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Undergrads These Days

So, this weekend I’m heading up to Eau Claire for the APO Sectionals conference, where I’m teaching 2 workshops on varying topics to (hopefully) a bunch of undergrads.

What’s really getting to me, though, is just how busy these undergrads are. Or seem to be.

I know that college students are at that age where they don’t yet know the meaning of commitment, or how to balance a cost/benefit ratio in life, but I think that it’s somehow gotten worse. Initially, 33 people from the chapter signed up to go to the conference this weekend, and now I think we’ll be lucky if even 15 make it. And there are some other groups that are not going at all, somewhat due to drivers/cost but mostly because of the all-too-vague “I’m busy.”

I mean, seriously. Too busy to take a weekend to have fun, learn, get a change of scenery, and study if you have a spare moment.

I know that school comes first, but usually, the phrase is followed by “I have an exam this week.” Only, it seems like I hear this from someone every week, for one reason or another. In the course I teach, we have just 2 exams – a midterm and a final – and I don’t think that either of them would require a student to spend 48 hours studying. But it seems like all these undergrads, whether they be in APO or students I teach, are constantly having exams in all their other classes, usually math and hard sciences. I constantly get emails from students who were absent that week saying that they had an exam right before and were tired after, or had an exam right after and studied all day right up until the exam started. One student emailed us saying that he had 3 exams in one day.

What is with all these exams? Why do they need to exist?

At this point, I try to put myself in the shoes of an undergrad, thinking back to my undergrad days, which were almost a decade ago. Granted, I did not have much of a social life, but I don’t ever remember having a constant barrage of exams, or a weekend where all I did was study. In fact, to this day, in my ten years of being a student in higher education, I have never even pulled an all-nighter. I remember doing some homework on weekends, but I usually spent at least 1 weekend a semester out of town, like the time I flew down to Baltimore for a play premiere, or when I drove to New York City and back in 48 hours to go to my aunt’s wedding. I worked a lot, and I worked hard, but I managed to have down time in there, which is why I did get down on myself a lot.

But that’s beside the point.

To this end, I look back even further, to my freshman year. I was leaning towards majoring in theater, but I still took the requisite English and Math courses. At the same time, my sister was a junior, majoring in early childhood education. I still remember talking on the phone with my parents my second semester, and my dad told me that I seemed to be working harder as a freshman than my sister had in her three years thus far. Granted, she didn’t graduate with a 3.5 GPA like I did, and she had this thing where she wanted to see how long she could go without going to the library (turns out that she never even set foot in the campus library, in all four years). Still, she got a job offer in her field, right out of college, and has had it ever since. Even though I only graduated with a 3.5, and granted, I didn’t get my dream job, I still somehow managed to muddle through, get my master’s and into my Ph.D. program. Both of the above outcomes, working world and higher ed, were feasible without constant studying or an all-nighter.

So, I don’t know what today’s college students’ excuses are. Unless my sister and I had the world’s easiest majors (which we probably did not) or were complete slackers, it seems to me that undergrads are working harder, and with the way this economy is going, probably for even less satisfying results.

I’m almost at that age where I say “kids these days…” with a dubious look, but something is definitely going on with today’s college students, whether it’s a lack of study skills or just a generation of vindictive professors.

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Reflections On the First Week of Classes for 2016

It’s Thursday night, which officially concludes my first academic week of the semester. For the first time in history, I’m spending more time teaching class than taking class. I’m only taking Hebrew and International Theatre for Young Audiences.

As far as teaching, I have around 75 students, up from 60 last semester, and almost forgot my “first day” song-and-dance. For the first class, I did a pretty respectable job, I thought, but for the second class, I either ran out of steam or time, because we didn’t get to the introduction to playwriting activity. I live to make an ass of myself in front of students (in a good way) and so far, so good.

