I have previously described some inherent conditions related to PhD studies. It turns out that there is much to be said about undergraduate studies also.
I remember vividly in the first semester physics courses having one of the professor describing us the “truth” about undergraduate studies, in particular in physics. Why physics? Because this is one of these undergrad program where you are expected to do graduate studies to increase you chance of employment (relative to an engineering degree)
So here it goes:
- If you do and learn everything in a course curriculum, you will not (“unfortunately” – professor own word here) get an A. “A” denote some mastery, that you went significantly beyond the average of the class.
- In physics, students tend to be the top 10% students of the previous level. These are students used to be the best of their class/level. Be prepared because some will be first and some will now be last. This can be difficult to deal with.
- Grades are not the central point of undergrad studies. That being said have the best possible grades because there is a minimum to even be considered for graduate studies, the competition is strong and scholarships are based for a large fraction on grade average.
- It is not because you had the best undergrad grade average that you will have stellar graduate studies. There is some correlation but also a large dispersion in the data points (R2 is not 0.99999!). We do encounter students that are extremely good at answering exam questions but really bad at finding, asking and answering relevant research questions themselves.
- Invest in a time and project management course.
- Take one (or more!) computer programming class. A real one, such as C++ or Python. This will be a skill that will open you numerous doors in science and technical related job areas. It will greatly facilitate your graduate studies (at least in sciences it does!). Matlab, Maple and Mathematica can be useful but this is not computer coding.
- Learn to do real quality figures. Not the Excel one. Many free options here, which includes GNUPlot, XMGrace (there is also a QtGrace) and others.
- If you think you will continue to grad studies, learn LaTeX and try to use Zotero for literature/PDF managements.
- Take initiatives, be proactive.
- Many professors, research labs, research hospitals and industries take undergrad students as summer research intern. Not only will you learn new tricks and build your network (and CV), but this will help you in deciding what to do after graduating.
- As with any thing in life, what you get out is linked to how much effort you put in. As a thesis advisor, the more a student is involved, work hard and is proactive, the more I feel I need to keep up on my side and even push further that student. Once in while a student come to my office and tells me, you seem to ask more of me (or something similar), my reply is always: what does that tells you?
- Nurture the relationship with your classmate. Your first teaching experience is going to be among yourselves, doing homework in groups, one member explaining some part to another and so on. It should not be one sided but in many situations your colleagues are likely to more on the same level as you in term of what you do and do not understand. However, it should never prevent you from asking the professor, which you should do as needed!
- Top rule: whatever you do, have fun!