ver the next few weeks, I would like to reflect with you on some of the best advice I've been given over the last few years. So many of our struggles as young people come from the simple fact that we don't know how to navigate the system. What is key here is that for many of us, merely navigating the system isn't enough. Instead, being bright young things, we want to surpass the limits of the system. We don't want a good outcome from our participation in higher education; we want a phenomenal outcome. Just making it isn't enough, though; we want to make a statement. The goal is to squeeze as many unique experiences and valuable skills as possible from our collegiate career. These featured words of wisdom come from people who have experienced the world and lived to tell the tale. More than that, they are experts on beating the system—that's how they got where they are today.
Particularly in our college years, we find ourselves doing something for the first time practically all the time. We start new jobs every summer, join academic departments and then change our majors, and are constantly developing new interests. We don't have the privilege of having a map of the system to follow. We haven't been around long enough to know which strings to pull to get help or who to call on to get things done. The first piece of advice in the series addresses this problem. This gem from Dr. Bruce Wheeler, director of the Chancellor's Honors Program, is deceptively simple. According to him, the first place to start is to "find a good advisor."
Don't laugh and turn the page just yet. Of course you have an advisor offered to you by your department who you meet with in order to register for your classes. The person whom Wheeler is referring to will do far more than that. His or her role will fall under two main categories: helping you to move forward and saving you if you fall behind. In the first category, it is critical that your advisor is totally plugged into both your interests and your weaknesses.
Additionally, they need to be professionally involved in your field of interest. You want them to help you make connections, to introduce you to cool people, to suggest readings for you when something is changing at the forefront of your field, and to think of you first whenever a new opportunity opens up. This kind of connection will keep you motivated academically and in touch with what is occurring in your field beyond the classroom. Under the second category, your advisor needs to be the kind of person you make an appointment with when you are in trouble. When your grades are slipping, when your student organization has lost funding, when your internship falls through, or your job prospects aren't what you expected, your advisor should be the first person you tell. We are young people. Though intelligent and driven, we are not invincible. The advisor acts as your safety net, and he or she needs to be someone who will know what strings to pull to get you back on track.
To get where we dream of going, we need someone to be along for the ride who has traversed the path before, who knows the directions by heart, and who is ready to guide us through it. In short, the first step to beating the system is finding someone who has done it before.
— Julia Ross is a sophomore in microbiology and political science. She can be reached at email@example.com.