A few highlights:

  • First awkward greeting to an inanimate object of the semester: in my first class, just as I was finishing up a fantastic speech, a drop of water fell from the ceiling. My response: “Uh…hi.”
  • Warming up to the sounds of Izhar Cohen and the Alpha-Beta and Ricki Lee.
  • Learning students’ names by milking cows, picking apples, doing arabesques, and…cats.
  • Things I found myself doing: pretending to serve champagne, getting married, and doing the whip/nae nae.

Welcome to my class. It’s “fun.”

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My Office and A September Challenge

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.

It’s also my first day as a TA, and with being a TA comes an office, so…I have an office! A real one! With four walls, three desks (one for me, one for my office-mate, and one for a computer), a sofa, bookshelves…and a whole lot of empty space. I need to change that. Being in the digital age, I don’t have a huge amount of photographs of people (at last count: three), so I have a bunch of random celebrity pictures up (Marlene Dietrich, the Supremes, some couple dancing the Lindy Hop), and Madame X, and that’s about it. I need some more fun on my wall, so if you’re reading this and want to send me a picture or a postcard or something for my wall, just comment here with your email address and I’ll send you my snail mail address.

And…an odd-numbered month challenge!

So this September, I challenge you to find nine blogs (for the ninth month), read a post, and make a comment. That’s it! Then tell the person to comment on eight more blogs (and nine, including commenting on your blog). So, I’ve picked a random selection of bloggers, listed here, so I’m going to go your blogs and leave a comment, hoping you’ll come back and comment on one of mine!

So, keep those comments coming, and wish me luck tomorrow!

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Ten Ways to Write a Better Research Paper

Bland title, I know, but for the past few days my life has been research, writing and then everything else (while worrying about research and writing). I skipped going to the gym today, for the first time since Sunday (go me!) and did a crazy at-home Buzzfeed workout for 30 minutes, and a shower and protein drink later I’m still dizzy and sweating, so excuse me if something in this post is misspelled or doesn’t make sense.

I’m currently at the end of my eighth (!) year as a college student (with two degrees so far to show for it, thankyouverymuch), and though I’ve had my fair share of frantic moments, freak-outs, and failures, I’ve managed to get this far without any horribly bad research papers, and I don’t think I’ve had any late ones either, at least not that I’m aware of. I have also never pulled an all-nighter (yet), not even when I was writing my master’s thesis, although I did spend a solid 8 hours one Sunday in same spot, writing for the bulk of it. So I’d like to think I’m onto something here. Now, here’s my top 10 ways to write a better research paper.

1. Be realistic. Pick a topic that’s not too broad or too general, and don’t bite off more than you can chew. Be bold, but always come back to the facts as best you can. Also, be realistic about goals. Some people can write a 20 page paper in 5 hours, and while it’s possible, I am not one of those people. I’d need at least 8.

2. Set time limits. Write for an hour, solid, then break. If that seems too intimidating, set a timer for an hour and during that time, even if you’re just rereading the same sentence or staring at your computer screen or end up with seven words, if you’ve done it with no distractions or breaks, congrats.

3. And your point is? Not you, necessarily, but your sources. Make sure you know what they are saying, that you’re not saying the exact same thing (or if you are, add something new to it), if you agree or disagree, and if it’s relevant to your overall point. Abstracts are very helpful when looking at articles, as are tables of contents and chapter numbers in books. Use them. If a source is not making sense anymore or is repeating themselves or is quoting other sources you’ve already used, just stop right there and move on to the net one.

4. Notes, notes, notes. Post-it notes are my best friends, especially color-coated ones; I put them on the first line of every paragraph in every book I want to quote. For my Indian theatre paper, I used yellow post-its, and for my Brecht paper, I used pink ones. Also, it’s so, so satisfying when you go back to those notes, say “I am done with you!” then take out the flag and throw it away, or keep it in the reuse pile if it’s still sticky enough.

