Advice for current students

I have compiled some of the most important advice that I regularly offer students at all levels: from how to read academic work to the importance of being kind.

Learn how to read academic work quickly, efficiently, and effectively—without reading every single word

As a student at the LSE, you will be required to read a large amount of complex academic writing. This can feel overwhelming at first. Some of the easiest but worst ways to cope include: reading only articles you enjoy, just those you understand, or giving up and not reading altogether. 

Fortunately, there are proven strategies for reading academic work in an efficient and effective way. To read faster and better understand the material, I recommend that students confront the material several times and in different ways:

  1. Ease into the article by reading the abstract and headings/subheadings throughout. This will quickly acquaint you with the general argument, methods, and how piece is structured.
  2. Next, give the piece a more careful read, paying particularly close attention to the introduction and conclusion. At this stage, you will be able to read a bit faster because you already know generally what the author is arguing, and how they will do it. You should also highlight or underline important points. Don't worry if at first you seem to be underlining everything and are unsure of what is most important. You will learn this in a relatively short time from lectures and seminar discussions
  3. Then look back through the reading and take notes on what you highlighted. By taking down notes in your own words, you are engaging in the kind of cognitive processing that helps you both better understand and remember the material. This is also a good opportunity to write down questions or points you want to explore more in seminar.
  4. Finally, look over your notes prior to seminar to remind yourself of the issues you wish to explore. This will give you something to talk about if you are called upon, and generally makes you better prepared to discuss. 

If English is not your native language—and/or you do not have prior training in the social sciences—you will likely encounter words you do not understand. If an unfamiliar word is used once or twice, don't worry too much about looking it up; this can make the reading process very slow.

The same goes for lectures. I know it's tempting to look up every new word you hear in the dictionary. But this can become a bit addicting and usually distracts you from paying attention to the lecture as a whole. Of course, when an unfamiliar word and term is used frequently, you certainly will want to learn its meaning—but during lectures and seminars, it's better to take note of the word and look it up later.

In general, you are better served by focusing on the writing that you do understand (probably a lot!), rather than that which you do not (usually just a little!). You will avoid getting overly frustrated, which can make you dislike the reading altogether—which is not a good thing for your studies.

Understand that technology can both help and hinder learning 

Students usually come into class with at least one, if not multiple electronic devices. While devices like laptops can assist in learning generally, they are often a major distraction in the classroom. 

Scholars researching technology in the classroom have found that students who spend time checking social network cites, emailing, chatting (or shopping!) perform significantly worse on exams than those who do not.

But even more troubling, when students engage in such 'multitasking' on these laptops and smartphones, there is a 'contagion' effect: classmates seated next to them also become distracted—even if they are not 'multitasking' themselves—and also receive lower marks on exams.

So, even if you are still convinced that 'multitasking' in the classroom will not distract you, know that it can distract your classmates. At the very least, for the sake of your classmates, stay focused on the course material and avoid the temptation altogether.

Finally, out of respect for your classmates and lecturers, please do not engage in texting or WhatsApp chats during class (students are never as subtle about it as they think!). It is distracting, disrespectful, and generally rude to those around you.

Be a bit old fashioned, take notes with pen and paper 

Even having learned about the problems associated with using technology in the classroom, some students insist they need to use their laptop to take notes. They correctly point out that they can type notes faster than writing long-hand. But the irony is that having more complete notes does not actually lead to better learning.

Researchers have shown that when students take notes by hand, knowing they are unable to transcribe every word, they think very carefully about what is most important and what is not. In doing so, these students are engaging in a crucial stage of cognitive processing. And so it is these students taking notes by hand the old-fashioned way—though less extensive than their laptop-using classmates—who usually understand the material better.

I offer this information as a recommendation and a suggestion that, in my experience, serves most students well. But in the interest of full disclosure: I cannot ban laptops from class, especially because some students require them to address diagnosed learning difficulties.

Use email appropriately, remember that etiquette still matters

Email is a blessing and a curse: it's so easy to use, but (as a result) we all get too much of it. While email can help students and teachers interact more easily and quickly, it is not always used appropriately and some basic standards of etiquette have begun to slip. Don't worry. I'm not a Luddite. In fact, I prefer email to my work phone. But I do ask that students keep some things when emailing teachers and staff:

