Friday, July 26, 2013

Part One A: Survival in College for Baby Geniuses

This child has mastered the technique.

I hope you understand that my title is intended to be facetious. I am neither a baby nor a genius. The post is directed at anyone entering or in college who looks young for his or her age, or is chronologically younger than most of his or her college peers. Much of the information, however, is applicable to some degree to most college students.

Other than the stuff at the latter part  my most recent post, the part about being cautious in regard to parties in general and frat parties in particular, we all know that I don't actually know anything about that of which I wrote. I have developed a technique, which I should perhaps copyright, for how to blend into the walls and furniture of a classroom and not draw attention to oneself.  When I look like I'm fourteen and am surrounded by people mostly over the age of twenty, this isn't an easy feat to have accomplished, and I take pride in my thorough mastery of the technique. Nonetheless, we all know that blending into the woodwork isn't true social success in any setting.

In my case, being a social butterfly or anything resembling such was never  a goal. It was always about not alienating classmates and avoiding being a target for bullying. Except among the frat rats and their sorority counterparts, some of whom haven't truly  made it all the way out of high school or even middle school yet, bullying takes on an entirely different form in college. No one (other than the very rare especially immature frat rat)  is stuffing students into trash cans or anything remotely close to that.  Bullying in college, which, from what I've seen, is decidedly rare, takes more the form of  dead silence and a conversation-ender when the unpopular student makes a comment in a class discussion, or when  a student sits in a particular seat, and other students sit as far away as possible. I've seen very little of any of it. For the most part, college students have consciences and will openly address it if they see someone else being targeted.

My parents warned me when I started college not to be too much of a know-it-all and not to volunteer too many opinions or provide too many answers in class.  A little kid trying to show up her older classmates is setting herself up for becoming the class pariah.  I think I had a pretty good idea of this without my parents' having said anything about it, but they were wise to remind me.

On the other hand, some professors reserve the right to base a percentage of a student's grade on class participation. Personally, I think that  if they must do this, they should base it more on the degree to which a student appears to be following a classroom discussion whether or not he or she is saying something. Some people are  shy or insecure, or may even be stutterers. There could be valid reasons why a student is reluctant to speak out in class. If a professor is intent upon considering class participation in a course's final grade, it should be based upon whether the student is paying more attention to his Smartphone or laptop than the class discussion as opposed to whether or not he or she speaks frequently. An astute professor can tell if a student is paying attention and following a class discussion just by glancing at the student.

As I'm approaching my final year of undergraduate studies, I'm almost beginning to look as though I'm not an under-aged prodigy sitting in on a class during "Visit A University Week," though I still look young in comparison even to the incoming freshmen, and I'm mostly not taking classes with incoming freshmen. I still try to follow my own unofficial rules. I don't wave my hand around wildly like Arnold Horshak from the old "Welcome Back, Kotter" series, which I've caught on reruns.  I try not to be the first student to offer an answer when a specific answer is requested unless it's a class that's been going on long enough that I'm comfortable and I've developed a friendly relationship or even a friendly rivalry with a few other students.  When a professor asks a question to which I know the answer, and no one else offers an answer for  a deadly ten seconds or so of silence, I answer, but do so with a not-terribly- confident tone of voice. Tone of voice is everything in such a situation. You can say the same words in a manner that conveys, "I know everything," or in such a way as to imply. "I think I know this, but I could be wrong; I'm human."  I'm not sure many of the professors even notice, but the other students do.

In class discussions, when  contributing, validate something another classmate has just said if you have the opportunity. Your classmates have egos just as does anyone else. Make them appear smart. They care whether or not they act as though they do.

Grading curves, if in use at all in a given class,  are now modified to the extent that they are essentially used only to work in students' favors, as opposed to against them. For this reason, one does not need to behave in nearly so cut-throat a manner as might have been to one's benefit in previous years.  It doesn't harm your grade to give someone else a leg up. It's still wise to maintain the number one standing in your class if it's an option for you, but once you've taken care of that,  look out for others' interests. I've found that I have a sixth sense in terms of when pop quizzes will happen and what might be asked on them. While waiting for a professor to appear, I occasionally bring up for short discussion the topic related to the question I think might be asked.  Other students appreciate this, and it pays off in terms  of how a person is treated by his or her classmates.

I'm usually pretty good at guessing what questions will be asked on an exam as well, but I typically keep this information to myself unless a student I really like is struggling and in danger of ruining his or her GPA with an especially poor showing in the class. Maybe it is cut-throat behavior for me not to share my psychic knowledge, which is really not psychic knowledge at all but rather, years of paying attention to teachers' vocal inflections and other manner of emphasis when lecturing, then noting what ends up on the exams. It's neither rocket science nor anything otherworldly; it's simply the science of human behavior.  People, including professors, are more predictable than they would like to think that they are.

My classmates, even if they like me as a classmate, still are not going to invite me to go partying with them on the weekends. For true social friendships, a student has to look to interest groups, dorm roommates, and similar sources. The suggestions I've offered, however, will make the time spent in class at least bearable if not enjoyable.

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