Flutterby™! : Like college all over again

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Like college all over again

2004-05-26 19:01:13.53196+00 by Dan Lyke 9 comments

I was going to head into the city last night to catch Digital Verité at its new digs, but at the last minute Alec[Wiki] called me up asking for advice and guidance on college scheduling. He's getting the usual "you gotta declare a major" stuff, and needed someone to sit down with him to cut through the crap and point out that you plan on dropping a class, and you should work your schedule so that it doesn't leave gaping holes when you do, and how to get beta on professors. That kind of thing.

So we went through the list of required classes and through the catalog and did wrote down all the ones that looked interesting, all the ones that were necessary, and then tried to build a schedule around the critical classes, and we came up with what might actually be a pretty good solution.

However... In the process of going through this I had the "oh, that'd be cool", then we'd go read the course description and I was taken back to actually sitting in some variant of that class, and I had to work hard to not suck the life out of the process. Amazing what a few years of college did for my cynicism level back then, even more so what the intervening years have wrought.

[ related topics: Children and growing up Dan's Life Education ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-27 17:28:19.103454+00 by: ebradway

I just managed to finish my Bachelors. Took me sixteen years but I managed to do it. My years away from school made me appreciate a number of things:

  1. The course descriptions are more like Pr releases for the classes than any real indication of the content of the class.
  2. The professor who's teaching the class almost matters more than the content of the class.
  3. Always take at least one "fun" class every semester. I think this is what Minors were created for. I majored in math and minored in geography and I was about two classes away from a minor in religious studies.
  4. College is frequently more about going through a process than the actual acquisition of knowledge.

My recommendation for new college kids who don't already know they want to be an electrical engineer is to find out who the best professor for each core class required by the school - not any particular major - and try to get into those classes. When you find a professor you really like, take another class by him. If you still like him (or her), you may have found your major. Also, find out when different departments are hosting guest lecturers and having informal get-togethers (like Xmas parties) and show up. Usually you get free food and you'll get to start to see your profs as people.

Other recommendations: private schools are too expensive and not really worth the extra cost. Go to a good state school that is not a commuter school (has dorms or apartments) but not so big that you never see a prof. Try to avoid classes that are taught in auditoriums by graduate assistants. Borrow a little extra money each semester and take a trip during Fall and Spring break. Do something fun over summer like work on a river as a guide. Enjoy your college years because after that usually comes work - and work generally sucks.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-28 14:12:49.703157+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

For those youngsters who may be sitting on the fence about college (and I have no idea if that applies to any regular readers), I'll echo Eric's (congratulations, btw ;-) advice to schedule fun into the plan and the importance of the process over the knowledge.

I didn't go to college. Thought it was neither necessary nor made sense for my chosen industry (computer programmer). Now, 17 years later and near the end of my AA, I have learned two things:

  1. I was right. The formal structure of a college can't keep up with the pace of the technology industry, and yet
  2. Missing out on the experience of going to college left me feeling like an outsider among my peers.

Go. Go for the experience.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-28 14:44:45.549461+00 by: Diane Reese

Go for the experience.

Thanks for the validation, Eric and Shawn. That's pretty much what I'm telling my just-became-a-HS-senior kid. He's going to get into all sorts of great schools when he applies next fall, as are some of his friends. The pals (and their parents) are worrying about which schools will give them the most rigorous academics, opportunities for research with professors, etc. and while those things aren't to be totally brushed aside, I keep telling them there's got to be an acknowledgement of "life" at the same time. Finding how to balance all parts of life -- work/school, self-care, socializing, romance -- are another important skill one can learn in college... and sometimes not until after some dramatic failed attempts. I'm hoping my kid will take your experiences to heart and choose wisely for himself. And knowing him, I think he will. Thanks for sharing.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-29 21:10:06.800824+00 by: Shawn [edit history]

You're welcome, Diane. I can't begin to describe, in the space here, the sense of disconnection and outness I've felt over the years because I didn't have that shared experience with my peers.

This is purely anecdotal, but based on recent conversations with K (who is getting close to finishing her track at a technical college), if you're purely after knowledge go to a trade/technical school. For the experience - which I contend has immense value - go to an academic college.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-30 21:01:56.865137+00 by: ebradway

"If you're after knowledge..."

There are some areas of knowledge that trade/technical schools don't do well. My BS is in Math. Subjects like math that require a deeper level of study require more years and must be presented by people with a deeper understanding.

Diane: You're welcome. When I look back on my early twenties, I sure wish I had just stayed in school and enjoyed myself rather than getting into the real world so soon. As John Mayer says:

"I want to run through the halls of my high school, I want to scream at the top of my lungs, There's no such thing as the Real World, It's just a lie we have to rise above"

What's sad, especially in High School, is that so many teachers try to convince you that you are in school to become more effective members of the real world. College shouldn't be about learning how to become a better cog in the machine - it's about learning to be yourself and frequently learning how to reinvent the machine. I thought I was reinventing the machine when I quit college but, instead, I just got caught up in someone else's dreams...

