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In Defense Of Seminars

I’ve heard that in seminars…you read books.

Bwogger Gabrielle Kloppers recounts a regret from her time at Columbia. She is a Senior and this advice would have changed her academic life. Don’t be like Gabrielle, read this piece.

Up until recently, I had not taken many seminars. I started my English major halfway through my Sophomore year with the mandatory introductory class. I felt that I was behind on the major, despite performing well in the class, and thought I could use some time to hone up my English skills before going on to do seminars. I was intimidated. I was also scared I wouldn’t be granted permission by the professors and feared going into a new semester without having my class schedule figured out just so.

So, I took a lot of English lectures, which have more spaces available and do not require instructor permission, to enhance my skills before I faced the seminar. What I failed to consider is that lectures typically count for 3 credits, and seminars for 4. I told myself I would need to average at least 15 credits per semester, as a personal goal. Lectures require exams to test if you’re involved in the class, in addition to papers. This meant that due to my lecture-packed course-load, I was often taking 5 classes, with 2 exams and 2 long papers each. I prepared assiduously for each assignment but often spent more time preparing than actually engaging with the fascinating material my courses offered.

Then I FINALLY discovered seminars, and they changed my life. 4 credits instead of 3 meant I could take fewer classes to reach my self-imposed numbers. Thus, I could devote more time to fully appreciating and understanding the materials and nuances of each class. This enhanced understanding meant that, although seminars are generally considered more challenging, I actually found them easier.

The increased familiarity with my professors made asking for help easier. They knew me, so I was much less shy about reaching out for even the banalest of questions. I found myself attending office hours not just to go over paper topics, but also to discuss other questions the class engendered in me.

The final part of this is the grading. Where previously my attendance was primarily checked by exams and regurgitation, now it was participation. Participation is not stressful for me. If you’re attending all classes and participating eagerly, it’s not that difficult. Remembering every poem and its significance several months after you initially read it is hard; being a thoughtful, present learner shouldn’t be. The thoughtfulness that seminars generally engender meant that I was more likely to write papers on topics that, although often more difficult, were meaningful to me.

In short, don’t make the mistake I did of being intimidated by seminar classes, especially in the English department. Professors and classmates are friendly and won’t bite. Plus, you’ll become a much better, far more committed student for it. Seminars here are amazing, so take advantage of them.

to all the books i’ve loved before via Columbia PoliSci

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