  1. When writing emails, err on the side of being more formal and polite. Most of your lecturers are happy to be addressed by their first names, but when first contacting someone in your capacity as an LSE student—especially with those you have not yet and/or at other institutions—it's best to address them by their title and surname. Starting with 'hey/hi/what's up' (or nothing at all), not using 'please' and 'thank you', and having no proper sign-off can suggest a lack of care and respect—even if unintended. 
  2. Just because you can email staff at all hours of the day, any day of the week, does not mean you should! Please be respectful of their time. Avoid messaging on weekends and late at night (unless it is genuinely urgent) and during holidays. Fun fact: France recently made sending and replying emails outside of working hours illegal. That's a social policy worth considering, eh? 
  3. Many, if not most questions students ask staff via email could be easily answered by consulting the course handbook—or through a simple Google search. For instance, in if the link to a reading on electronic reading list is not working, try to solve the situation yourself before emailing staff: a quick search on the library website or Google Scholar is all that's usually needed. This saves everyone time and hassle.
  4. Finally, when your question is more complicated, it is might be better discussed in person; if the question is applicable to the entire class, we might well address it in lecture or seminar.

Get to know your teachers, make use of their office hours, and meet with your academic advisor early and often

During term time, every academic staff member at the LSE holds weekly office hours (what our Department calls 'advice and feedback hours'). Students are welcome to visit any faculty member, irrespective of which department they are in.

I really enjoy these meetings with students. Conversations usually focus on coursework and research projects; these chats are also a great opportunity to get feedback on your progress at times other than scheduled 'formative' assessments.

But I am happy to discuss anything else that's on your mind, including future career plans, adapting to life in London, maintaining a good work/life balance, and taking care of your mental health. As the Department's Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officer, I am open to listening to any thoughts or concerns you have on related matters. For more on EDI at LSE, click here

When you book an appointment online through LSE For You, please don't forget to come (and on time)! Take note of it in your diary or calendar because the LFY system does not send reminders. If you need to cancel, contact me as early as possible; a 'no-show' takes away meeting slots from other student in need, and is disrespectful of your teacher's time.

If you are unable to meet during my regularly scheduled hours, simply send me an email to arrange a mutually agreeable time for us to chat. 

Treat school as a job, be professional in your interactions with staff and students

Given that most students will enter the working world after graduating, it is good practice to treat your time at university as a job itself. As such, you should be professional in the way you approach school and those around you.

Ensure that you come to seminars having done all required readings and prepared to discuss them; it would not be acceptable to come unprepared and be silent at a meeting in the workplace, nor is it in school! 

While attendance in lectures is not technically mandatory, you should not miss this important part of your learning experience. Recent meta-analyses spanning data over 100 years and 28,000 students in the US revealed that attending lectures was the single best predictor of high marks. From the perspective of your teachers, it can be difficult (as well as disappointing) to lecture to a class that is missing half its students.

When meeting with your teachers, always remember to bring a paper and pen (or tablet/laptop) to take note of important insights that come out of the conversation. Even if you have a photographic memory—which is incredibly rare in adults—not taking notes can give others the impression that you are not really interested in or value their advice. 

Be mindful of your mental health and do your best to maintain a good work/life balance

Your time as a student at the LSE will often be intense, difficult, and stressful. And so it is especially important that you do not neglect your mental health. 

If you find it difficult to cope with studies or life, or just generally feel 'down' (especially at times of the year when we have little sunshine), please talk with someone about it.

Having these conversations are never something you should be ashamed of. In the Department of Social Policy we are committed to normalising discussions of mental health—as they should be!

I am happy to serve as a point person and help students begin to talk through some of these issues. While I am not a trained professional in mental health, I can provide you with some coping strategies and direct you towards those at the school who are even better equipped to help you. 

In general, I encourage students to set aside a little time each week to enjoy life outside of school: see a show, go for a walk through the parks or along the Thames, join a sports team, or just schedule time to regularly get together with friends. 

Build positive relationships. Be respectful. And be kind.

One of the best things you can gain from your time in London and at the LSE is a wide and diverse network of friends, classmates, and professors from around the world. The impressions you make, both good and bad, will potentially last forever.

As such, consider how your actions both in and out of school can affect your reputation. Be especially mindful of how social networking and communication tools can amplify small mistakes: we all know of countless examples where bad behaviour on social media has destroyed relationships and careers.

Even in seemingly private WhatsApp groups, messages written on a whim can be misinterpreted, jokes can get out of control, and feelings can be hurt. It is easy to partake in gossip and rumour, but group WhatsApp messages are neither as private nor as temporary as you might think.

As a general rule: don't post something on social media or WhatsApp that you would not feel comfortable telling your classmates and teachers in public. Aim to be remembered as a hardworking, respectful student and classmate, someone we would all want as a lifelong friend and colleague.

In sum, my advice is quite simple: be professional, respectful, and—as Mister Roger's rightly points out—be kind, for that is the real key to ultimate success. 

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There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.
— Fred Rogers, American children's television pioneer and one of my personal heroes