How to Learn Effectively

When I first thought about studying marine biology, I did not know anything else but how to jump into the Ocean with a mask, breathing tube and fins on. Everything that I had learned about the Sea until that moment was through days spent in water, and all thanks to my parents, who taught me the basics of diving, how to pay attention and be respectful to the environment. I realise it only now that not everyone senses this kind of deep connection with the water and I consider myself very lucky because it is my ultimate tool to enjoy the passion I have.

Anyhow, right after I had figured out what lifestyle I would have liked to pursue, I started searching for books that would help me prepare for what was to come. I found mostly expensive books or childrens’ books, while I was looking more for something general, understandable and, at the same time, educational. So after many many searches, I’d found two pocket edition books, both very short introductions to marine biology and coral reefs. After I received these two little treasures, I basically swallowed them and craved for more material from which I could build a solid base of knowledge.

I have to interrupt, here, by admitting that I wasn’t much into biology at that time because, you know, the way the school system imposes something to young people is not that efficient. I was more into art, painting; the only scientific subjects that I was good at were physics and, to a lesser extent, chemistry. But, somehow, I have managed to grow to like biology more, through reading adventure books, watching documentaries and studying, whenever possible, outside.

Long story short, I was more fascinated by Nature from day to day, and even more certain that I wanted to follow my dream. I was so enchanted by the thought of living by the sea and spending the rest of my life in touch with it. So one thing led to another, and I found myself on the plane to Australia and spent two months with my aussie cousins who, by the way, are great surfers and obviously know a lot about the marine environment. I learned so much from them and from the whole experience. Being back in Slovenia, I immediately needed to go to Italy and start my studies. It was all so fast and surreal, that if I look back and think about it, I frankly have no idea how did I manage to go through all of this.

It was not easy. Not easy at all. I had trouble getting used to being away from home, not seeing my family and friends everyday, not to mention getting used to living in a city full of traffic noise and chaos. The university system was completely different, they suggested us to read scientific books of eight hundred plus pages that would cost me a kidney. Lectures were super long and I experienced constant headaches, insomnia and concentration problems. Despite that, however, I continued to follow some basic rules that I’d established, like studying after every lecture, quickly review the topics for the following lectures, and write, speak and read only in italian!

Now, that was probably the biggest and most effective way to get through the first year and come home to surprise my mum by the middle of June with all exams behind me. In my second year I did not have much trouble living abroad as in the first year, but I definitely noticed that my learning system was getting me nowhere. Subjects got more specific, sometimes I did not understand a thing and was really struggling to pass the exams with excellent grades. And so I decided to interact with professors during the lectures. It freaked me out and increased my anxiety, but at least I had paid attention and understood the topics. Another important game changer was to incorporate every single book that I’ d found in the library into preparing for the exams.

Fast forward, third year was all about competing with time and, honestly, I did not have fun and neither did I learn effectively. I think I will never forget my last four exams, that were concentrated into a week. It was scorching, I was partially ill because my immune system was so messed up, and whatever I read and studied for, flew straight away from me. I regretfully admit that I don’t even remember what was going on in the days that followed and the day when the bachelor’s degree parchment was handed to me.

By the time I was back in Italy to start with the Marine biology course, I found myself rested and ready to finally get into what I was so motivated to do. From the end of September to the middle of February this year, I essentially camped on uni. We had our schedule packed with subjects, plus practical work and some projects. It started to exhaust me to the point of being desperate and thinking of what did I put myself into. It was my bad, though, that I took everything so seriously and was emotionally attached to every single thing the professors and my colleagues would say.

In the middle of February, just before starting the second semester, I went to visit a friend, who was actually the first friend and uni mate I met in Ancona. After telling him about all my frustrations and doubts, he replied: “You need to take your life less seriously and enjoy the journey.” It was something that my family was trying to imprint into my head, but that until that day, did not strike me. When the second semester lectures started at the end of February, I was a newborn. My creative side kicked in, I got motivated again, sorted out my approach to the system and, together with Maria, came up to the establishment of the Entire. platform. Although we both knew that it was going to take time, that it would require A LOT of time to analyse all the data that we incorporate into our articles, I did not expect to learn soooooooo much.

Forcing myself to focus on detailed literature and write about it so that everyone could understand was probably the best choice I have made so far. It also does not hurt to keep asking, paying attention to the small things and read a good book every now and then (when time allows). With that said, I invite you to experiment with different ways that will make your journey much sweeter.

P.s.: If you would like to read more about anything related to marine biology, I have a few books and manuals that you can borrow from me (but only if you return them back). Below is a list of what I keep on my bookshelf in Ancona:

  • Marine Biology: A Very Short Introduction by Philip V. Mladenov
  • Coral Reefs: A Very Short Introduction by Charles Sheppard
  • Introduction to Marine Biology by C. Begin, J. Fry & M. Cucknell
  • 101 Animals of the Great Barrier Reef (A field guide) by Martin Cohen & Julia Cooper
  • The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson
  • The Sense Of Wonder by Rachel Carson
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
  • Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us by Alexandra Morton
  • One Breath by Adam Skolnick
  • Deep by James Nestor

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