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#TBT: 10 Things I Learned as an Undergraduate

Today is Throwback Thursday, so I thought I would resurrect and update a Tumblr post I made a couple years ago that recently resurfaced in my mind. When I wrote this post, I was a year out of undergrad and the media was raising a ruckus about the value of college degrees. But education to me was and continues to be about more than return on investment; education involves the constant restructuring of everything I know to be true about myself and the world, something I think this short list reflects.

1. Embrace Humbleness.

If I’m not humble about my abilities or knowledge, I risk a skewed self-perception and worse, I risk producing pompous work that is not based in historical, religious, and political fact. There will always be someone better than me.

2. Strive for Excellence.

In all things, I should strive to do the best work that I can. If I think I won’t be able to give something my best effort, I should figure out why and seek out the resources that can help me make excellence happen, for from excellence stem many great fruits.

3. I know nothing.

Thus the basis of the pursuit of academia: to discover and to understand. Consider Socrates, who, upon meeting with a man who was renowned for his wisdom, ”tried to explain to him  that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise…. Well, I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know.”

3. Be Honest.

Honesty will serve you well. Be honest about your abilities. Admit when you are struggling with a certain course, topic, or concept. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help (this is tied in with humbleness). Be honest in your academic writing. Don’t exaggerate or forget the constraints presented by the period you’re writing about.

4. Be Kind. 

Kindness, like humbleness and excellence and honesty, will get you a long way. But be kind for kindness’ sake. Help someone study, pick their classes, track down a book…

5. Writing well is difficult.

Becoming a truly good writer takes years of practice and experience. I am consistently refining my writing. I’m guilty of overusing commas and hyphens. I misuse words. I struggle with conveying ideas in a coherent manner. I’m uncertain as to whether I will ever be a ‘great’ writer, but I aspire to be.

5. Professors are people, too.

Professors are normal people with extraordinary jobs. They happen to have a unique set of skills and a unique knowledge base. They have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of the mind and to discovery. But they still are people. They have busy schedules and deadlines to meet. They have children and husbands and wives. And they worry, just like us. No need to be intimidated by them.

6. … At the same time, they are the ‘superior’ being. 

Don’t be disrespectful to your professor by arriving to class consistently late, answering your phone in class, texting, sleeping, being on Facebook, etc. They spend a lot of time preparing lessons, something that is easy to take for granted. If visiting office hours, knock politely, and if a student is currently with the professor, wait patiently. (Care about your fellow students’ needs, and about privacy, too!) Recognize that your professors have worked extremely hard to get where they are. Respect their work by producing excellent work of your own.

7. Take time to relax. 

Try to set aside time each day to relax, whether this means watching cartoons or reading a book you actually get to choose. It will do your brain cells good and you will come back to your studies with greater motivation and clarity.

8. Nothing comes without struggle.

At least once in your academic career, you will encounter struggle. For me, the struggles were manifold. I learned that an 8am class where 10% of your grade is attendance is not a good idea when you have an hour and a half commute. I learned that linguistics is too similar to math — too late. I wrestled with certain scholars’ work to the point where I could not sleep for a week because their work simply didn’t make sense and yet it was important to my research. Everyone’s struggles are different, but struggle will yield strength.

9. I will probably never understand everything about my field.

This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Academia is founded on discovery, disagreement, and new ideas, and we strive for true understanding. However, many of us will never fully understand our fields because we are separated from them by centuries; thus, our perspectives are muddied with modern ways of thinking, which we may unknowingly impose on our work.

10. Don’t forsake your family and friends. (The most important lesson is last.)

It’s easy to become too focused on studying, writing, and stress, but it is important to nurture your relationships. Don’t forget to spend time with your family and friends.

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