MATHEMATICS UNDERGRADUATE
STUDENT HANDBOOK
Administration

Tips for Success

Print the following advice and read it often:

(1) Treat every course seriously. Even if in high school or community college you were able to do minimal work and still receive good grades, do not assume that the same will be true in university. Although standards differ among faculty members, you should plan on working hard in every class. Be mindful that the quarter system allows a short time to turn around your performance if you get off to a bad start.

(2) Take on only a workload that you can handle. If you are a full-time student, it is expected that you treat classwork like a full-time job with respect to the time needed to prepare for and attend lectures, discussions, and laboratory sessions, complete homework and other assignments, and study for tests. At UC San Diego, a full-time student should complete no less than 36 units of coursework per academic year (source: Academic Senate Regulation 516 “Minimum Progress”). Trying to manage a much greater set of responsibilities than you are capable of leads to poor grades and magnified stress. Department advisors can help you assess your situation; college advisors can also help with this,and tell you what options are possible if you run into academic probation or disqualification.

(3) Stop being distracted; use of time. Paying attention in class will pay off later when doing homework. Sitting near the front of the room can help with this. Putting away personal electronic equipment while in class, doing homework, and studying will increase the value of the time spent on those activities. Unless there really is a potential emergency for which you need to be repeatedly looking at communication devices/sites, consider how much time you spend each day being distracted by them.

Excessive time devoted to frivolity could be better spent daily learning about the future career that you desire and how to prepare yourself for it. Do not assume that you will instantly be ready for the working world or graduate school when you finish undergraduate school. Coursework does not comprise the only preparation needed for your post-baccalaureate life. If you want to work in industry or research where certain software packages and computer languages are used, have you been learning those software and languages now? Your knowledge of them need not be limited to what you learned in a class. Do you regularly read academic journals that discuss applications of your major’s subject matter or current research? Do you stay informed on current world events by reading from multiple reputable sources? If not already, there may come a time (such as when you start interviewing for career positions) when you find yourself in social situations where being able to converse intelligently about topics other than just your major will be of benefit.

(4) Take notes in class and use them. Take detailed notes in all classes, and then use the notes. If you re-write your notes for increased learning, not merely to have a neater copy, then you should keep your mind on the task. Think about what you are re-writing. Can you explain each sentence and the main points to someone else? When you later study the notes (say, in preparation for a test), the mere act of repeatedly re-reading is unlikely to boost learning to a great extent. Instead, try re-reading a sentence or two, thinking about the meaning of what you read and how it relates to other knowledge, explaining it to a peer or aloud if alone, and using it in homework exercises.

(5) Responsibly do homework and attend discussion sessions. A weekly discussion is a component of many course. Students are expected to attend these discussions in addition to lectures. (Graduate student teaching assistants are normally assigned to conduct discussions.) These meetings may be used to answer homework and other questions and/or for reinforced learning of lecture topics.

Going to the discussion merely so that you can write down solutions to homework problems, rather than doing your best to complete the homework in advance, is a bad idea. Most homework problems test your understanding of theory or require you to put theory into practical action. If you find homework in university to be tough, that is because it is supposed to be. Your objective should be to thoroughly master the concepts, and that will not necessarily be easy. You can not with certainty say that you understand an idea that you have never put into practice in various ways. Responsibly do the homework as soon as possible following a lecture and after you have reviewed the concepts learned in class. Getting the correct answers to exercises is good, but that alone does not guarantee mastery of topics. A way to check the extent to which you have learned something is trying to explain it to another person.

Suppose you find an example problem that looks like a homework exercise. Little is different in the two problems except maybe the constants. You do the calculations, check the back of the book, find that your answer is a match, and then move on to the next problem. Maybe you will earn credit for having the correct answer, but what did you learn? Probably you learned nothing, because you merely emulated existing work without seeking to understand it. This habit will hurt you during tests when there are no examples to review and emulate, no back of the book to check for the answer, and no one to ask for help. Studying examples should not replace learning underlying concepts. If you learn a concept, do several problems, and think about what you have learned from each and what you would do if a problem was more challenging, you should find  yourself better prepared for tests.

(6) Monitor your health. A balanced diet, adequate quality sleep each night, daily exercise, positive relationships, and reduced stress are important to personal well-being. Maintaining every one of those things perfectly is difficult, but do your best to not neglect them. Go to https://students.ucsd.edu/well-being/index.html for a range of relevant health information and links to offices such as UC San Diego’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS; 858.534.3755, 24 hours per day) and Student Health Services (858.534.3300). CAPS provides brief individual, couples, and group counseling and workshops as well as referrals off campus for longer term mental health needs.

