Monthly Archives: September 2012

What ya gonna do with that?

For anyone embarking on their studies in the Humanities such as Literature, History or Philosophy, they more than likely are faced with the question: What are you going to do with that?  Followed by Teach? 

My fellow Philosophy Majors from undergraduate and graduate school have gone on to different careers from writing, law, music, corporate positions, and yes, to academia.  But I do not plan on making the case for studying the Humanities.  Rather I’d like to address the implications of the aforementioned question.

While I was in undergraduate I would respond to the question with “law school,” but once I received my acceptance letter (I only applied to the University of San Diego) a stark realization hit me.  I answered “law school” in order to appease my interrogators and not because that was what I wanted to do.  Looking back, I think I responded this way because it seemed, well, useful.  Law school is absolutely an admirable pursuit; however, it was not the avenue for me.  Uncertain and nervous, I continued my studies in Philosophy because I loved it, plain and simple.  Sometimes people ask me why I chose Philosophy and I answer “I didn’t decide to love it, I just did.  In the same way I didn’t decide to love chocolate, I just tasted it and enjoyed it.”  Now I research, write, and teach the subject and, dare I invoke Aristotlian theory, I’ve found Happiness.

But the question: What are you going to do with that?  Teach? underscores something I find problematic in the attitude towards the profession of teaching.  It is as though teaching were the last and only option.  Or, more dramatically, the bottom of the career possibility totem poll.  I am not endorsing this view but merely pointing it out. Indeed, sometimes the term “teach” comes out with disdain, as if it were useless or not important.  If someone were studying Biology, for example, would the same attitude accompany: What are you going to do?  Be a physician?  

With the wave of discussion regarding education hitting the headlines I would like for us to consider the way in which we view the profession of teaching.  How can we as a nation argue for better schools yet keep this sort of common question as a reaction to a student’s declaration of a major in the Humanities?  It is not the only possible career path, but for someone who does want to be a teacher they should not be subjected to the idea that “teaching” and “doing” are different things.  Or, that “teaching” is the equivalent of not being able to find something else.  If we want our students, our children, to get the best education, then respect for teaching as a valuable professional choice needs to be on par with that.

Staying Motivated

If you find that you are losing momentum (be it school or a job search) one of the best remedies is to pick out a biography/memoir of someone you admire.

When a paper or an exam doesn’t turn out the grade you had hoped, do not despair or give up.  This is all part of the learning process.  Talent by itself does not necessarily bring about perfect days, weeks, or months.  Drive, determination, and a steady disposition are required to get ahead.

The Remedy: stroll through the “Biography” section of your bookstore to get ideas. Try anything from political figures, athletes, business people, musicians, to writers.  Reading someone else’s story of overcoming obstacles will motivate you to push through difficult times.

This is not a tidbit solely for the college student but for anyone who, when faced with a rejection or obstacle, needs a nudge to keep working and moving forward.

I tend to gravitate towards writers and political figures but really this works for any field.  Don’t get into a rut and wait around for inspiration.  Go out and read about people who’ve achieved great things despite difficult circumstances.   Biographies are not only inspiring but they also make us laugh, remind us that we’re only human, provide us unique access to a historical window, and they keep things in perspective.

Here are a few suggestions from my bookshelf:

  1. Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
  2. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
  3. Mohandas K. Gandhi, The Story of My Experiments with Truth
  4. Queen Noor, Leap of Faith
  5. David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day
  6. Dave Eggers, Zeitoun
  7. Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
  8. Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
  9. Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out With me? …Don’t judge me on this one.  I think she’s adorable.

Childhood Sans Pop Culture

I was doomed to nerdom by my upbringing.  Rarely allowed to watch television, I fell painfully behind on the lingo and fads.  What was this Married With Children and The Simpsons everyone talked about? I’d feign a knowing chuckle at the recess table chatter or act busy peeling the bruised banana mom packed in my lunch. The occasional movies permitted to me were musicals like Oklahoma, The King and I, and Singing in the Rain.  I found Donald O’Connor’s scene “Make ‘em Laugh” gut-busting hysterical. I watched Gone With the Wind obsessively, tried adopting the ungodly one eyebrow arch of Scarlett O’Hara, and thought “fiddle-deed-dee” a useful expression. It was a lonely joy. For awhile, I believed in earnest that love could only be conveyed through song, glorious costume, and that choreographed dancing was a perfectly normal means for getting about town or simply completing household tasks.

I thought shoulder pads were cool, but I can’t totally blame mom for that.  Indeed, everyone in the 80s suffered. But, I can (and do) hold mom responsible for this haircut.