5. Notes, notes, notes, part II. Here’s one way to take notes: Open a blank document and put the full bibliographic information at the top. Then write the current page number on the next line, then on the line underneath, write all the notes you found on that page. If there’s a thought that overlaps two pages, put it beneath the ones from the previous page, then continue with the next page’s notes. As far as copying the info itself, I’d suggest either a) paraphrasing everything, so that when you go back to write it, you’ll probably paraphrase that, making it doubly separated from the material, or b) quote everything, so you can return the books to the library knowing that you’ll have to change your notes because they are directly from the source. I have been known to mix these techniques, especially when there’s a block quote I want to use. I usually indicate that by rewriting the author’s name and page number, or simply putting it in block quote format so I can just copy and paste it.

A made-up example:

Featherstone, Darcy M. “Postmodern implications of the munglewung: a study.” The British Journal of Obscurities 24.1 (Fall 2011): 13-36. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 14 May 2015.

17

the munglewung in prewar Europe had little effect on the proletariat

it gained in relevance after the first World War

17-18

World War II caused the munglewung to fade into obscurity

18

“If the Church of England would have had its way, the munglewung would not have metastasized to the level it did in 1950s Europe. It was commonly seen in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, but the French wanted no part in it. As history relates, the British got their way, although at a price: the barriers created by this discrepancy would prove difficult to overcome, especially in light of the rapid mobilization of the Russians” (Featherstone 18)

6. Biblio as you go. Citations are a good way to fill some time when you’re trying to think of the right words, and it will save you time at the end to already have your Works Cited ready to go, so you can spend that extra time making up an introduction.

7. Subheadings are your friends. First, they add a line to your page count, so there’s that. Second, they help you organize your thoughts and contribute to easier transitions between distant ideas. Third, no one will mark you down for attempting to organize your thoughts better or make your reader’s life easier.

8. When you get overwhelmed? Don’t jump ship. Separate things out, declare some parts finished, and make sure all the parts are decently fleshed out. Then, if you see a discrepancy, fix it. Sometimes you just need to end it, somewhere, before you drown in a sea of hyperbole. I’ve done that enough times to know that.

9. Don’t compare your progress to others’ progress. You are beautiful and wonderful, and if you’re behind someone else, you’re no less of a person. If you’re ahead of them, don’t gloat too much or rest on your laurels.

10. Have fun. If you’re not excited about it, why should your reader be?

But most of all, just go for it. Once you turn it in, you’ll forget about it in about 60 seconds and return to your regularly scheduled worrying.

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Final Paper of the Semester: This Is Not A Drill

So many potential titles for this post – “Final Countdown,” “The Last Night of the World,” “It’s the End of the Semester As I Know It,” “One Midnight Left,” “I am going to finish this paper tonight, dammit, part II” – but here’s the deal. I have one paper left, 15-20 pages. It’s due tomorrow at 1:00 PM, and as of 8:57 PM, I have exactly one page written.

So, game on.

Ride or die.

No sleep until Pune.

It’s all or nothing.

And during writing breaks, I am going to be live-blogging my progress, so stay tuned. I will probably be doing a pilgrimage up and down State Street. I’m currently at Michelangelo’s, with a sugar-free almond iced skim latte and a cheese sandwich.

I am shaking already.

UPDATES:

10:11 PM. One hour later, 1,011 words written – most of them probably crap – and only 6 sticky-noted pages covered out of about a million. Sigh.

11:19 pm. On my second latte. The coffee shop closed at 11, so I have migrated elsewhere, to the library. My laptop does not like being on campus and does not agree with the campus wifi so I might migrate again soon.

12:59 AM. Somewhere on page six or something. Took a night walk. Bad idea. Four more pages at least before I can think about sleep.

4:00 AM. Why the hell am I still awake? I’m typing like a madman to make up for the time I took off to take a walk. Probably none of what I’m writing will make sense tomorrow morning. Speaking of which, someone please wake me up in 4-6 hours so I can finish this thing. Around 2700 words at last count, so that means I’m just about at the bottom of page 9. 8 pages, not too shabby for one night’s work.

10:48 AM. Four hours of sleep, wake up to a fresh start, and probably too much of a Buzzfeed break = only about 10-11 pages. Gosh, could I go any slower? GAH. This next hour needs to be flawless.

Aftermath: 

So, all in all, I did not finish 15-20 pages. I got up to page 12, barely, but I did turn it in on time. I texted a classmate about it, and asked if it would have been a better choice to turn in 12 pages or nothing at all, and she said that she herself had once done something similar for the same professor – not a great option, but better than nothing. It’s only a first draft anyway, and I attached a note to it saying that even though I fully acknowledge that it’s only 12-ish pages, I did a lot of research and backing up of said research, and proofreading for grammar, syntax, sentence structure, and clarity, all things that have been issues, anyway, so I hope she doesn’t fault me for trying to get it right the first time. Hopefully it’ll result in feedback along the lines of, “…it’s short, but well researched.” Is that so much to ask? I would rather get that than have submitted 15 pages that were terrible.

But it’s been a six-continent day, so at least that’s happening.

Welcomes to North America (Canada and USA), South America (Peru and Brazil), Europe (UK, Switzerland, Germany, Albania and Finland), Asia (India and Saudi Arabia), Africa (Mozambique) and Oceania (New Zealand)!

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Things I Saw at the Student Organization Fair

Before I forget, again, two new flags have popped up this week so bine ai venit to Romania and a warm and sunny welcome to Barbados.

Another lame post for today; I haven’t finished any books recently and for some reason I didn’t think of any stories worth telling today. In fact I didn’t think much about anything today. Also, I woke up at noon and barely did anything but for some reason am exhausted.

The only real bright spot in my day was the student organization fair. After going to the gym, I decided to stop by to see if I could help out at the APO table for a little while. This past fall, I went to the fair and it was so packed with people you could barely breathe. This semester, there was quite a fair amount of breathing room. It wasn’t hard to navigate and was more fun than the craziness of last fall.

So here’s a rundown of my thoughts on the fair.

  1. So. Much. Candy. It’s a shame there wasn’t a Student Dentistry Group there, because they could’ve had quite the field day. Every table was overflowing with candy. My sweet tooth knows no bounds, but I controlled it pretty well, only consuming some Laffy Taffys, some Airheads, and some chocolate. Lollipops seemed to be the trendy thing this semester. I have to say, I’ve never been a huge lollipop fan. Too sticky for my taste, and the jagged edges when they break off in your mouth are quite unpleasant. If I wanted to eat broken glass, I would find some.
  2. The more extreme the group, the more militant their marketing strategies. Of all the groups, the only one that actually accosted me – as in, started talking to me without me even initiating or permitting contact – was the political one about how Obama is messing up this country. The College Democrats and Republicans on either side spoke to me as well, but thrusting a book in someone’s face while asking him/her a really loaded question is clearly not the way to gain friends and influence, people.
  3. People are either super-involved, or just come for the free stuff and breeze right past everyone. There were some people that I saw (friends of mine) at different booths on different floors, and those are the ones who seem to devote their lives to the groups that they’re involved with. I didn’t see anyone I knew walking around just talking, nor did I see anyone I knew manning just one table. Yes, it’s a Thursday, and it’s cold, but for goodness sake, UW students, put down the beer and come to this event so the desperate ones are less predatory towards the innocent.
  4. Approach = everything. After I settled down at the APO table, I developed what I thought was a good attention-getting strategy. Rather than just stand there and watch people pass or yell, I held out a single flier and just asked people how they were. After they stopped, I told them more about APO or passed them to another brother while I looked for another person. I think it worked because we did draw a crowd at one point, and we didn’t even have a whole lot of free stuff.
  5. It’s always fun to pretend to be a student. Technically, I still am, but something like this is not geared towards the graduate student. But if you look young and dress young, it’s funny seeing the reactions when you tell people who you really are, or let them believe you’re a student so they don’t give you a hard time when you really want that cool pen.