If none of the on-campus offices or services seem to fit your situation, and you are unsure who to turn to for help, contact advisors at your college or your department. Young adulthood is a time when it is particularly easy to deceive oneself by ignoring signs of problems that are detrimentally impacting health. Some problems may feel controllable at the moment, but can magnify into something unmanageable in the future. This is why it is crucial to get help from professionals when a problem surfaces. In emergencies, you can reach Campus Police at 858.534.HELP (4357) or dial 911 from any campus telephone.

If you are concerned about the health of another student in a non-emergency situation, please contact a supervisor or advisor at your college or department.

(7) Make use of office hours. Faculty members and teaching assistants hold office hours for the benefit of students, and yet only a small percentage of students ever attend. Office hours are good opportunities to talk about anything pertinent to a course or other relevant topics. They can be used to get advice on careers and/or graduate school and generally for learning experiences that might not be feasible during class time. If the listed office hours for a faculty member or teaching assistant are impossible for you to attend, you can ask if it is possible to schedule a meeting at a different time. When attending office hours, be mindful that other students in the room may also want to talk, and/or others may be waiting outside the office for you to finish before they enter.

To efficiently make the most of office hours, write your questions in advance and bring them with you. If there is a specific problem that you need help with, write it down in advance and be prepared to show what effort you made to solve it; that will be more impressive than simply asking the professor or teaching assistant to solve it. If there is written content (theory, for example) that has you confused, write down enough about it in advance so that you can retrieve the information from its source during office hours. It is easy to get into a pattern during office hours where you ask for help with a homework problem, and the problem is solved for you. You might then write down the solution and feel good about having it completed, but did you learn anything? Do you feel equipped to solve a similar or more challenging problem without use of notes or the textbook? If not, then your feeling of delight over having the solution to a homework problem will be short-lived and meaningless. Homework is supposed to challenge your thinking and help prepare you for tests, other work in the current course, and overall contribute to the learning needed for future courses. It is up to you to ensure that the purpose of homework is being served.

If you want to make the most of office hours, do not just request that problems to be solved for you, but ask if you can solve problems at the board. Often that will be possible if only you and another person are asking for help. With a larger group of students wanting help, you can instead ask follow-up questions. For example, after thanking the professor or teaching assistant for solving a problem, you could say, “To check whether I understand what we were supposed to learn from that problem, may I briefly explain it back to you?” or you could propose how to handle a related problem if some of the given information and/or instructions were changed, and ask whether you are correct.

(8) Establish and maintain professional relationships/comportment. Most people who earn baccalaureate degrees stay at university for two to four years and then go on with their professional and personal lives. Hopefully, your years on campus will be memorable while accepting that some tough times are normal. Persistent questions that you ought to thinking of in these years are, Am I making the most of my time on campus? and Will there be something that I later regret doing or not doing?

Among the things that are easy to give least attention to is the relationships that you create while here. One day you will no longer be a student. Understandably, you are probably looking forward to that, because it will be matched by your having earned a degree. However, it is good to take from your time here not just a degree, but relationships. It is up to you to create meaningful professional relationships with faculty and staff members. Let them see your range of positive characteristics. Be professional in the ways that you present yourself, such as how you address people, your vocabulary, getting to the point without use of fillers, and so on. Rid yourself of bad habits such as tardiness or failure to responsibly do as instructed. If you give your word to do something, always follow through. Come to meetings prepared. Always have at least two pens and a notepad with you; take notes when you meet with people instead of assuming that you will remember everything. Be ambitious, but modest. Continually seek to improve yourself. Show genuine interest in others.

Thinking ahead to your post-baccalaureate life, professional relationships will be paramount, and one can never have too many good ones. There may be times when you need advice or encouragement, or you need to hire someone, or you need a job. A classmate who you know right now might be helpful in one of those capacities. If other students find you to be dependable, honest, discerning, and driven to succeed in all that you do, they may see you as someone they would want to interact with in the future. Consider exchanging contact information and periodically staying in touch from here onward.

(9) Plan for your future. Your primary objective in being matriculated at UC San Diego should be to earn a baccalaureate degree. Yet, the value of that degree upon graduation will be influenced by the specifics of what you accomplish in your undergraduate years. It is not enough to just take the required courses. You should be performing excellently in them and getting to know your faculty members and teaching assistants.

You should be finding out what knowledge and skills are important to employers in your target career. Suppose a certain programming language is common in your field of interest, and you took a course where the language was used. You cannot expect to be proficient in a language that you only used in a single-quarter course. Make more use of the language on your own, in conjunction with future courses, by offering to work with a faculty member, and so on. Each valued new skill that you learn and make good use of now can be very helpful when you are ready to apply for jobs or graduate school.