I arrived for my first week at university following an eight-hour car drive with several school-mates. I recall my luggage and bicycle had been dispatched from the Cambridge railway station to Palmerston North several weeks earlier.
The second day of lectures was long. The day commenced with an applied microbiology lab at 8 a.m. and a biochemistry lab that concluded at 6 p.m. An engineering laboratory concluded the week which required a further five to six hours of Saturday to write up. Fortunately, there were just a dozen of these reports to complete through the year.
I recall having around 35 - 40 hours of contact per week: Eight courses with two hours of lectures and two or three hours of laboratories per week. Some courses, such as statistics and calculus had exercise tutorials. We technology students felt a little hard done in comparison with the arts students who had contact loads of about 20 hours per week. Their large reading and essay writing loads that meant little to us white-booted ‘techies’.
The computing course required us to submit our programmes on punch cards. Computing resources were strictly rationed with a focus on ‘getting in right first time’. There was a limit on the number of CPU seconds, line-flow, and program submissions. One campus computer. No Visual Display Unit (VDU) terminals for undergraduates. No personal computers. An electronic calculator in some laboratories. We used our engineering slide rule for conducting calculations for which we received several hours instruction. I purchased my first calculator for my fourth year of studies. By that stage, I had also been granted privileged access to a precursor to the personal computer: a Digital PDP-8 computer. “8” standing for 8 Kbyte of memory. I used this machine to assist with the calculations for my laboratories - and to program the matchstick game ‘Nim’.
The eight courses extended throughout the full year, broken into three terms. My academic mentor checked my progress towards the end of the first term. I suspect I reported I was on top of matters but felt it a bit unfair to have tests immediately after the two week study break. I now tell my own students the answer I received: that a ‘study break’ is a break FOR study.
At times the workload did seem daunting. However, I recall being reassured when I looked up at the ivy-encrusted Old Main Building in which we conducted our microbiology experiments. I thought of those students who had survived their studies, and I thought also of my inspiration, radioactivity scientist Marie Curie.
I recall some textbooks were useful in supporting our studies: chemistry, biochemistry, and statistics in particular. An added extra resource was available for statistics and calculus: the extra-mural study guides. Only in later years in my social science courses such as psychology and economics did I need to read the texts for exam purposes. For the engineering courses, all tests and exams were drawn from material presented in the course lectures. And lectures were not explicitly related to specific sections of the textbooks. Most of my texts were resold prior to the next year’s studies. I still possess my two engineering textbooks, a statistics text, and a quality control text. I do recall finding the university libary an uninteresting source of light reading: mostly Jane Eyre genre. Not like the massive science fiction library on the shelves of Massachusetts Institute of Technology that later impressed me during my post-doc in 1983.
Was my first year a typical university first year? Like many first year students at Massey I stayed in the on-campus hostels (City Court), meeting new out-of-town students, and discovering new genre of music. I pumped out my new discoveries of Mahler and Shostakovitch symphonies on my home-made single valve 1 Watt ECL-86 amplifier. We engaged in the usual antics: re-arranging a student’s bedroom into the courtyard and inter-hostel water fights.
I had little need to visit town as the campus was self-sufficient in food and a weekly movie. Usually $10 would need to last me the last two weeks of the term. For reference, a Chinese take-way meal was $2.00. I usually ate a huge breakfast and dinner, and scavenged leftover breakfast toast and jam for lunch. I sang in the Palmerston North Choral Society, and in a unique stage production - Te Papaoia - that recounted - apparently controversially - the history of the city and its surrounding districts. With a new-found musically-inclined friend, I joined his flat after the first term of my second year.
My first year was different in several respects from most students. Having gained a university scholarship, I requested and was granted direct entry to second year classes. Consequently, I joined classes of 20 - 50 students, rather than the larger first year classes comprising several hundred students. Most of my classmates were two or three years older than I was, but I soon became known as the swot of the class, gaining high marks especially in engineering, chemistry, computing classes.
Before I commenced my second year, I undertook a 12-week placement in a factory in Upper Hutt: Tasman Vaccine Laboratories (TVL). The plant manager loaned me the writings of management guru Peter Drucker and Douglas McGreggor. Those readings and various discussions with the senior scientist lead me to switch my major from biotechnology to industrial management.
The persistent pace and workload of my first year of tertiary study lead me to refine my already well-disciplined approach to study. I balanced time with recreational singing, social activities and personal music listening. I maintained fitness with an exercise programme similar to 5BX and squash, but did not engage in a sports team. It would have been quite impossible to hold a part time job, but I did take employment during the ‘study breaks’ and summer break. I worked in a timber yard pulling orders one year.
See also: How can students be prepared for Practice-Based Learning? A reflection http://pogus.tumblr.com/post/989695576/pbl
Peter J Mellalieu matriculated for a Bachelor of Technology at Massey University, Palmerston North in 1973 commencing a biotechnology major. In 1976 he graduated with first class honours in industrial management and engineering.
