Ended First Week of Fourth Semester (29 – February – 2020): Mishaps

Fourth Semester Began on the 24th of February

I hadn’t been posting as I had promised over the third semester, and I guess I had forfeited my chance to win anything in this competition but nevertheless I still think it is good practice to do some blogging from time to time. Therefore, I am trying again and also because I do not like leaving things unfinished. Generally, the third semester was my worst semester in terms of time management and accomplishments. I had passed as the regulations of my university state that one has to obtain atleast 80% in ECTS points to graduate to the next semester. One of the main killers for me was the sudden addition of two business-related subjects that were added close to the end of the semester (just a little more than one month before the examination session would begin) because the dean’s office only made a decision as to how we would fill up 4 remaining ECTS points fairly late. Nevertheless, here is what I had received:

Fourth Semester (Average: 4.5)

  • Computer Programming Project [2 ECTS] – 5.0
  • Numerical Methods (Lectures, Laboratories and Project) [4 ECTS] – 4.5
  • Biomedical Signal Processing (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS] – 3.0
  • Electronics (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS] – 5.0
  • Software Enginering and the Management of the Software Life-Cycle [2 ECTS] – 5.0
  • International Business [2 ECTS] – 5.0
  • Introduction to Biomaterials (Lectures and Laboratories) [4 ECTS] – 5.0
  • Medical Imaging Techniques (Lectures, Laboratories and Project) [4 ECTS] – 4.0
  • Computer Aided Calculations (Lectures and Laboratories) [2 ECTS] – 5.0
  • Polish Language [2 ECTS] – 5.0

Erring On The Side of Destruction

One of the major mistakes that I had made this semester was to try to study every subject equally and deeply which in reality is a complete loser’s proposition. After some thinking I came to the conclusion that there was a paradigm shift that I had not wholeheartedly accepted until now concerning the difference in the philosophy of studies between English and Polish universities. When I was studying one year of pharmacy at the University of Reading in Malaysia I had only three subjects to focus on that were interconnected in many ways with some mandatory extra-curricular subjects concerning Malay Language and Cultural Studies. To me, the way that British universities had organised their courses was to demand extremely focused studies from their students. Polish universities on the other hand, with courses having about nine subjects per semester, make it temporally impossible to study such a volume of subject matter in the way that one would study on the British side. With about half of those subjects having laboratories that require reports and having small to medium sized projects to be completed, and with all subjects having some forms of assignments that need to be completed over the week with the additional requirement to pass end-of-semester exams/tests, it can easily get physically and mentally exhausting. I would have to say that I have experienced a much broader educational experience as I have been exposed to more multi-disciplined subject matter consisting of informatics mixed with biology and chemistry which would be difficult if not impossible to have at a British university (the costs of British universities are also rather exorbitant but most likely because of the currency exchange). But the main point I would like to make is, according to my opinion, you have more independence at Polish universities to choose your interests but this means very early on you have to choose the subjects that matter most to you and just do only what is sufficient for those that you do not have a strong interest in.

I had tried to study all my subjects for the semester equally and it almost ended in disaster until I took a more conservative approach to my studies. I do not have to be perfect in everything. By having this drive for perfection I think I had actually set myself backwards in some areas of my knowledge. If I had taken a more efficient approach by simply studying from my notes, being more vigilant during the lectures and laboratories and being more realistic with my projects I would have had plenty of time to study more advanced mathematics which I needed for my most hellish subject Biomedical Signal Processing and perhaps for future subjects as well. One of the disadvantages of my course is that mathematics only ran for one year which gives us barely enough knowledge to study certain subject matters efficiently such as the Fourier Series and certain transforms in Electronics and Biomedical Signal Processing, for example. This stems from an issue in the Polish educational system which the government only started to resolve beginning from 2017 concerning the removal of mathematics from schools in previous years. But anyway, the previous point still stands.

The Seven of Cups (from the Simple Tarot Spread). I thought I would make my blog posts more interesting by introducing tarot cards that correspond to lessons learned from specific situations, since I have some interests in esoteric studies. My aforementioned situation certainly resonated with the qualities inherent in the above card, which talk about illusion, temptation and most important of all, too many choices and options or simply taking on more than one can chew.

The Solution to My Erring

Simply, I will leave out the heavy book reading that I had tried to do for each subject in the previous semester and I will only invest enough time to sufficiently accomplish (obtain atleast a 4 as a grade) what is stated in the outcomes documents for each subject. Additionally, I will keep my projects simpler and only study for each subject what I had written in my notes from lectures and laboratories. This can of course seem ego-destroying since I will not be the most knowledgable in my group and I may simply be like everyone else in terms of what was learned and gained, but I am starting to believe that there are other ways to define oneself at university. Boring, potentially difficult and drudgery-renching subjects will always be there and have to be studied whether one likes it or not, but simply studying what is prescribed will not get everyone far. I have to start thinking about what I would like to do after I finish university, whether I would like a research career or something else. Furthermore, there are skills that I would like to master related to statistics, business and computer modelling that I believe will get me ahead in my research-related endeavours but that are not taught or at-least not taught in-depth at my faculty. What about the extra-curricular activities as well, such as piano and violin? However, that is not to say that one cannot gain interesting insights into a prescribed subject by not studying it to death. Just that prioritisation is highly important.

