Embracing Challenge (East and West)

Developing the proper mindset toward challenge is one of the most important paths to success as a student.

If you expect your study life to be easy, you’ll never live up to your potential. But you need to remember that excessive struggle and stress can also derail success. As with so many things in life, the key is finding the balance that works for you.

The most effective level of challenge is different for every individual, but understanding how challenge is viewed in your culture can help you explore this critical element of university life.

Alix Spiegel has written about cultural perspectives on challenge in the Mind/Shift blog at kqed.org. She says, “The way you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior.” And, as Spiegel explains:

Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.

Spiegel points out a general difference between Eastern and Western cultures. In the West, we tend to envision educational struggle as revealing a lack of ability. Students often want to avoid challenge because it may reveal their limits. Eastern cultures, on the other hand, widely perceive struggle as a good thing, a sign of emotional strength and dedication. .

There are counterexamples to these general perspectives, but they often hold true, and so they impact students who are entering a new educational culture.

My advice is to learn to embrace challenge and struggle. A lot of research indicates that this is the best way to succeed in university life. I’ll introduce you to some of these ideas in a future post.

One-Word Tips—Part One

Read!

There it is. Just one word, but a meaningful one.

If you want to succeed in your studies, you need to read…a lot. Read everything the professors assign. And then read more things from your field of study that are important and/or recent and that interest you. To make yourself stand out as an excellent student, you need to be aware of trends within your area of study and you need to demonstrate your commitment to mastering the body of knowledge in your field.

If the thought of spending an hour or two reading journal articles or other publications within your field of study seems boring to you, then maybe you’re studying the wrong thing.

Reading is also important for becoming an engaging writer and communicator. The best way to become a strong writer (and this is crucial to your success) is to read a lot. You’ll learn the vocabulary and styles within your field that way, while keeping up with new ideas.

As a writer and writing instructor, I always say that if I had to give a lecture on writing that could only be one sentence long, I’d say this: “Read the sort of things you want to write.”

If you want to write excellent journal articles on materials engineering, read excellent journal articles on materials engineering. If you want to write an amazing action screenplay, then read amazing action screenplays.

Here’s my challenge to you: find an interesting article from your area of study, sit back and relax, and read it carefully.

You’ve taken the first small step toward success!

Meet Your University Mentor—Part One

Hello! Welcome to University Mentor!

My name is Mitchell Gray and I’m your new academic mentor.

I’m going to do everything I can to help you succeed in your studies. For example:

1] I’ll share tips and strategies for studying and goal-setting. (Things like avoiding time-killing procrastination!)

2] I’ll show you research results that will help you understand how to learn and how to conquer your classes. (Did you know that reading your text again and again is one of the worst ways to study?)

3] I’ll tell you about my successes (and failures) and what you can learn from them. (I’ve dropped out of one university and won the award at another for top graduating student in the social sciences. I learned a lot from both experiences.)

4] I’ll help you enhance your writing and communication skills so you can make the most of your great ideas. (Mastering well-organized, concise and clear communication opens the doors to academic programs and great jobs!)

I’ve worked with university students for seven years now at the University of British Columbia, including hundreds of international students. The ideas you’ll find at University Mentor are the innovative and evidence-supported techniques I’ve been using to help students build the skills they need to excel in their current studies and increase their chances of acceptance into future programs.

I’m excited to be part of your path to success. Welcome to University Mentor!