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'Make yourself as uncomfortable as possible': Professors, students share advice for the Class of 2022

Amid a flurry of bright neon FAC shirts, chattering strangers and constant events, it’s easy for first-years to feel lost in their first days at Duke. 

But after O-Week, it’s straight into attending classes, studying for midterms and juggling newfound friendships in between. The Chronicle collected advice from students, faculty and administrators on how to navigate their first year at Duke.

Ravi Bellamkonda, Vinik dean of the Pratt School of Engineering, recommended that first-years seek balance between academics and social lives. 

“I think the key to doing well initially is to not go to the extremes, to give academics their due respect and work and at the same time sampling social things so one has a life," Bellamkonda wrote in an email. 

Michael Munger, director of undergraduate studies of the department of political science, advised students to take advantage of the academic opportunities that can be found outside the classroom.

“Don't let schoolwork get in the way of your education. Don't think you can't go to talks or performances because you have too much schoolwork," Munger wrote in an email. "On the other hand, make sure you show up to class. Go to every class. Pay attention, and ask questions. Engage with the material, because that will help you remember it better."

He added that Duke has a wealth of resources that first-years can take advantage of, advising students to "talk to the professor, counselors, or other students" when they need help.

Bellamkonda also noted that there is "a whole universe of great people ready to help" first-years at Duke.

Sophomore Nathan Liang indicated that talking to one's Director of Academic Engagement is a way to learn more about opportunities at Duke.

“[My DAE] led me to my summer program, Data+, connected me with helpful major-specific advisers and provided guidance on how to prioritize my extra- and co-curriculars. She even kept up email correspondence to check in on me several months later,” Liang said.

Sophomore Sofia Hagos Alejandro advised first-years to get out of their comfort zone.  

“Make yourself uncomfortable as possible,” Hagos wrote in a message. “I didn't really focus on making friends apart from my roommate and her friends due to constant worrying about whether people would like me or not. Towards the end of my first semester, I really made a concerted effort to make myself as uncomfortable as possible and started attending club meetings and socializing more which really impacted my 'Duke experience' for the better.” 

As for bad advice? A common piece of advice that Munger disagreed with is the adage “find your passion.” 

“If you went to a buffet, full of exotic and interesting foods, you shouldn't just eat the dishes you already know you like. Try something else," Munger wrote. “College is a means to an end. If you don't develop skills, how are you going to be able to find a career that allows you to discover your passion, and pursue it, five years and ten years after you leave Duke?” 

Bellamkonda agreed with Munger.

“I really think that one ‘builds’ one passion through engaging with something in depth a bit,” Bellamkonda wrote. “So don’t subject every experience to ‘is this lighting my world on fire or not’ test—get to know each thing a bit, engage with it, a bit of immersion and then you will know.”


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