Mona Ying Reeves Interview – Student Success Series

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The Successful Student Series is an assortment of interviews with students who have worked hard and earned degrees from top universities. The purpose of this series is to learn about their study habits, college survival skills, and making the transition from college to career.

Featured Student:

Mona Ying Reeves

Undergraduate Degree/School:
UC Berkeley
BA in Architecture

Graduate Degrees/Schools:
Harvard University, Graduate School of Design
Masters of Architecture

[High School Questions]

How would you describe your study habits in high school?
I was diligent about studying, although a procrastinator too. On school nights, if I had 6 hours of free time to study, I would use all 6 hours while multitasking with other things such as talking on the phone or watching TV. But if I only had 1 hour, I would still somehow get it done. I was fortunate enough to go to a school where studying was a valued part of the culture, so not studying was not an option.

What types of extracurricular activities did you choose – and why?
I was part of a lot of clubs and tended to be involved with ones that had some sort of volunteer or service component. It was fun making new friends while also feeling like what you did helped make the world a little bit better.

Tell me about any goal planning or organizational strategies you used to get everything accomplished.
I tried to see the big picture in what needed to get done, whether it be writing a research paper or meeting deadlines for college admissions. Once you break down a goal into smaller, achieveable tasks within a timeline, then projects are a lot more manageable.

If you could go back in time – and redo high school all over again – would you do anything differently? And why?
I dont really regret anything about high school, however if I was to do it again knowing what I know now, I would leverage my youth to learn about the world more. A lot of adults are happy to share information about career and life, and all a student needs to do is just ask.

What practical tips do you have for high school students who want to attend a top college?
Be yourself and learn to communicate that with others. Ive met a lot of students who struggle because they are looking for someone else to tell them what to do. Top colleges look for independent thinkers who have something to offer to the greater society.

[College Questions]

What was the transition from high school to college like for you?
Fun and scary, all rolled into one.

How did you decide on a college major?
I had picked my major (architecture) back in high school because I was good in math and wanted to do something creative. While in college, I actually took as many courses outside of my major as possible, just to be sure.

How did you balance your academic life with social activities?
My program was centered around the design studio so I made sure all my free time in the evenings was spent there because I work best at night. Most students in my program did the same, so it was actually a very social situation to be in.

Did you take any internships in college – if so – what types?
Yes. I did one for the local merchant association and another during the summer before my final semester. That actually transitioned into a fulltime job upon graduation.

At what point were you thinking about graduate school – and did you know what program you wanted to attend?
I had a pretty good idea that I would be going to graduate school when I chose the college I would attend. By choosing a four-year program in architecture (vs. five), I knew that I would supplement with a 2 year masters program in order to meet the standard of my profession.

Any tips for college students planning on attending graduate school?
Yes, take all your exams for graduate school while you are still in college. While it may seem like an extra workload, your test-taking skills are probably at its best as opposed to when youve been out in the workforce for a year or more.

Did you take time off between college and grad school?
Yes, I took a year and a half off to work in my profession before pursuing additional studies in it.

[Graduate School Questions]

What was the application process like applying to your grad program?
My grad school application process was very much like applying for college, except with more emphasis placed on a portfolio. Unlike college, you have a body of work to show already for grad school, so the challenge is to communicate it succinctly and in line with what you want to study.

Why do you think you were a good applicant to the grad program you applied to?
I applied to 3 grad schools and to my surprise, got into all 3. I think I was a good applicant because I had visited each school beforehand and was able to tailor my application to each.

Do you have any recommendations for students planning on going to grad school?
Research, research, research. Visit the school and talk to students in the same program. Also, ask for informational interviews from employers you may want to work for one day. Find out whether a particular grad school or program is even desirable from their perspective.

Aside from the academics, what was the biggest benefit of grad school for you?
Grad school was all about giving myself the time to learn how I work best by having a safe, encouraging environment to test ideas out in.

[Career Path Questions]

What was your transition like form grad school to your career?
Grad school is a microcosm of the professional world. Its all connected.

Any recommendations for college grads making the transition to their first real job?
Use the job as an opportunity to learn about what you enjoy and want to do.

Any other advice for college grads getting their first job?
Keep your mind open and remember that interviews go both ways.

Paul Fang Interview – Successful Student Series

The Successful Student Series is an assortment of interviews with students who have worked hard and earned degrees from top universities. The purpose of this series is to learn about their study habits, college survival skills, and making the transition from college to career.

Featured Student:

Paul Fang

Undergraduate Degree/School:
UC Berkeley
BA in Molecular & Cell Biology (Genetics)

Graduate Degrees/Schools:
Harvard University
Masters of Education

Arizona State University
Masters of Natural Science (Physics)

[High School Questions]

How would you describe your study habits in high school?
My father instilled in me the idea of work first, then play. This has been beneficial throughout my academic career.

