Every other week, the My First Year blog will be sharing stories of faculty so that our freshman students can get to know their professors a bit better and hear some of their advice for new students.
Kate Burmon, Assistant Professor of Criminology
My name is Kate Melody Burmon and this fall marks the beginning of my second year of teaching criminology at Mount Saint Mary College. At the time, if I had been asked what my college years were like, I would have answered that they were hands down the best years of my life. While I’m not that far removed from those days, so many of my life experiences have shaped who I am today that I hesitate to use superlatives. However, I can say that I loved college and that it created opportunities in my social life, academic pursuits, employment, and personal development that I never could have anticipated and served as a foundation for everything that has come since. We use the terms traditional student to denote students who are starting their college career within a year or so of graduating high school, but the reality is that every student is non-traditional in the sense that we each arrive on campus – wherever that campus may be – prepared in some ways and vastly overwhelmed in others.
Arriving at the University of Notre Dame, I found that my very liberal arts-focused, New England private school prepared me spectacularly for the classroom. This is not to say that I excelled in all my classes – I didn’t – but I understood the academic rigor and had the tools to rise to the challenges. My struggles derived more from the social environment. Junior year of high school, I severed my ACL playing soccer mid-way through the fall season. The nine months it took to recover were painful and grueling, but I persevered and was even named captain of the team senior year. The second day of practice, I severed the other ACL and tore the meniscus off the bone, requiring another surgery and year of recovery. It was only years later, after tearing my ACL a third time (this time playing a pick up game of soccer in Peru), did I realize how much the pain and effort affected everything else in my life. (For those wondering, I did eventually learn my lesson and as much as I love the game, I do not play soccer anymore.) Thus, when I started college, I was very much trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted. While I learned enough life lessons in my first year of university to fill a book, I want to share two in particular that served me well in college:
- Time management is critical. Since I could not decide on one extracurricular, I joined the rowing team, a choir, and pursued a few other activities. Notre Dame is a Division 1 school, so crew ran both morning and afternoon practices five days a week and one practice on the weekends. Since I was a double major in anthropology and environmental science, I was taking 17 credit hours. Throw in choir practice two evenings a week and things were pretty crazy. While I handled this grueling schedule first semester, I realized that if I continued to pursue everything, I would not only burn out, but lose out on some of the best parts of college – the spontaneous dance parties, late night snack runs with friends, study groups on the quad, cheering on a friend at a sporting event, etc. Your academics are most important for the foundation of your career, but these moments are the ones you remember. Do not get so overwhelmed that you cannot do well in the classroom unless you sacrifice everything else. If you do start getting overwhelmed, though, ask for help. My chemistry professor ended up starting a weekly study group, as several of us were struggling in his class and asked for help.
- This brings me to my next piece of advice: Meet your professors and learn to start networking. Every professor has worked hard to get where they are and received a fair amount of help along the way. For many of us, we like to pay it forward. Often, people will tell you cultivate relationships with professors because you will need them to write recommendations for you later in your college career. While true, sometimes you cannot foresee the benefits of networking. As an undergraduate, one summer I worked as a research assistant on a dolphin study in Australia, a position I received after meeting the professor running the study at a party. Several years later, I house-sat for that same professor for a summer when interning at the National Geographic Museum in graduate school. The money I saved on housing allowed me to accept that internship. Understandably, initiating a meeting with a professor can seem difficult, but it really does not have to be. At the beginning of term, email all of your professors and ask to set up a quick 15-minute meeting. Professors set out their expectations in their syllabi, which we fully expect you to read in full, so do not ask a question that you should be able to answer yourself. However, every professor has their own style of teaching and skills they think most important. If you do not have specific questions about the class, try asking about what study techniques they have seen be most successful in their classroom or what challenges students seem to struggle with the most.