Some thoughts on being a good student

I have learnt a huge amount over my lifetime, but I have rarely been a classic “good student”. I didn’t do my homework and I didn’t attend lectures regularly (unless the lecturer was particularly good or I had friends who were “conscientious” and were taking the same classes) although I always went to tutorials and prac classes because they were “hurdle requirements”. To make up for my slackness, I read the textbooks and recommended reading and constructed my own study notes around the headings in the course outline. I came from an academic family and a background where books abounded and reading was a favorite leisuretime activity – reading the texts was a “lazy way out” for me in terms of study. I paid the penalty for my slack study habits of rarely getting top marks although I usually did pretty well. Of course, in hindsight, I realise that my poor study habits were actually pretty good lifelong learning habits – finding out from the “community of experts” (my lecturers) what they thought I should know, reading up on it, and only asking them questions when I knew enough of their domain to be taken seriously (the point at which their expertise became meaningful to me). I tended to be accepting of their right to dismiss me not because they were superior or smarter, but because I knew that I had rarely paid them the courtesy of listening to their lectures so I was probably asking about things that I should already know.

This is not “confessions of a slack student” but more an understanding that the things define being a good student may not necessarily promote the best long-term learning. The things that result in the highest grades may not necessarily reflect the best long-term learning either. But it doesn’t mean the structure shouldn’t be there. We may put structures in place with a particular purpose in mind, but although the type of scaffold will determine what we are capable of supporting, we may not know ahead of time whether we will be planting climbing roses or passionfruit or ivy. Even if we take care to plant one thing, it may well be that something else ends up growing in its place.

And from the other side of the fence, I take great care in preparing lectures or presentations or articles – the time and effort that goes into preparing content is not at all commensurate with the importance of that content to the audience or to the size of audience. And more often that not the prepared content is only loosely related to what I end up saying. However the process of content preparation is critical to my role as an academic and critical to my ability to share knowledge and be part of a community. In fact it is critical to my identity as a person – for me, I am what I know about.

1 thought on “Some thoughts on being a good student”

  1. I am a mature age university student doing an honours year in politics. I have diabetes type 2 and I have not been as attentive to my condition as I should be. One consequence of my poor level of self-management with my medical condition has been that I have grown progressively more tired and unmotivated, with an associated loss of intellectual ability and an incapacity to work efficiently and productively. Those with diabetes must have an annual medical examination to re-qualify them for their driving licence in Victoria. Untreated diabetes can lead to intellectual confusion and a lessening of organisational ability, and hence can negatively effect your capacity to drive safely. The same set of symptoms can occur within academic learning with poorly managed diabetes.

    It took me a good amount of self-reflection over a long period of time before I could see what it was that I was doing wrong. There were times when I thought that I was not energetic enough towards my studies because I thought I was losing interest or I was bored with my subjects or that I was losing my mind. Going out more did not make much difference to my energy levels. What I am more careful with now is my diet, weight control, amount of aerobic exercise, taking my diabetes medication regularily, sleep, meditation, and taking more time to relax away from study. The turnaround in my energy levels and my motivation to study has been very good. I won’t forget my lesson.

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