As a university student studying an industrial engineering qualification, I was required each summer ‘holiday’ to spend twelve weeks working in industry. Fortunately we were paid! Before the end of the first term (semester) we were required to write a report on what we had done and what we had seen. I don’t recall that we had any guidance, or that we got academic credit. It was a formal requirement for obtaining the degree: a Bachelor of Technology (Hons) from Massey University.
At a vaccine factory in Upper Hutt I sloshed around as a process worker making animal vaccines with delightful names such as Pulpy Kidney, Malignant Oedema, and Black Disease…. all cousins of Tetanus. I made that one, too. As I wrote up my report I discovered from a veterinary codex that the symptoms of these diseases were: “Death within 24 hours” and “Note: affects humans”.
At Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in a wintry Blackpool-by-the Sea I began to ‘crack’ a few patents to make a bench-scale process for making polytetrafluoroethylene fibres (PTFE or Teflon non-stick). ICI soon built a factory to make the fibres as a substitute for carcinogenic blue asbestos. Asbestos was used as an essential component in building chemical engineering facilities.
The first experience led me to swap majors form biotechnology to industrial engineering and management: a manager had introduced me to Peter Drucker’s books on management. I took what seemed the risky plunge into studying a few social science subjects including psychology and economics… and discovered a new subject to love beyond physics and computer science. I later worked as a graduate in the Economics and Policy Research Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The second experience was my first ‘Big OE’. Although I had left my birth country, England, at aged ten, I had no correct impression or memory of what Britain was like. I expected ‘wall-to-wall’ Coronation Street and dark, satanic mills. Instead, I found brilliant green fields, cute villages, an impressive research and technology-based company in ICI … and my first electronic calculator: a loved Sinclair Oxford.
The content of what I was learning in my degree had little or no relevance to either of my work placements. However, I had amplified my ability to ‘learn how to learn’. Furthermore, I had the language to engage with technologists, scientists, and engineers. As I was informed in my very first day in engineering school: if you are still using your degree to get a job three years after you have graduated, you have failed! My two work placements helped confirm the validity of my teachers proposition - I was not going to ‘learn the answers to life, the universe and everything’ through my university studies!
Now I teach business studies: leadership, strategy, innovation management, new venture foundation, and entrepreneurship. These subjects require students to build confidence in taking risks - managed risks. ‘To go boldly were none has gone before’. Consequently, my approach to preparing students for their Practice-Based Learning in ‘real’ industrial situations is to introduce them through the safety of a ‘learning laboratory’ to some of the issues they will face in the ‘real world’.
For example, in the course BSNS 6340 Strategic Thinking, students compete in teams to operate a global footwear company presented in the form of a computer ‘game’ simulation - the (infamous!) Business Strategy Game (BSG). The student teams make decisions including marketing expenditures, production plant improvements, and financial engineering. We assess students’ ability to fulfil the promises of their three-year strategic plans, and the overall success against other teams and investors’ expectations. However, we give EQUAL credit to the students reflecting on their experience of the strategy simulation. We encourage students to begin blogging their reflections publicly or privately. As the chaos, confusion, stress, and interpersonal crises of the strategy competition build up, we provide greater structure to the reflective task … and provide ‘just-in-time’ coaching to the class as a whole and individual teams. Students complete a final substantial reflective essay which is highly structured in terms of the aspects that students must cover.
Reflecting on both my student placement and subsequent career as industrial scientist and academic teacher, I suggest we can prepare students for their study-based placement in the work environment through:
I currently implement these proposals through the first-year course offered in the Unitec Faculty of Creative Industries and Business (FCIB) BSNS 5391 Innovation & Entrepreneurship and the subsequent course BSNS 6340 Strategic Thinking.
Further resources: Reflective writing
Writing a reflective document: The DIEP framework. (n.d.). Innovation & chaos … in search of l’excellence. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from http://pogus.tumblr.com/post/915055044/diep
Larkin, I., & Beatson, A. (2010). Developing reflective practitioners online: the business of blogs in work integrated learning. Presented at the International conference on work-integrated learning, Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Retrieved from http://www.waceinc.org/hongkong/linkdocs/papers/Australia/Refereed%20Paper%2024.pdf
Mellalieu, P. J. (2010, August 21). Course Handbook and Syllabus Unitec BSNS 5391 Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Scribd. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/36191676/Course-Handbook-and-Syllabus-Unitec-BSNS-5391-Innovation-and-Entrepreneurship
Mellalieu, P. J., & Emerson, A. (2009). Developing reflective learning in a strategic thinking class. In Unitec Teaching and Learning Symposium. Presented at the Unitec Teaching and Learning Symposium, 28 September 2009, Auckland, NZ: Unitec Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Blog/Entries/2009/9/29_Symposium%3A_Developing_reflective_learning_in_a_strategic_thinking_course.html
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths (1st ed.). Free Press.
Liesveld, R., & Miller, J. A. (2005). Teach with Your Strengths: How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students. Gallup Press.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths. Gallup Press.
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