One side is noticeably poofier.

I fell in love with the play Phantom of the Opera.  When most kids listened to the Fresh Prince, I blasted my Michael Crawford cassette tape.  This didn’t go over well at birthday parties when we took turns putting music in the boombox.

Joining a Club on Campus

In the first couple weeks of the term there will be sign-up tables galore for different University clubs.   No matter your interests, there is a club for you. There are social clubs, academic clubs, book clubs, hobby clubs, and political clubs. What are the benefits to joining?

1. Becoming a member of an organization brings you closer to the overall campus community.  Especially if your university is quite large, joining a club automatically makes you feel more at home.  You will meet new people, and perhaps even find a mentor to help you through your classes.  If you are a freshman, for instance, then getting to know juniors and seniors is a great way to get the scoop on classes and other tidbits of college life.

2. Students who join clubs are more likely to graduate college.  The environment of the club keeps you in-tuned with the pulse of the campus life.  Clubs facilitate opportunities to be involved in the broader scope of the college, such as intramural sports, outings, participation in student government, charity, or fundraising for the club.  No matter the type of club (and this includes athletics), the interaction will provide momentum for completing your classes and looking forward to future semesters.

3. Clubs often connect with other campuses and the community.  When you participate you have the chance to expand your contacts and activities. For example, clubs that focus on your major often host guest speakers, offer information on jobs, and are a helpful source for graduate school preparation.

4. This gives you something extra to put on your resume when you are seeking a job post-graduation.  Sometimes students worry about not having enough experience for the job market.  Perhaps your part-time job during college is unrelated to the career you desire.  That is okay.  By participating in a club, organizing an event, or holding an office, you are demonstrating initiative and leadership to future employers.

For more insight on clubs, I’ve created a link here to a nice little article from Cal Poly Pomona’s newspaper The Poly Post.

4 Key Habits of Excellent Students

How can you boost your college performance?

1. Excellent students maintain a high attendance record.  Yes, showing up for class impacts your grades.  In fact, I’ve noticed that the percentage of a student’s attendance nearly matches the overall grade of the student.  It is simply not possible to earn an A and to attend less than 90% of the time.  Missing one class in college is like missing a week’s worth of material in high school.  Get into the habit of going to every class.  The best students are always on time, cell phone packed away, and they bring their textbook to class. (Note: as soon as you plant yourself in a desk, take out your textbook and notepad.  Don’t leave these items tucked away in your bag.)

2. Excellent students usually sit in the first three rows of the class.  This helps you to keep focus.  You are less likely to doze off or send text messages (gasp!) during the professor’s lecture.  If on your first assignment or quiz you earn below a B- and you are sitting in the back of the class, then move closer to the front.  This simple habit can make a world of difference with your grades.

3. Excellent students write at least two drafts of their assignments/term papers before submitting it to the professor.  Do not treat your written work like a hasty text or a tweet.  You absolutely must print out a draft, step away from the paper for at least 24 hours, and then return to it with fresh eyes for editing. When you are editing, remove passive verbs, replace them with active verbs, and step-up your vocabulary.  Avoid terms such as “basically” and “very.”  Use your thesaurus or your study aids from preparing for the SAT to improve your vocabulary.

4. Excellent students read outside of class.  This habit is beneficial for three reasons: 1) increases vocabulary 2) develops attention span 3) generates ideas for assignments.  Make it a point to read one book this semester (or quarter).

But what to read, you ask?  You’ve come to the right place for suggestions.  I am a bonafide bookworm, after all.


1. Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.  This interesting read explores the dynamics of genius.

2. The Guinea Pig Diaries: My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs. A hilarious collection of essays chronicling the author’s trials of different social experiments.  My favorite chapter: “My Outsourced Life.”

3. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris.  Sedaris is a witty and acute observer.

4. Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunis.  This is a fascinating book for anyone interested in economics and sociology.


1. The Likeness by Tana French.  If you are a fan of the mystery genre then this book is a must read.  I was hooked within the first five pages.

2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  Set in World War II and told from the point of view of Death, this book follows the lives of a little girl and a Jewish refugee. This book moved me so much that I felt as though my life were more complete for having read it.

3. The Best of Roald Dahl, by Roald Dahl.  Don’t have enough time to read a novel?  Try this collection of haunting stories by the great Roald Dahl.

For more tips click here.

Let’s Get Started

After much begging, pleading, and groveling from friends and students to put together a blog so that my every thought and whim may be documented for all to churn over, I’ve finally decided to begin.

Okay, that’s only somewhat true.

Okay, it’s not true at all…except for the “begin” part.  

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