What types of extracurricular activities did you choose – and why?
I was on the swim team for 3 years. I also did choir, journalism, speech, and Academic Decathlon. I knew colleges wanted well rounded students.

Tell me about any goal planning or organizational strategies you used to get everything accomplished.
I try to make the best use of my time. In school, many teachers would give us time in class to start our homework. I would always take advantage of that time to get my work done.

If you could go back in time – and redo high school all over again – would you do anything different? And why?
I would try to do some internships or shadow someone in their job. This would have given me a better idea of what I wanted to do in the future.

What practical tips do you have for high school students who want to attend a top college?
Find out what the colleges are looking for. Visit the schools and drop by the admissions department. Sometimes they can give you some insight as to why some applicants were accepted and some were not.

[College]

What was the transition from high school to college like for you?
I think I was already a disciplined student in high school. So I didnt have too much problem with slacking off which a lot of first year students have because their parents arent around to tell them what to do.

How did you decide on a college major?
The Gourman Report is a book that lists the top majors of universities. Even a great school has good and mediocre programs. So I looked through the list of good programs at my school and picked one that interested me the most.

How did you balance your academic life with social activities?
I lived in the dorms and spent a lot of time with my dormmates. I was also active in my churchs fellowship group.

Did you take any internships in college – if so – what types?
I did research in a genetics lab and also did research for an education professor. Both experiences were very worthwhile.

At what point were you thinking about graduate school – and did you know what program you wanted to attend?
I knew I wanted to become a teacher around my junior/senior year. So then I started looking at graduate programs in education. I also talked to other students who had already been accepted into these programs.

Any tips for college students planning on attending graduate school?
Visit the school, talk to professors, and drop by the admissions department for that program.

[Graduate School]

What was the application process like applying to your grad program?
I submitted my academic records and took the GRE. I also visited the schools that I was seriously considering. At a couple schools, I made appointments with professors to chat with them about their program. Sometimes these professors are the same ones on the admissions committee, so if they know you, you have an advantage.

Do you have any recommendations for students planning on going to grad school?
Talk to the students in that program and in that field. Ask them what they like and dont like about it.

Aside from the academics, what was the biggest benefit of grad school for you?
Meeting people who come from all different kinds of background. It allowed me to discuss and debate various issues.

[Career Path]

Any recommendations for college grads making the transition to their first real job?
Talk to people in the profession and ask them what they like and dont like about their job. Ask them what skills and abilities are needed to succeed in that profession. Learn social etiquette and professionalism. Employers want people who will show up on time, are competent, and dress appropriately.

Any other advice for college grads getting their first job?
Dont expect to start at the top. You may have to start at an entry level job. But be persistent and work hard.

Cal Newport Interview – Student Success Series

The Successful Student Series is an assortment of interviews with students who have worked hard and earned degrees from top universities. The purpose of this series is to learn about their study habits, college survival skills, and making the transition from college to career.

Featured Student:

Cal Newport

Undergraduate Degree/School:

Computer Science, Dartmouth College

Graduate Degree/School:

Working on PhD, MIT

The interview follows:

What was the transition from high school to college like for you?

I had pretty terrible study habits in high school. I tried to be organized when I first arrived at college, but had no idea what I was doing, so ended up exploring all sorts of craziness from mind maps to speed reading.

How did you decide on a college major?

Somewhat randomly. Seemed interesting to me.

How did you balance your academic life with social activities?

Im allergic to overload. I try to take balanced course loads and keep my extracurriculars both light and flexible.

Did you take any internships in college – if so – what types?

I spent a lot of my off terms working on undergraduate research projects.

At what point were you thinking about graduate school – and did you know what program you wanted to attend?

This all happened my senior year. I decided that might be a cool lifestyle. I applied to some grad schools, wrote a book, and applied to Microsoft. In the end I choose MIT because I thought it would be the most fun.

Any tips for college students planning on attending graduate school?

Only two things matter: your grades and your undergraduate research. If you want to go to a top school, drop your other activities, drop your double-major, and focus on becoming a departmental standout. The admissions committee could care less how many months you spent building houses in costa rica.

Did you take time off between college and grad school?

No. Some students get burned out. I find this stuff fun.

[Graduate School]

What was the application process like applying to your grad program?

You write some essays, get some recommendations, send in transcripts. I took the GRE at some point. Its all pretty low key.

Why do you think you were a good applicant to the grad program you applied to?

I had good grades. Good recommendations. And a good research resume.

Do you have any recommendations for students planning on going to grad school?

