ProfessorHop: Paula Franzese

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She has life advice for you

She has life advice for you

Paula Franzese, Adjunct Professor in the Barnard Political Science Department (and alumna of Barnard and Columbia Law School), has two new books in the Columbia bookstore – A Short and Happy Guide to Being a College Student and A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student. The books contain motivation, nuts and bolts advice, and a call to service.  Bwog talked to Prof. Franzese to learn about her books and staying happy: 

What inspired these books?

The books began as a set of letters that I wrote to my son Michael as he was about to begin college. (He is now a junior.) In the months leading up to his departure, and in part to help with my own worry at the idea of letting him go, I would write him a letter a day and leave the letter on his dresser. The letters contained advice, inspiration, and basically everything that I as an educator (and parent) wanted him to know. As the letters piled up, my son said, “Mom, why don’t you just write a book?” I decided to take that in a good way, and so I did.

What are the books’ central themes?

In addition to providing very practical advice (for example, how to write a good exam, how to do well in class, how to succeed on a job interview, how to give a presentation, how to handle rejection), the book tries to allay some of the fears that school, work and life can conjure up. It is a reminder to include goodness and kindness in everything that we do. Education sometimes divorces humanity and our own humanness from the study of the subject matter at hand. That tendency is tragic. When we separate virtue from learning we miss the point. When we hide or segment off whole aspects of ourselves to become something or someone we think we’re supposed to be we lose our integrity. The very word “integrity” comes from the Latin integritas, meaning wholeness. We live and learn with integrity when we are able to integrate the pursuit of excellence with the steadfast commitment to decency.

What do you think is the biggest insecurity students can suffer from?

The feeling that somehow they are not smart enough to be here. If it helps, every exceedingly intelligent and accomplished person that I know suffers from the same fear that he or she will be “found out” and the world will learn that s/he is not really as smart as presumed. The book’s chapter, actually called You Are Smart Enough, makes the point that when students feel intimidated by school or a new job they’re most likely presuming that their classmates or colleagues must be so much smarter than they are. That is nonsense. For that matter, greatness does not depend on IQ. There are “brilliant” people devoid of decency and “geniuses” without the guts to get the job done. They find themselves relegated to the ranks of the reviled or forgotten. As we were growing up, my mom told us time and again, “The smartest is the one who works the hardest.” Moreover, intelligence is multi-dimensional, and with time and experience each of us discovers our brand of genius.

Why should we be excited about school?

You are at one of the most elite and spectacular learning centers in the world. You are honing your analytical skills and powers of discernment so that you can use the rule of reason to advance the cause of progress. You are building strength of mind and spirit to become a giver of hope and a voice for those yet to find their own.

You teach First Amendment Values on campus, and speak in class often about the power of words. What do you mean?

The words that we use (about ourselves and others) matter. People rise (or fall) to our level of expectation about them. For that matter, our lives tend to move in the direction of our most dominant rhetoric. Eventually, we all find what we’re looking for, so we’ve got to take care with the search. An angry person will always have things to be really mad about.  A person who looks for the good in others, and stubbornly persists in that commitment, will find the good. As a freshman at Barnard, we studied Goethe, who got it right when he observed, “If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”‘

What’s one ingredient for success?

Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep. I used to think that sleep was overrated. I was wrong. I’ve learned that most fears are born of fatigue, and that getting rest is actually essential not just to wellness but to intellectual and emotional proficiencies. So many times when I’ve gotten stuck drafting a brief or scholarly article and the parade of self-defeating thoughts comes marching in (“you’ll never get all this work done,” “you’re wrong about your thesis,” “what’s the point anyway?”) I realize that it’s because I’m exhausted. Without exception, with a good night’s rest and the light of day everything gets better.

What is your closing wish?

My wish is that you wield the instrument of your life to close the gap between what is and what ought to be. The time is now to decide what you stand for and to show up, really show up, as a force for the good. Use your hard-earned growing expertise to give people hope. Because if you can do that, well, that is something to be really happy about.

All royalties from the books support public interest law fellowships to help under-served communities. Come to a book signing with Prof. Franzese on Tuesday, April 8th at 6pm in 203 Diana. Refreshments will be served. Excerpts from A Short Happy Guide to Being a College Student and A Short Happy Guide to Being a Law Student can be found at

Cool picture of a cool lady via SelectedWorks

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    wrote about this 3 weeks ago...

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