Friday, June 12, 2009

Students should make use of their years in college

Students should make use of their years in college by Monica Sanford

from the Daily Nebraskan - Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yes, I’m going to pontificate. I’m going to stand on my soapbox and give all of you new baby freshmen an unwanted earful of advice.

You see, I’ve been in college far, far too long. After all, I use words like “pontificate.”

Therefore, I feel I am uniquely qualified to share what little wisdom (if any) I have gained. So, in no particular order, let us begin.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to declare a major. We all have to take the same boring required classes anyway. I’m sure civilized society will collapse if we aren’t all “well-rounded.” Take advantage of the opportunity to try different things and learn what truly excites you.

Diversify your educational and employment experiences. I sold my soul to the College of Architecture many years ago, but I’ve also studied art, Japanese, real estate and philosophy. I’ve worked for fast food places, banks, mortgage companies, a mountain resort, non-profit companies, UNL’s Military Science Department, the School of Natural Resources, the Nebraska Rural Initiative, the Athletic Department, the Department of Art and Art History , the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, and, obviously, the Daily Nebraskan. Someday, I might be an architect and I might earn the contract for a newspaper office or ecology laboratory because of what I learned working a job that, on the surface, was unrelated to my career.

“Never let your schooling interfere with your education,” said Mark Twain. Don’t become discouraged and don’t allow anyone to make you feel like an idiot just because you don’t have all the answers. If we already knew it all, we wouldn’t have to go to school.

The only reason I made it to graduate school was acceptance that I would spend a lot of time being dazed and confused and that was OK. Even if you don’t understand the purpose of the hoops, sometimes it’s useful to play the trained poodle just to see why they are holding them up.

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that your education should be your number one priority. Breathing should be your number one priority, followed closely by eating and sleeping. Not being homeless is also on that list above education. Your education is a tool. Even if your ultimate intention is to become a professor and live in the ivory tower, your goals must be greater than merely graduating. A piece of paper, no matter how ornate, makes for poor motivation.

Personally, my highest priority (after breathing, eating, etc.) is to help people. I believe I can best do that by using my skills to build a better world, in the most literal sense, for which I need this education. You need to discover what motivates you and where you can best use your skills to achieve that goal.

That being said, maintaining balance in your life between education, work and society is important. Blowing off all your friends for study time, besides being horribly dull, is also strategically ill-advised. I guarantee one of those friends is going to help you find a job someday where you can put this hard-earned education to work. So go out and have fun, but be smart about it.

Travel. You will learn more in one week spent abroad than one month spent in senior-level classes.

Hang in there until you get to the senior level classes. I don’t care what anyone says, grad school is easier. It is a lot of work, yes, but it is also your work, not some professor’s idea of make work. The further you go, the easier it gets not only because you’ve learned how to handle it, but because you get to spend your time working on what truly interests you, and that’s a great motivation.

That being said, learn how to type really well, buy a laptop, cancel your cable television, learn your way around the library and the online journal article finders, never underestimate Wikipedia as a great starting point, site sources correctly, make friends with your TA’s, never take a professor’s criticism personally and never, ever, ever plagiarize.

The most important advice I could offer you is to make up your own mind. It doesn’t matter what the subject is or how well respected the speaker. If you don’t question, even if you conclude something to be true, you won’t learn why it is true or why other people think it is true. Never take anything anyone tells you merely on faith.

Including everything I just said.

Monica Sanford is a third year graduate student of Architecture and Community and Regional Planning. Reach her at