the one thing I want students to learn every semester

There are times in my classes every semester when I tell my students, “If there’s one thing I want you to learn from this class…”  My one bit of advice started out rather playfully as the life lesson “don’t gamble.” My one piece of advice has grown to six pieces of advice.  I recently added them to the advice to students that I have on my web site.  My advice is to:

  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Start a Roth IRA.
  • Pay your credit card bills in full every month.  Do not live outside of your means, even on a graduate student stipend.
  • Don’t gamble (but entering your office March Madness pool is OK).
  • Don’t play Russian Roulette.
  • Math is your superpower! Use it to make the world a better place. And never forget that with great power, comes great responsibility.

What else would you add?

10 responses to “the one thing I want students to learn every semester

  • Jon Becker

    Always say “please” and “thank you” where appropriate. 🙂

  • iamreddave

    What is the optimal amount of sunscreen?

    Using sunscreen
    1. reduces chance of sunburn that can cause skin cancer.
    2. Costs money
    3. Contains carcinogens
    4. Reduces Vitamin D creation which could increase the risk of skin cancer

    I do not know what the trade offs here amount to? But seeing as you are advising students to wear sunscreen you might have a better handle on it.

  • Laura

    Excellent suggestion, Jon!

  • Laura

    Dave, I haven’t done a cost-benefit for sunscreen, but as someone who has freckles, the benefits outweigh any downsides. I also advocate wide-brimmed hats, but that hasn’t caught on yet.

  • Paul Rubin

    Don’t be afraid to experiment (except with controlled substances).

  • Dimitris Leventeas

    * Say why? (science)
    * Then say how? (engineering)

  • John F. Opie

    Long time lurker…

    Two items, related:

    1) Marry well.

    2) Divorce ruins you, financially (let alone emotionally!): if at *all* possible, work things out.

  • Nathan

    take “wear sunscreen” off the list. Theres a thousands studies that say the chemicals in the stuff is more toxic than the suns rays. Moderate your time in direct sunlight for optimal health.

  • Ryan Buchan

    Great advice! #5 seems a bit redundant after #4, but it’s funny and nonetheless true.

    I have to take issue with everyone spreading rumors about the “dangers” of sunscreen. Citing wikipedia or “thousands” of unnamed studies is irresponsible as it may unfairly deter people from protecting themselves from a known carcinogen. Both the American Academy of Dermatology and the FDA recommend the use of broad-spectrum UVA protection in the form of physical blockers or sunscreen.

    There have been many studies to test the potential health consequences of using sunscreen but all have failed to prove that using sunscreen is harmful to our health. (If any sunscreen critics here know of one that is provocative, please link to it) What IS well understood is that the UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer. So you need to protect yourselves. If you don’t trust chemical blockers, use sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. If you don’t trust nanoparticles, protect yourself with sun-protective clothing or stay out of the sun.

    The other myth that I’d like to dispel is that you require sunlight to obtain Vitamin D. You don’t. You can obtain all of the vitamin D you require without any of the risk of skin cancer through dietary supplementation. If you choose to ignore this (and Laura’s advice about gambling) and insist of acquiring your Vit D through sun exposure, you should limit your exposure to less than 30 min, 2x/week. Which, researchers agree, is sufficient to generate all of the vitamin D your body requires.

  • Laura McLay

    Thanks Ryan! I agree that #5 is a bit redundant. I include it, since I do an example about Russian Roulette in one of my classes. It’s a lot of fun if you like dark humor, so I like to come back to it at the end of the semester. Thanks for your information about sunscreen too.

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