The Envelope, Please: Prepping Your Brain for College

The 511 / April 5, 2021

For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes: 

  • a handful of paragraphs about health tech or some other science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Welcome to the nine people who started following my blog these past couple of weeks. Please pardon the late delivery of this one. Someone turned on the client-work spigot, and I’ve been keeping delightfully busy.

The fully fraught first-year experience

In my years as a college dean, I got wise to a strange, right-there-in-front-of-G*d-and-everybody secret about the end-of-summer drop of kids by parents at residential colleges: outside of joining the armed forces, this was likely to be the most disruptive life transition for these kids ahead of adoption or reproduction.

When else will these late adolescents have the opportunity to pack up, say, eight boxes of their belongings, move anywhere from 30 to 3000 miles away, and toss their lot in with 100s, even 1000s, of strangers? Never, I figure — unless college doesn’t work out, and you end up enlisting.

This year, this rite of passage is bound to be even more disruptive. In my senior year of high school, once school let out, my friends and I kept as busy as possible doing nothing much at all, because we were much more wrapped in each other’s lives than our family’s lives. With 16 months’ worth of adolescent energies (you know the ones) hemmed in and pent up, this year’s first-year experience is bound to be fraught, fabulous, and full of epic hi-jinks. I wish the parents, my former fellow deans, and the class of 2025 the best of luck.

With thousands of students arriving, colleges in Connecticut are hustling  to get students tested for COVID-19 - Hartford Courant
Don’t forget the mini-fridge.

The technology angle today is email, and Cal Newport’s most recent book: A World Without Email. I’m not going to TLDR this one for you, since nearly everything Newport writes is worthy of your undivided attention. And, in fact, that’s what Newport invites you to recover: your undivided attention. Some of my favorite of Newport’s ideas are on college, time management, sanity, and success. In fact, I think his How to Win at College should be titled “How to Avoid Strategies of Self-defeat at College,” but there’s no wonder why the publishers opted for the former.

Here’s the lowdown on College: 75 chapters in 189 pages. These chapters are insufferably practical, and include the kernels of ideas for later books. The two-page “Study in Fifty-Minute Chunks” morphed into Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. His counsel here is scientifically sound:

“periods of roughly fifty minutes, divided by short breaks, will maximize the amount of material you can successfully learn and remember in a given sitting.”

In “Build Study Systems,” Newport offers another bit of empirically testing advice: subject your study system to empirical testing. I heard the following response from a super majority of the college students I polled: “I write my best papers between midnight and five a.m.”

“I don’t doubt that,” I’d reply. “But tell me: do you write all of your papers between midnight and five a.m.” After they’d respond with a shrug and break eye contact, I’d say, “Please: test the null hypothesis. Try writing your next paper between 8am and noon.”

5(1)1 — On learning

“You suddenly understand something you’ve
understood all your life, but in a new way.”

Doris lessing
51(1) — In rotation: The Replacements’ “Can’t Hardly Wait”

Yasi Salek, host of the brilliant BandSplain podcast, talked for hours with Mats’ historian Bob Mehr, and this two-episode, um, episode is an absolute treat. Ms. Salek’s great, and Bob knows just about everything about one of my all-time fave units. (You can even find a pic of me in another big book about the Replacements. No, I can’t remember the title.)

Can’t Hardly Wait” is the gem that closes Pleased to Meet Me (1987), and leaves me feeling wistful for the blazing hot cloudless days of summers in the San Joaquin Valley. And, for the nutters, check out Spotify for the Jimmy Iovine mix of this track: the difference is subtle, but worth hearing at least once.

The Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me cover.jpg
Not the image the title conveys, but that’s a tale for another day (or Google).

Please share this post with someone you know who’s interested in health, leadership, and music.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, let’s connect, just in case it proves enduring.

If you want to talk about branding and marketing for start-ups and medtech, or about a newsletter that needs more pop, drop me a line over here.


Sources: see links embedded above.

# # #


Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: