Here we are again: the first day of classes. It seems like only yesterday I was writing my column for the graduating seniors, myself a return-to-school graduate student, brimming with nostalgia for my own college days and where I’ve been since then. And over a decade before that, as a newly minted high school graduate, I stood before my public school classmates in plaid, Converse high tops trying to offer sage advice in my salutatory speech to people no more or less experienced than I. “Watch movies in black and white,” I said, “but live your life in color.” Granted, it was a few months before I let my eclectic style give way to shaggy hair dyed blue for my first day at Carolina (to be honest, it was more of a Duke hue), but what did that really mean? It sounded pretty to me at the time, but advice like this is often completely impractical. Perhaps I hoped to be credited with an immortal quotation … or maybe it’s just much easier to tell people how to run their lives rather than to model it.
Today (if not this whole month), the focus is on freshmen. Like last year’s graduates, they are similarly bright-eyed, eager and charmingly naïve, setting out with pen and paper to write their own next chapter in the great book of life. No doubt the campus phone and Ethernet lines will be abuzz with excited and proud calls and emails from parents and tons of Skype messages from students’ technologically more savvy contemporaries. Advice. Tons and tons of advice will be shared—which classes to take, which fraternities to rush and which are the best entrees in The Marketplace. Sophomores, though, you’re on your own. You’re expected to know all this somehow, even though moving to West Campus (or God forbid, being exiled to Central Campus) might feel like being a freshman all over again. Your surroundings are (somewhat) new, and everyone’s bigger than you. Lest you be impaled upon the etymologic roots of the word—sophos meaning “wise” and moros meaning “foolish”—allow me to humbly offer a compote of do’s and don’ts for second-year students. Upperclassmen, transfer students, graduate students and even freshmen, this still may apply to you, so read on:
1. Don’t plagiarize. Really, just don’t.
2. Be aware of what you don’t know, but don’t be frightened by it. Many novices just don’t realize that of which they are ignorant. Now you’re starting to see where you have gaps in your knowledge. That’s not a sign of weakness, but a chance to see where you can learn more.
3. When doing your reading assignments, don’t read every word. No doubt some professors and student-gunners will argue with me on this point, but getting stuck in a quagmire of text doesn’t aid your learning. It’s likely better to keep up with your readings, even if you have to skim them, than to neglect pieces entirely. If you find you are consistently having problems, though, approach your professor or someone in Academic Advising.
4. Start compiling your resume. Use a professional-sounding email address. Network. Restrict privacy settings on Facebook so incriminating photos can’t easily be found … or better yet, don’t let that kind of evidence materialize in the first place.
5. Don’t join every organization, society or cause to pad your resume. And don’t take on even bigger tasks—like preparing for an unnecessary graduate degree—because you think that’s what (insert name of professional school or future boss here) will expect to see. You’ll be a lot happier spending your time on things you want to do and are passionate about. And there’s something to be said for doing something unexpected and unique.
6. Now that you’re back, get out, go abroad. It may be difficult because of cost or your major, but it’s definitely worthwhile and will help you pop your personal Duke “bubble,” if nothing else. And you can likely make use of student discounts elsewhere, too.
7. Don’t procrastinate, but don’t obsess. Build “catch up” time into your schedule; your professors do, too.
8. Keep trying. You will get some bad grades and lots of rejections—socially and professional. Abraham Lincoln is commonly held up as an example of overcoming repeated failures and losses. Granted his life ended in assassination, but come on, he was still President of the United States. And he’s been on the penny since 1909.
9. Become independent. Your first year away from home brought with it a lot of changes, no doubt, and your social circle expanded exponentially. Take the opportunity now to focus a bit more on yourself, learning how to balance your finances, complete your own medical history and manage your personal property.
I could go on, but now’s your chance to speak up. Share your thoughts with me and the rest of the Duke community at www.dukechronicle.com, through a letter to the editor or via Twitter. Here’s wishing us all another year of success and growth!
Benjamin Silverberg is a second-year graduate student and practicing physician. His column runs every other Monday. Send Ben a message on Twitter @hobogeneous.