Traditionally, an editor’s last editorial is called his or her “swan song.” Almost without fail, editors start feeling maudlin and churn out a teary-eyed ballad lamenting Tech’s shortcomings, occasionally concluding that it is all worth it in the end.
I’m of a mind, however, to do something a little different. My predecessor (the always-late, not-quite-great Matthew Hoffman) broke with tradition by, instead, passing out awards to those on campus who annoyed him most. Given that I am neither one to blindly follow tradition nor one to stir up unnecessary trouble, I, instead, decided to cobble together all the random bits of advice I’ve accumulated over the past four years but that don’t really qualify for an editorial of their own.
First, keep in mind that the top-tier research faculty that tour guides like to brag about so much are not necessarily top-tier teaching faculty. They can be lovely people, but too often they’ve forgotten what it’s like to NOT know what they know. When you’ve worked in a field for 20+ years, what you consider “trivial” will reduce an undergrad to crying in a fetal position. In fact, I’ve really only had one class with a full professor that I really enjoyed, and it wasn’t even in the field that made him famous. Go for the young professors instead. They remember what undergrads can understand, more out to prove themselves and more interested in finding research assistants.
Second, another bit of advice on how to train your professor: They. Are. Human. In all likelihood, they’re teaching that class because the Institute says they have to. So, get interested in the one thing they’re guaranteed to be interested in: their research. At the very least, this means they’ll be more willing to meet you outside of class, and, at best, it could result in a good reference, a research position or a mentor in your field.
Third, establish a group of close friends as soon as possible. Classes suck, and unless you have an outlet for that suckiness, you’re going to go mad. Find people you can let loose with. Having a friend you can chat with over coffee is one thing. Having friends you can hug-tackle to the ground in Piedmont Park, trust to pull your inexperienced ass out of a snow bank while skiing or go on a 1 a.m.
coffee run with a croquet mallet for protection is another entirely.
Fourth, get a hobby, and make sure it’s something worth talking about. Whether it’s painting, photography, writing or even just being the craft beer geek of your group, find something you enjoy spending your free time on and spend it there. It might even pay off in the end: The ability to interest someone is a staggeringly powerful. It makes you stand out in a job interview, gives you a leg up when finding advisors in grad school and is an essential survival skill in the world of start-ups.
Fifth, get a job. A real one, one that pays you and actually expects you to do something for it. College is great for teaching you concepts, but it isn’t worth a dime when it comes to teaching you how to work on something that others are depending on and that is going to be sold to a customer. Software that only works two-thirds of the time might get you a B or C in school, but it’s a quick path to the unemployment line in the workforce.
Sixth, hope for the best, plan for the worst. If you’re panicking about an assignment, chart out the absolute, apocalyptic, oh-god-how-did-this-happen worst-case scenario, and put it in perspective. Odds are, things are a lot rosier than they seem. After realizing that even if you fail the next five problem sets, your GPA only drops by 0.08, the world seems a lot cheerier, and going to bed no longer seems like a crime against humanity.
Finally, keep everything in perspective. That half-hour you spent mentoring a freshman on how to apply for internships or how to pick his major will, in all likelihood, have more of an impact on the world than anything you’re likely to get from an entire semesters worth of work in any given class. And I guarantee you that the two hours you take for a midnight stroll around campus with a pretty girl will mean more to you than any number at the top of an exam ever will.