Blog Author & SigEp Faculty Fellow – Professor Matthew Kroenig
A question I’m asked frequently, particularly from first-year students, is a straightforward but crucial one for all of us at Georgetown:
“What do my professors really want from me?”
It’s simply put but gets right to the heart of a topic I’m sure is on many of your minds. Having finally arrived and settled into this new college experience here on the Hilltop, a series of questions will undoubtedly come up that might seem dumb to you now but, I promise, most students share in thinking about: What does “success” look like here? How can I get that 4.0 GPA? Attending every lecture, doing all the reading? Can I really do this?
At the end of the day, how do I get the most out of these four years?
No, there really isn’t a silver bullet for success here, and no, there isn’t a secret golden ratio of “studying to socializing” that will guarantee your acing both Intro to International Relations and enjoying your time outside the classroom in your first semester.
But there are some traits, practices, and ideas I find myself repeating to my students often, whether they are excelling or struggling. Read on for some ideas on how to get the most out of your time here as a new Hoya:
1. Read deeply—and use it as an opportunity to challenge ideas
Reading, believe it or not, is about more than just eyeing all the words in a book or on your laptop. It’s even more than the accumulation of vast amounts of knowledge and facts. Really, it’s gaining a new perspective and engaging that new perspective critically.
I care a lot less about what my students remember from a specific passage of Kenneth Waltz’s books on international relations theory than I care about whether they grasp the major tenants of his arguments, examine where those thoughts fit into the larger picture of international relations, and articulate to me what they think about it all.
Reading is a critical aspect of doing well in college and beyond it. Don’t simply memorize – think of reading as an activity, requiring your active participation in engaging the author and the ideas in front of you. Outline its tenants and assumptions, its evidence and implications. Write questions for yourself, your peers, and your professors.
Whether you like it, love it, or can’t stand it, reading is a major component of your college experience. Embrace it, and you’ll be a better student, thinker, and person.
2. Think and plan, write and walk—repeat
It will inevitably happen—the dreaded curse of procrastinating on a paper or writing assignment. You’ll run to Lau at 10pm the night before the due date, order an “Awakening” from Midnight Mug, and prep for a night of sleep-deprived writing.
For our sake, and yours, try to avoid, or at least minimize, that style of writing. Same day drafts often have more typos, unclear arguments, and missing substantive elements than a college student should be producing.
When I write, I always give myself enough time to think about the subject and formulate a plan of attack. I go for a run, chew on the plan some more, outline, and draft. Here, though, is an important part: after you finish a draft, walk away.
Relax, have a meal, sleep on it, if you have the time. And then return to reread, revise, and edit the draft from what will be an entirely new, refreshed, and engaged perspective. Trust me, the paper will be better and you’ll appreciate it after you get your grade back.
3. Be more than a face in the crowd
All professors have office hours, a chance that, I promise, most of us actually enjoy and wish students took advantage of more often. But, alas, most students fail to come in, or if they do, only do so for limited, often grade-related reasons.
Believe it or not, professors are here to help you grow as a student and as a person. We want you to succeed, we want you to learn and mature intellectually, and we want you to ask us questions. So come in when something isn’t clear, or if you want to chat about a part of the course in greater detail, or about your career and life goals.
Bonus tip – professors love to talk about their research, so go after the opportunity to engage with a professor whose research you find interesting. It just might help build the kind of mentoring relationship that I still have with some of my professors and that I’ve developed with some of my students at Georgetown.
4. Get to the heart of the subject matter
One helpful activity to consider: when I was a PhD student, my advisor gave me a simple but powerful framework for evaluating an argument that has worked in nearly every situation since. Simply, write down the answer to these questions for every article, book, and argument you’re seeking to critically engage:
- What’s the question or the problem being posed here?
- Where did the question come from in the context of the scholarly literature or the wider world?
- What’s the argument?
- What’s the evidence provided?
- Why should I care and what are the implications?
This is a powerful outline that has always helped me to go deeper in examining arguments—and it’s what I expect from high-performing college students. Use it to your advantage!
Finally, one idea you absolutely cannot do without:
You are driven, intelligent, passionate, and ambitious – these traits have gotten you far and will help you succeed. But your education here at Georgetown is about more than just test scores, well-written papers and the amount of books you will have read at the end of it all.
Taking the time to explore the amazing city in which you now live, to interact with your professors, and, yes, to engage your friends, will teach you as much, and likely more, than what you might learn from a professor like me in a lecture or seminar.
This education is designed to change you as a person, to develop you as a thinker, and to shape you as an adult. Have fun along the way, and when the end of the year rolls around (and it will come faster than you can imagine), think back to the person you were back in August and see how much you’ve grown.
Ultimately, that, and not your completed blue book exams or term papers, is what professors really want from you.
Matthew Kroenig is an Associate Professor and International Relations Field Chair in the Georgetown Department of Government at Georgetown University. He serves as a Faculty Fellow for Sigma Phi Epsilon.
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