It’s the first day of school, folks! Savor the crackling sound of creasing book binds and the strong scent of newly sharpened pencils.
Freshpeople, Bwog can’t believe you kids are already starting classes. It was only last week you were loading taxidermy rodents into your blue bins. After a week- long orientation, get ready to feel disoriented again—but in a good way. You’ll be forced to challenge your own assumptions and consider new perspectives. That’s what college is all about.
Still, there are ways to maximize the classroom experience, especially for seminars. Back in the September 2008 issue of The Blue & White, Alexander Statmen penned “Seminar Etiquette: A Primer.” Bwog presents an abridged version sprinkled with a few of our own words of wisdom.
- Before you even start class, you’ll be faced with the choice of where to sit. Come a little early, so you aren’t stuck with a desk at one of the ends of the row or semi-circle. The first seminar class often opens with a go-around: name, hometown, major and maybe a special fact. If you sit at the first or last desk in the row/ semi-circle, you’ll be the first or last one to introduce yourself, which can be awkward.
- In a seminar, students’ doodles and professors’ age spots are equidistant from your eyes. People are looking and, yes, judging. True success in a seminar only follows if you understand the bipartite goal of the seminar: learn as much as you can, and act cool while doing it. Silence will help you achieve both projects. For the greater part of any class, you should not be talking. The seminar is a fundamentally social thing, and the greatest sins of the seminar student all stem from solipsism.
- Successful seminar engagement calls for great subtlety, finesse and clarity. Students will often preface a comment with something like: “yeah, I was just going to say that.” If you were about to say something, and someone else said it, then you don’t have to. Other times, people use “I was just going to say” as a disclaimer, when they really mean to say, “I am about to say something trivial or noncommittal.” If, after a particularly scintillating comment, you want to voice your simple agreement—and there may be good reason to do so—then be direct: “I was just going to say that. I agree completely.” Now that’s a sentiment everyone can get on board with!
- Think of speech like a bank account: there’s no need to use the ten dollar word, when the ten cent word makes perfect sense.
- Don’t raise your hand just to say you think something is interesting. Only saying “I find this quotation very intriguing” is a cop out. Explain why.
- When dissenting, do not avoid active disagreement—it’s fun, and flattering. If you had said something painfully stupid, no one would have thought it worthwhile to respond at all.
- Go out of your way to set a pleasant tone: talk to classmates before and after class and don’t use isolationist body language (e.g. pulling your hoodie over your head). Enthusiasm is cloying only when it seems calculated at winning favor and grades. Meaningless acts of alacrity are the most meaningful of all.
- Fortunately, as is true nowhere else in life, if you pay enough attention to being cool in a seminar, real success will follow. Because, in a seminar, the best way to seem cool is to seem smart—and the best way to seem smart is to be smart.