Stuff I learned during tertiary education I still use

All up, I spent six years at university studying neuroscience (four year Bsc. Hons, one year M.Sc, then one year flailing attempt at a PhD).

I currently don’t do anything to do with brains. But I still learned a good deal of useful and transferable skills. While you learn something, it’s quite common to learn other stuff without even being aware it’s happening.

It’s pretty neat.

So here are the first bits that come to mind. There are probably more.

1. Medicalese

I’m not a doctor. But I know enough about my conditions’ causes and physiological end-points to sound relatively non-fuckwitted in a doctor’s office. It’s good to be able to use the proper descriptive language. It saves time.

And when the ADHD specialist found out I know what a hippocampus is, we had a chat about his research. It was pretty interesting.

2. Write down fucking everything

I have a lot of problems with the way science is taught at university — basically I was left knowing any amount of rote knowledge, which I don’t argue any nicely brought up young neuroscientist should be au fait with, but precious little about actually working in a lab. I would free up instructor time with Coursera-style online lectures (or even just make Anki decks of everything) and put students in the lab as much as possible. Knowing how to keep a lab book and do bench work in theory is great, but it’s like any practical skill — you learn by doing.

Don’t trust your memory. Write it down. And if it strikes you as odd, write it down twice.

3. Nothing is more important than your health.

OK, so I learned this by allowing myself to get incredibly unhealthy in the course of my academic career, but I got the message eventually. The odd all-nighter, caffeine binge or vending machine dinner probably won’t do a healthy young person much harm, but engaging in such fuckery on a chronic basis is deceptively dangerous.

Nothing good ever comes from running on a broken leg: if your health is suffering, then it becomes your priority no matter how slammed you are.

4. Don’t get caught up in procrasturbation

If you’re sad enough to have read the Red Dwarf books as well as watching the show long after it stopped being funny, you’ll remember Rimmer’s exam study habits.

turns out it’s on youtube

Don’t trick yourself into thinking that doing auxiliary things is the same as doing a thing.

For example, I have a pretty well established writing habit (see point 2) However, my blog has been updated about twenty times in six years. What I actually want is a publishing habit — and no matter how much I write, if I don’t actually put anything up for public consumption, it’s not helping me approach my goal.

5. Friends make memories.

This is kind of a synergistic one. Firstly, the stuff I remember from my time at uni is mostly spending time with people — friends, flatmates, coursemates, people from work. Secondly, friends work as a kind of backup for memories. When I hang out with my people, often they will tell stories I didn’t know I’d forgotten.

6. Learn from everything.

OK, I admit it. It’s chagrining that I don’t work in the field I trained (and paid) to be a part of. This is mostly due to my fascinating melange of mental disorders, but also because science — the actual doing of it — is pretty boring. (Plus I couldn't handle killing rats.)Nonetheless, being in that environment of silent discipline marked by the joy of occasionally getting a result which matches the hypothesis (p=0.051, but hey, that’s close enough for a party.) I learned (at least in principle) to be methodical, observant, but above all, patient.

Do your thing. Don’t worry if it’s the right one. You will grow nonetheless.

writing the phrase “do your thing” means this song is now stuck in my head. you’re welcome
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