish had gone better. Do not obsess over latter. You will learn from your miscues, and you will get the hang of doing W&M-level work.

Mike Deschenes (professor and chair, kinesiology & health sciences)

Bear in mind that the new semester gets off to a quick start and ends with a quick finish. There is no gradual roll out, or close down to the semester; it both starts and ends abruptly, some have trouble with this. Do not fall behind at start of semester.

Cheryl Dickter (associate professor, psychological sciences)

Attend your professors’ office hours early and often.

Use the Writing Resources Center.

Don’t make decisions (especially about class selection) based on one person’s opinion. Seek advice from multiple individuals

Shantá D. Hinton (associate professor, biology)

Think about why you want to have a research experience. It is very important to genuinely want exposure to research and to not want simply to check off a box on a list.

Read the faculty research program webpage, contact the faculty member whose research interests you and email that person with a brief excerpt of why you are interested in the research and to schedule an appointment to meet.

Consider attending the Summer Research Showcase in the fall and Undergraduate Science Research Symposium in the spring. This allows you to speak with undergraduate researchers about their research experiences and to become more familiar with faculty research programs.

Jennifer Kahn (associate professor, anthropology)

Take your freshman seminar seriously and really work on your writing as it will help your writing to grow afterward in your next three years. The Writing Resources Center can also really help along these lines.

If you are interested in a particular class, make it a point to go to your professor's office hours and ask them questions.

Explore ways that you can gain non-classroom experience, like volunteering in a professor's lab or field project. It can be fun to get to know your professor in a non-classroom context, and it’s a great way to meet other students.

Lisa Landino (professor, chemistry)

Don't be late for class. Professors often make announcements at the beginning of class.

Complete assignments on time. And show up for exams on time.

When you go to a professor's office hours, be respectful of their time and of the needs of other students. Prepare specific questions. Don't say, “I don't understand any of chapter 13.”

Larry Leemis (professor, mathematics)

Take a wide variety of classes during your freshman year, particularly if you are undecided about a major.

When selecting a major, make sure that it is a subject you like, are good at and that there is a market for after you graduate. If it does not satisfy all three of these criteria, make it a minor rather than a major.

Use your summers to get internships in the field, because often studying a subject is quite different than working in the area.

Peter McHenry (associate professor, economics)

Time and effort are scarce commodities. Don’t attempt every activity you might like. Choose few and invest in them.

Beverly Sher (senior lecturer, chemistry)

Less is more. Don’t overload yourself with courses or activities in your first semester. There will be plenty of time later on to explore the many possibilities W&M has to offer. 

Guard your sleep. If you’re well-rested, you’ll get a lot more out of your first semester.

Go to class, do the reading and turn in the homework. Really and truly, doing these three basic things will make all the difference.

Francis Tanglao-Aguas (professor, theatre, Asian Pacific Islander American studies)

Take the time to visit with your professors during office hours even just to say hello and introduce yourself. You are here for four years, so build a relationship and partnership with us.

Change W&M by building your own spaces for engagement if you discover certain spaces are not on offer. You have agency.