Focus on research, research, research. And do well in your major classes.

What do you plan on doing after your PhD?

The professor life is the one for me.

Can you tell me about your two books and how they can help students?

I was tired of seeing student guides that were written with the goal of surviving college. They seemed to have a lot of filler about things like packing lists and credit cards, and the tone sounded too much like a cheesy motivational speaker.

My goal was to write college guides that were more like business books: direct, unabashedly focused on doing really well, and based on real experience.

For my first book, HOW TO WIN AT COLLEGE, I interviewed award-winning students (Rhodes Scholars, Marshal Scholars, etc.) from across the country. I distilled their wisdom into 75 pithy rules.

For my second book, HOW TO BECOME A STRAIGHT-A STUDENT, I interviewed 50 straight-A students from a variety of schools. I honed in on how they studied and produced the first detailed look at the academic habits of *real* students how do *real* well. It busted a lot of myths. The most surprising observation is that these students studied less time than many of their peers.

Are you writing another book right now? Can you tell us about it?

Im finishing up a proposal for my third book. Whether or not my publisher picks it up is another issue. (Selling books is tough, the conditions and the idea and the timing all have to be just right.)

The most Ill say about it now is that it less tactical like my previous two books and more big picture. It deals with issues of stress and burnout, and how to build a successful student career thats also fun to live.

Thanks so much, Cal!

Check out Study Hacks – to learn more about Cal and to read his student productivity blog.

David Rakoff: On College, Writing, and Sleeping Around

I was very honored this week to interview one of my favorite writers – David Rakoff.

Rakoff is a regular contributor to NPRs This American Life, and writes for New York Times Magazine, Outside, GQ, Vogue, Salon, Seed, The New York Observer, Wired, et al. Hes also received the Lambda Book Award twice.

His books Fraud and Dont Get Too Comfortable have been my companions for many years, and I highly recommend you check them out when you get a chance.

The interview follows . . .

[About College]

Q. What type of student were you at Columbia University?

A: Its very hard to remember. I wasnt super academically distinguished. No Greek letters follow my degree. I was an East Asian Studies major, which meant learning Japanese (for someone of European extraction, learning an Asian language is a great exercise in being very, very bad at and unfamiliar with something. Its been an invaluable lesson for me as a writer, where every new piece puts me right back in that spot). What elseI did fun theater, wore a long black thrift store coat, and smoked like a dream of adolescent alienation. It was an urban paradise.

Q. What did you like/dislike about college?

A: The entire process of picking a major was more about putting aside many things that interested me as opposed to choosing one true and great love. I had tried to design a major wherein I might learn four or five languages, but it was the early 80s, before students were customers, before universities catered in that way, and before Igreen Canadianknew the ropes. I regret not having really good French, Italian, Spanish, and German under my belt, for example.

If you could redo college, would you do anything differently?

A: See above. Id also exercise more and sleep around a lot.

What advice do you have for current college students?

A: Exercise and sleep around a lot. And remember two things: youth is the least interesting thing you have to bring to the table, namely, dont concentrate so much on being a prodigy. And There Is No Map (this is just a sidebar to the first rule. Its largely unimportant what age by which you achieve most things. Try not to measure yourself against the inevitable hot shots. Theres no profit in it).

[About Writing]

What is your writing process like?

A: Oy vey. The writings not going great right now. I do make it a point to stay home all day every day, but it feels like I manage about ten minutes of writing a day, if that. There are some snacks and naps and e-mails and phone calls thrown in there, too. Plus art projects. Lots of duct tape wallets of late.

Do you have any strategies for staying productive and making your deadlines?

A: The perceived disapproval and disappointment of others in me is the most effective goad for my productivity.

You describe writing as pulling teeth out of your dick. What drives you to keep going?

A: I love having written. In the almost boozy afterglow of retrospect, I almost dont remember the jagged molars journey up my urethra.

When do you know/feel your essay is finished for publication?

A: A lot of it has to do with deadline. The actual time when something is due and necessarily has to leave my desk. But theres also a point where youve written rewritten, walked away to let the gluten rest and then done yet another pass when you know something is finished. Or as finished as you can make it in that time. It turns out to be not quite as mysterious a moment as you might think.

Can you tell us about your next book?

A: To reiterate, Oy Vey. Well, its ostensible arc is a defense of melancholy, pessimism, anxiety, and all of the emotions that have been tarred with the brush of negativity and therefore stricken from the larger cultural conversation. I hope to argue (in a highly discursive, collage-like and possibly unintelligent manner) that, while these emotions may well be hedonically less pleasant, they remain necessary and even beautiful at times.

Learn more about David Rakoff: