Professors’ Guide to Surviving Swarthmore

The Daily Gazette reached out to a handful of Swarthmore professors to give you, the Class of 2018, some of the best advice on how to navigate our infamous academic scene. How can you stay afloat in some of the College’s hardest classes? How should you email professors? Are office hours really worth the time (and trek) to attend? Find out with some of the best tips!

General

“Don’t forget you are a whole person.  Dance (whatever that means to you) — just get out there and dance.” —Donna Jo Napoli, Professor of Linguistics.

“Don’t discard your hometown dialect and culture to try to fit in. If you’re from the south, be proud to say “y’all.” And don’t have anxiety about saying SWATH-more vs. SWARTH-more; there is no such thing as a correct pronunciation.” —K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics.

“Don’t think about graduate school (yet), and don’t rush into it. Enjoy the undergraduate experience fully.” —K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics.

 

Talking With Professors and Peers

“When you email a prof better to be more formal than less, if you ask them a question or for resources make sure to acknowledge receipt/response” —Cheryl Jones-Walker, Assistant Professor of Black Studies and Educational Studies.

“Never start an email to a professor with “Hey.” It’s best to start with “Dear Professor ___”. It’s also best to sign your emails: an email is not the same as an instant message, and it’s easy to unintentionally appear rude, especially to professors used to a more formal letter writing etiquette.” —Andrew Hauze, Associate in Performance (Music), and Concert Manager.

“Drop in on office hours often, your professors really do want to see you and get to know you as a person and a scholar. You are what makes our work worthwhile.” —K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics.

“Don’t make emailing a substitute for visits to office hours or making appointments to talk with your professor in person outside of class, especially about things like paper topics, etc.” Allen Kuharski, Stephen Lang Professor of Performing Arts.

“Celebrate the accomplishments of others. If you got a B and someone else got an A, enjoy their accomplishment and see what you can learn from them, don’t begrudge them or get locked into a false paradigm of zero-sum competitiveness.” —K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics.

 

Using Technology in Class

“If you are using a laptop for notes, be sure to not get distracted by email or the internet” —Cheryl Jones-Walker, Assistant Professor of Black Studies and Educational Studies.

“No texting or use of hand-held devised during class.  Multitasking during class will always create problems for you, and often the rest of the class, as well.” Allen Kuharski, Stephen Lang Professor of Performing Arts.

 

Scheduling Classes

“Don’t forget or neglect the fact that things have to be interesting to you” —Peter Baumann, Professor of Philosophy.

“Remember that 4 credits is already 40-50 hours of work/week (class times + homework).  Every credit you add will increase this by about 10-12 hours per credit.  If you have to work or have scheduled extracurriculars like sports, think hard about adding those extra credits.” Allen Kuharski, Stephen Lang Professor of Performing Arts.

“Don’t double major.  You have a limited time to take classes from some of the most brilliant minds in the world in dozens of different fields, so just pick your one obligatory major, and then take whatever random classes happen to resonate with you.  This will you give you a broad, individualized education, tuned to match the details of your particular interests.  A second major imposes rigidity on your schedule that can cause stress and frustration, and you will likely find yourself unhappy with some of the less exciting required courses.  Furthermore, almost no one will ever care whether your résumé lists your secondary experience as a “major” or as “relevant coursework”.  The marginal benefits of a double major rarely justify the costs.  However, you should plan your education through careful consultation with faculty mentors, because a double major can be the right choice in special circumstances.” —Nathan Sanders, Visiting Assistant Professor of Linguistics.

 

Time Management

“What to do if things seem to get out of control? Much better to talk openly to your professors than to avoid them.” —Peter Baumann, Professor of Philosophy.

“While the ‘secret to success’ is a little different in each subject, the single universal survival tip is to keep up with the material.  I know this is easier said than done, but in some subjects just going over your lecture notes after each lecture (or before the next lecture) can keep you above water.” —Mark Kuperberg, Professor of Economics.

“Avoid doing all nighters at all costs.  Sleep deprivation really hurts your efficiency, especially if it is a habit.” Allen Kuharski, Stephen Lang Professor of Performing Arts.

“Though Swarthmore is small, it is still a place that is largely defined by a GLUT of resources and distractions, as well as no shortage of work to do for often very exciting classes.  You will need to learn to prioritize, with your classes at the top. There are always too many worthwhile things to do at Swarthmore.  You need to give yourself permission to pass on amazing things going on (you can’t possibly do them all) and be very understanding of your fellow students and professors if they can’t make it to things you are doings (they also can’t do it all).” —Allen Kuharski, Stephen Lang Professor of Performing Arts.

 

Writing

“In writing, less is more. Never use a big word when you can use a small one, it doesn’t make your writing better. Be aware of metaphors, they contain hidden ideologies.” —K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics.

“After you’ve done an outline and gathered your sources, write a sloppy, stream of consciousness draft of a paper about a week before the paper is due. Then come back to it and hone your argument and prose a little bit each day.” —Andrew Hauze, Associate in Performance (Music), and Concert Manager.

 

Participation

“In class, speak up often. You contribute to the scholarly life of the campus not only by your ideas, but by your entire life experience. Reveal yourself.” —K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics.

“If you are feeling shy or unable to be heard in class, make a point to talk with the professor after class or in office hours about your question or comment.  If what you have to share is useful to the group, the professor will probably let you know, and this should make you feel more confident about speaking up and also establish your presence in the group with the prof.” Allen Kuharski, Stephen Lang Professor of Performing Arts.

“Revel in the fact that you are not the smartest person in the room (and neither is your professor, most likely).” —K. David Harrison, Associate Professor and Chair of Linguistics.

 


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3 comments

  1. 0
    2014 says:

    Funny to see David Harrison extolling the virtues of office hours when he was the only professor to ever make me feel unwelcome… He literally told me “You don’t need to be here”, which, while it may have been true, did not help me understand the format of our upcoming exam at all.

  2. 0
    Meghan says:

    Thanks for posting this article! As an incoming freshman, I really appreciated it. Thanks to all of the professors who offered their advice!

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