Today is the first day of registration for new students coming to the National College of Ireland. For most, it is their first experience of College - no doubt there will be mixed emotions: excitement, anticipation, meeting new people, bewilderment at the registration process, perhaps even some fear of what lies ahead, or even terror at the prospect of further studies.
Last year I posted a piece on "Climbing a mountain - reflections on Croagh Patrick and going to College" where I compared going to College to my experience of ascending and descending Croagh Patrick mountain in Co Mayo. I think the piece is as valid for me today as it was last year, and might be worthwhile reading again.
As the new academic year starts the thought has struck me about what is was like for me back in October 1978 when I first went to Trinity for registration. I had practically no advice and walked into Trinity on the first day with absolutely no idea about what to expect. I remember being very nervous, a country boy in a big city, and having the feeling that I was the only student in the place who had no idea what was going on. Everybody else seemed to know where they were going, and it looked to me as if they had all made instant friends.
They say that going to College will be the best days of your life - so get ready!
College is everything that you have heard about it and more. There are two main things that you will do while in College - study, and live.
First - the study bit. You have arrived in Trinity to study Natural Sciences, but you really have no real idea what it is - all you know is that you liked science in school. You have a choice of subjects - choose them carefully. You are thinking about doing Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Maths/Stats - I think you should choose Geography instead of Physics. You got an honours C in Geography, but only a pass C in Physics in your Leaving Cert - don't you think that you are making the wrong choice? But you want to do Biochemistry - do you know what this is? Find out - it's harder than you think, you will fail Physics in 2nd year (which I did and had to repeat).
Go to your classes, and keep up with your labs. Don't be afraid to ask the Lab Assistants a question or get them to show you how to do the experiments - because it is likely that you will not know what's going on. Nobody prepares you for each lab - you have to do the work yourself. The Biology you will like, but Organic Chemistry awaits and it will be confusing to you. Don't just assume that it will all make sense later - you need to work it out. Studying Science means a lot of classes and labs - pay attention instead of dreaming about Elizabeth and Fiona who will be near you in the labs.
Take notes, and learn to get good at it. Computers, iPads, and iPhones will not be around for 30 years, so you will have to take your own notes. The best thing to do is write down everything the Lecturer says - and I mean everything. You will not get any printouts, so everything you will learn will come from your notes. You need to get good at this because studies show that you retain only 5% of what you hear in a lecture - this will not be enough to pass your exams.
Secondly - you will live! You will spend your first year in digs in Terenure, you have no choice in this (watch out for the gay landlord!). But you can enjoy yourself. You will join the Gaelic Football club - that's good, but what about a club that has more women? Or a Society? Don't just join and not go to anything. Fresher's Week is exciting, and all the stalls in Front Square begging you to join the different clubs and societies will make it seem that College is about having fun and nothing more. SCUBA diving would be good to do, as well as join some of the societies. This is the best way I know for a first year to get involved in College - the societies welcome new members like you. So have a good look at all the stalls and make an effort to participate.
There are women in College. You don't know this now, but you will meet your beautiful future wife at the end of first year. You also don't know now that you will not go to the pub with your classmates until the end of first term, and that you will not go to parties because you think that they are for more sophisticated people than you. I'm not advising you to be a party animal, but you have to let loose and overcome your shyness. Oh - and join the Film Society instead of going to the cinema all the time on your own. Films are free, good fun (you might see some adult content!), and you might also meet people too.
First year is the toughest - there are only two people (Dorothy S. and Mark R.) from your class in school who will be in Trinity, so you are going to have to make friends by yourself. You don't know this now, but you will graduate from Trinity in 1988 with a PhD - but the road ahead will be a tough one, especially first and second year, which you will find very hard going.
The biggest thing that you must overcome are the thoughts that will go through your mind. You will think that everybody is having a better time than you, they are - unless you front up! You will think that Science is easy - it's not. You will think that you don't have to do much work throughout the year - this is not so. You will think that you will pass your exams no problem because you haven't failed any up until now - how wrong you will be. You will think that nobody else is doing any work, so why should you? Ignore the tossers who say that they haven't done any work - they'll be in Germany in the summer working on the buildings earning loads of marks, while you will be studying for repeats. You will think that every bloke has a girlfriend and that every girl has a boyfriend, and that you are the only one who doesn't - get real. You will think that you are the only virgin in your class - you are not (oops - didn't mean to have that confession in here!). You will think that everyone is doing drugs and having lots of sex - they are not. You will think that all your classmates are going to parties every night - they are not. You will think that as you are a first year that you are a lowlife - you most certainly are not. You will think that you are uncool - you will be if you think all of the above.
Finally and most definitely, ignore the academic (Dr S) who will tell you at the end of 1st year that you should leave College and that you are unsuited to Science (I had passed the repeat exams by compensation). He will tell you that the advice from all of your examiners (and him) is that you should give up College, and try something else. He will tell you that you will never graduate and that you are wasting your time as well as Trinity's. In short - he will tell you that you are a failure, you must not agree with him.