Of course, if I hadn't dropped out of college, I likely never would have met Dan...

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-31 06:03:18.754488+00 by: topspin

"Colleges are like old-age homes; except for the fact that more people die in colleges than in old-age homes, there's really no difference." No doubt said with a sly grin at the interviewer

College was good for me.... socially and academically. BUT, both socially and professionally, experiences and on the job training, respectively, are FAR more important. Tell the young'uns to ENJOY the first coupla years, then.... go to AA, if they need to.... get that rash treated and/or have a blood test or two.... and.... oh yeah, consider picking a REAL major around their junior year.

Seriously, Diane, I'd encourage you to have your sons look at what you and Charlie do... day in and day out... and the path y'all took to get there. Have them question the happiest adults they know about their job, job path, school decisions, etc. Hopefully they won't ask Dan and begin making comments in comp.graphics.algorithms. <giggle>

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-31 15:29:42.097383+00 by: markd

I'm one of those weird people who went to a small private (church-affiliated even) liberal arts college, and I think that has given me a leg up over folks who went to the huge universities. A small student to professor ratio meant I got a lot of attention and could build relationships with the faculty. The professors actually instructed the class (no TA's doing most of the instruction), plus since it was a small student body, I could be the Big Fish in the Small Pond. Like being one of three student workers in the campus computer services department. It was nice being able to have letters of reference from the director of the CSD, as well as from the Dean of the college (yet another individual I could form a relationship with) because of the exposure to them via working in the CSD. (plus having access to the faculty and staff campus mailing lists afforded some practical joke opportunities too)

Similarly, I wasn't a music major, but I was able to participate in a lot of campus music groups (musicals, woodwind quintets for ceremonial duties, the collge concert and pep bands) and was able to build a reputation and get some paying gigs out in the community. In a larger school, all of those spots would have been filled by music majors and I would have been relegated to the suck-band that non-majors get to play in.

#Comment Re: made: 2004-05-31 16:41:01.588822+00 by: ebradway

markd is dead-on about smaller schools. UTC, where I just finished my BS and am employed, is a public school with about 7000 students. Tuition is cheap, the cost of living in Chattanooga is low. The area doesn't attract the arts and edginess of places like Asheville. The school is pretty good - doesn't even allow TAs to teach classes (just labs) and the largest class I've had was Astronomy 101. Last semester I was in a class taught by the head of the Math department with three students. Granted that was a little unusual, but most classes have less than 20 students. The faculty here is divided between decent educators (it's a teaching school, so people interested in research generally don't look for tenure here) and some real superstars. The great thing about the superstars is that the classes are small enough that you can develop a relationship real fast with one of the better faculty members.

As far as Dan's path, everyone has to realize that he's an exception. Saying you can drop out of school and post to comp.graphics and get a job offer from Pixar is like saying you can drop out of Harvard and write (or steal) an operating system for IBM and become the richest man in the world.

But if you ask Dan about his psychological development... Maybe he'll own up to the fact that he could have used a few more years of playtime - but he got off that track in high school (as did I).

#Comment Re: made: 2004-06-01 16:21:34.20844+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

When I first met Eric he had developed some theories on the similarities between college and religion; the belief systems, the rituals, the organized stages of enlightenment. And it seems like a good part of this thread reinforces that, that much of college is about learning those "secret handshakes".

Not that that's a bad thing, just as seeing a brand name on a consumer appliance gives you some indication of its design, seeing a logo stamped on the forehead of a young hire gives you an idea of a base level of knowledge and ability to do certain sorts of chores.

And I think Eric's on to something: What I should have done during college is gotten into the best school I could possibly graduate from with a "C" and party my ass off; meet people, get dirt, make those connections which I've had to try to build later in life. But that wasn't in my nature then, and it'd still be a stretch for me now. I have trouble with that networking aspect of relationships, that started back in grade school and no amount of dorm living would really fix that for me.

I've linked before to notions that from an educational standpoing colleges work mostly as filtering mechanisms, that except for low-income students colleges tend to turn out largely what they accept. I think it's important to take this in conjunction with my attitudes about socialization, there are probably more than a few "Skull & Bones" members who have accomplished more by having known Dubya when he was a party boy than they would have on their brains alone.

Finally, your "I'm not unique" note for the day: 19 year old hired at LucasArts on the basis of his amateur effects work.

I've got some notions on specialization and how the idea that everyone needs a college diploma has caused some disturbing trends in the compartmentalization of knowledge that I hinted at yesterday, still trying to find the right context in which to explain those thoughts.