Language Studies

My Polish had significantly improved over the semester, but that is not to say that there are no improvements to be made. One of the things I could have wished I had done earlier was to have found this concept of a Conversation Exchange. Essentially, one person talks to another person in the language they want to learn in exchange for teaching that person their native language. Admittedly, it requires some pre-existing background in the language to be successful but I find that it is working extremely well for me. At the moment, I have two sessions a week over Skype with a native speaker in exchange for me correcting their English during conversations. We are conversing thematically. Certainly, I wished I had implemented this idea at the beginning of the third semester instead of vegetating with my Polish-language colleagues who do not have much of an interest in learning the language. At the moment, I am seeing if I can strike a deal with one of my Polish-born colleagues in Biomedical Engineering to do filmed explanations of scientific concepts that they find difficult in Polish in exchange for them correcting my Polish. Let us see how that goes.

But one of the things I found important about language learning was that beliefs and illusions have to be constantly broken to make progress. For example, a few days ago I thought that my Polish was exceptionally good and that I was definitely on the road to becoming a fluent speaker soon until I came across an unpleasant situation. I had not experienced this before in the time that I have been living in Poland, but I guess there is a first for everything. On my way returning home from university there was one young man, not very well dressed simply wearing sports shoes, some soil-stained pants, an average-looking-black sweater and a cap, who was loitering around an electrical installation building. I saw him and thought nothing much at first. But after I had walked a hundred meters passed him I noticed that he was walking in my direction. I was still walking as normal having him in the back of my eye. As I kept walking it seemed that he was definitely following me and so I stopped, turned around and confronted him (fortunately I do not keep any valuable belongings in my pockets or hanging loose anywhere as they are all in my bag and I keep myself agile by not carrying too much weight and not having restrictive clothing). I asked him whether he had a problem, why he was following me and whether he would like me to call the Police. At which point, he kept some distance from me but decided to vault the fence of a property essentially trespassing (bizarre behaviour, but I was not sure whether he was drunk or mentally ill). At this point, I started to call the police. The situation got more serious after that as he made a reappearance and was again following me, but while in the end the situation resolved itself I had realised that under the stress of it my Polish essentially broke down and I had made many mistakes and was not clear about the meaning of a lot of words that made it appear as if I had lost a few months of my language practice when I was trying to explain to the Police on the phone and in-person to some people and Police officers what was happening and what just happened. Especially frightening was my failure to explain the spatial aspects of where the initial incident took place.

The above experience had shaken my confidence in Polish, but in the end it was good that I had my illusions broken down. It showed me where I needed to improve, particularly in the efficacy of my language learning practices. For one, I had realised that in the past I was too lax with the differences in meanings between variously prefixed verbs such as wychodzić, wchodzić, uchodzić. I taught that simply reading a few pages of Polish and a few words a day would be enough, but while this can be sound advice it depends on how that reading and memorising is done. There needs to be some intensity in learning. I was taking the approach of trying to read as widely and quickly as possible, but rather I should slow-down, take note of the verbs I do not know by pen and paper, see if I can derive their meanings with my current knowledge, to consistently but not overwhelmingly fill in the gaps of my Polish grammar by reviewing some comprehensive grammar notes and books and then continue in this manner to master verb distinction especially among prefixed verbs. I also need to practice more recall and to also practice explaining things to someone in the target language, whether it be about daily occurrences or more technical subject matter. It is impossible to learn a language to perfection, or anything to perfection, because there are usually so many other things going in life but what is possible is to develop a strong core that will assist with rapid language acquisition. Definitely it can be rather dangerous to have your illusions broken down in such potentially life-threatening situations, though be that as it may the general message is to take the time today to challenge yourself so that you will have an easier ride in the future.

False Economy: If you find yourself understanding, for example, one-third of what you had read been reading from a book but consistently find that for a series of consequent days you are understanding no more than what you had started with then most likely your reading has become too passive and you need to slow down by taking stock of what you don’t know more. For example, it might seem like a major achievement to read five pages of a foreign book in 20 minutes but if you find yourself stuck in a rut where you consistently only understand one in every five words or one in every three words then that means that something is missing from your language learning routine. You may not be supplementing your reading with enough introduction of new vocabulary. If your are focused mainly on reading, it would greatly assist you in your language learning to have a systematic plan in mind, such as to note down 10 verbs, nouns, or whatever you have the most problems with per reading session and to study and learn these entities to memory. This may slow your reading speed, even considerably, but you will be learning much more in the end and you will be able to apply the vocabulary you learned from books to real-life situations better rather than having vague associations or only having the “word recognition mindset” which is incredibly woeful for maintaining conversations.

My Overall Thoughts of the Third Semester

All in all, the third semester had ended better than I was expecting but it could have been greater than it was had it not been for me erring on the side of destruction. But I had learned some important lessons in the end that I believe will help me to succeed immensely in the fourth semester. I will see if I can articulate them in further posts.

Fourth Semester Subjects

Algorithms & Data Structures – 2 ECTS
Biomechanical Engineering – 4 ECTS
Biosensors – 2 ECTS
CAD Fundamentals – 5 ECTS
Computer Graphics – 2 ECTS
Polish Language – 2 ECTS
Implants – 2 ECTS
Modelling and Simulation of Muscoskeletal System – 3 ECTS
Medical Database Designing – 4 ECTS
Medical Electronic Equipment – 4 ECTS

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