Brandeis Undergraduate Group Study, abbreviated BUGS, is a study program maintained by the Office of Academic Services for the use of students seeking help, guidance or review for a large number of classes. Each BUGS session is led by students who have taken the courses for which they tutor.
Conner Wahrman ’17, a politics major and International & Global Studies and history minor, is in his second year tutoring for BUGS, leading the tutoring groups for Introduction to Comparative Politics and Introduction to International Relations. Wahrman focuses on international politics, also serving as the editor-in-chief for the Brandeis International Journal, a semesterly, student-run publication. He says that politics help contextualize and explain world events, such as the conflict in Yemen and the Central African Republic, or the ongoing migrant crisis in the European Union. Once one can explain the causes and effects, Wahrman said, one can start to make improvements in the world.
In his first year at Brandeis, Wahrman took a couple of politics classes. Then, toward the end of the same year, he learned that the BUGS program would be hiring a tutor for the politics department. Seizing the opportunity, Wahrman applied and received the job.
Wahrman explained that BUGS offers tutoring for classes across the academic spectrum, including in politics, chemistry, assorted languages and many others departments. “Going to BUGS isn’t because you necessarily need it, but it’s because you want the help,” he explained. “We can’t give you anything more than what we have gotten from the classes—we’re not special or super endowed with academic capabilities. We took the courses, we enjoyed them, we did well in them and we continued into the department.”
There are people who attend BUGS regularly and people who only show up before an exam, while others simply email BUGS tutors their questions. Elaborating on the difference between a BUGS tutor and a teaching assistant, Wahrman said that BUGS “isn’t necessarily better. It’s different. If your class has discussion sections, TA’s can help understand class material, but TA’s weren’t Brandeis [undergraduate] students. They’re graduate students studying at the graduate level. The value of BUGS is having fellow students doing the exact thing you have. The grad students didn’t take the class, so their perspective is different.”
The Office of Academic Services works with each individual department to develop the BUGS tutoring based on what students have found useful for studying, what the department can afford to do and a variety of other factors. Generally BUGS covers entry-level courses, the building blocks of majors that can sometimes be difficult to grasp due to their wide scope, but for languages, BUGS covers an even wider variety of classes. Each tutor also maintains a relationship with the relevant department faculty, such as the professors teaching the courses, so that they stay up to date on current assignments and know about upcoming important dates.
Wahrman finds the readings for courses often stress students out. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed with reading if you’re in a bunch of classes that assign hundreds of pages per week. There is definitely a middle ground between reading everything and reading nothing,” Wahrman said. “Another important thing is taking notes. If you think you can get by in a class without taking notes, you’re wrong. If you get by through writing everything that a professor is saying, you’re also wrong.” He stressed writing down what a professor writes on the board, stating, “They don’t need to. They’re writing it as a service for you.”
When asked about how he himself studies, Wahrman says that he likes to think in terms of how everything is connected, and in terms of stories. “I like stories. If you can make something into a story, it’s super helpful both because it makes things more enjoyable for you, and it creates and reinforces links between ideas.”