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Julia Orenstein

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Physics and Astronomy
Graduation Year:
Spring 2020
"Whenever I have somebody meet with me regularly throughout the semester, it's incredibly rewarding to see them grow as students."

What has been the most surprising aspect of your job?
The enthusiasm my students have! So many of them have an incredible work ethic and a determination to learn. Even people who come in for a class that they’re taking only as a requirement seem to really want to understand the material on a deep level.

What has been the most rewarding part about working at the Sanger Center?
Whenever I have somebody meet with me regularly throughout the semester, it’s incredibly rewarding to see them grow as students. It’s not just that they learn the subject material, but I see them picking up study techniques and gaining confidence in their ability to learn beyond the scope of the class. I know that each of my students is capable of learning the material, and I feel like I’ve done my job when they also realize that.

Tell us about a time you worked with a student (or group of students) and were particularly proud of the outcome. What happened? Why was it special?
At the beginning of the semester I had a student come in who was really struggling with her class. She was frustrated and would give up on a problem before she really had time to try it. After a few meetings she seemed more enthusiastic about the class, and much more willing to put in effort to understand the concepts in class and on her homework. There was one particular moment when she made a connection between two concepts, and she was so excited that she’d figured it out on her own. I was glad to see that she was doing better in the class, but more so that she was enjoying it and was confident in her ability to do the work on her own. Whereas during the first session she’d barely started her homework before we met, at our most recent meeting she’d completed it entirely beforehand and just had a few clarifying questions.

What do you think is the biggest myth about learning/studying in college?
Pulling all-nighters to finish assignments is not for everybody! Overworking yourself to the point of exhaustion is not always the most efficient way to go about college. Some of my friends are able to pull it off, but I need sleep to function. If an assignment seems too difficult it’s more useful for me to go to bed and work on it the next morning, rather that spend twice the time trying to figure it out while my brain isn’t working at full capacity. Sometimes you can’t do everything in time for a due date, but in many cases your professor will appreciate a well-done assignment over an on-time, but rushed assignment (and in many of those cases your grade can still reflect that hard work!)

Tell us about an academic challenge you encountered when you got to UT. How did you handle it? What advice would you give to someone in that same situation?
During my second semester here I found myself in a class that I wasn’t completely prepared for. We were expected to use math that I hadn’t learned yet, and we went at a pace that I hadn’t encountered before. I struggled a lot, and I was barely able to complete the homework without the help of my friends. I went to office hours but it didn’t help with the fact that I simply hadn’t learned the necessary math for the class. It was made worse by seeing my peers grasp the same concepts seemingly effortlessly. Since I ran into issues at the beginning of the semester, my confidence was shaken, so I went onto to struggle with other concepts that actually weren’t as difficult as what I originally struggled with. By the end of the semester, as I was preparing for the final, I realized that I finally understood the ideas from the first few weeks that I’d struggled with so much. My advice would be to revisit difficult ideas periodically throughout the semester, because things that seem difficult at first become much clearer with some perspective. Also, a lot of my issues in the class stemmed from my belief that I wasn’t smart enough or prepared enough for it. Those ideas made me quicker to give up when something didn’t make sense.