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From December 2012 to May 2013, while teaching at Emory University, I contributed posts to a student-run confessions Facebook page called Emory Secrets. I did so anonymously, and soon began to be known among the Emory Secrets community as the “secret professor.” Before leaving Emory, I revealed my identity and delivered a talk to about 50 students (see the video section). Below you will find the original text of all my posts from Emory Secrets. The number after # refers to the secret number as counted by the page (they have now passed 4000 secrets). Please note that the ideas and comments expressed below reflect my views about certain issues at the time I wrote them. My position on some of these issues has evolved since, as my responses to more recent questions posted in the main part of this website will demonstrate.
 

12/19/12, #171: A professor’s secret: find the one professor you can really connect with. It’s great to have friends your age, but it’s always good to have someone a little older who has been through what you are going through. Most professors won’t ask you about personal stuff, but many are willing to listen and dispense advice. I have helped so many students and wish I could help more. We are here for you regardless of the grade we eventually have to give you. (more prof. secrets to come)

 

12/19/12, #193: A professor’s secret, pt.2: re #177 – Emory has a relatively high rape rate. Many professors know this but don’t care enough to change it. Others (like me) are too young in the system, and if we speak up we might lose our jobs (read: we probably will). So it’s for you students to act. Support groups are important, but aren’t enough.
Here’s what really needs to be done: 1. Petition James Wagner to order Emory hospital to get rape kits. These are needed to file a complaint with the police. Until he agrees – 2. If you are a victim, seek help at any hospital but Emory. 3. do not go to Emory police. File a complaint with Dekalb county police. Emory police is under Wagner’s authority, and all he cares about is the prestige of the university. So any rape case reported to Emory police results in in-house disciplinary actions against the offender, and that is best case scenario (think about it: no parent would send their kid to a school that is notorious for rape, right? Better make sure no one knows about this). Remember that rape is a crime. Whoever did this to you, even if you know him, should go to prison for 20 years, not be suspended for a semester. Yes, his life will be ruined, but he didn’t think much about you before he ruined yours. Until some students go to prison for real and there will be media coverage of it, nothing will change. And so 4. make it very clear to President Wagner that if he does not address the issue immediately you will involve local media who would love to air a great story about rape at Emory.
Please be brave and tell your story. This is the only way we can prevent rape and other forms of sexual assault from happening to others.

 

12/20/12, #212: A professor’s secret, pt. 3: Most of the letters of recommendation I write are quite lousy. So are most of my colleagues’. That’s not because I don’t want to help. It’s just because I don’t know the student well enough to write a really good letter. If you got an A in my course, that’s great, but there’s still very little I can say about you beyond “he/she is excellent, brilliant, outstanding, etc.” All letters of recommendation say that. If you want a professor to write a letter for you that will stand out above the rest – especially if you are applying to a grad program/scholarship/internship that’s really hard to get and where you are competing against hundreds of really good applicants – ask only the people who know you well to write for you. Go to office hours, write really good papers (with original analysis, not the bullshit high school-level compare-contrast type), study another language for real, beyond the mandatory courses (you’d be surprised how impressive that is in the eyes of professors), and then go to office hours again. Invest in this relationship, hang out with your favorite profs, get to know them and let them know you, so when the day comes your professor will know a lot more about you than he/she can put in a letter. I have had that kind of a close relationship with a few students, and guess what? I’ve had 100% success getting them into the programs they wanted. The other students I wrote for? well, not so much…
 

12/21/12, #221: [a response to #220] You are right that few professors do that [develop relationships with students outside of class]. This is unfortunate. Some people feel their duty ends when class ends. Some have families they want to spend time with. Some are only interested in their research and teach only because they have to. Some just have weird personalities. Some are shy or not outgoing people, but would love to help you if you approach them. And many are just too busy and would love to have more such interactions given the time.
But you need to see the other side too: many students at Emory reject attempts to approach or help them, as if they were saying “I already got into Emory. I don’t need you to advise me. Teach the class and leave me alone.” This has happened to me so many times here (though never at the other state university I’ve taught at). I got hammered more than once in course evaluations by students (stupid enough to self identify) I’ve tried to interact with outside of class because I was the first and only professor who has told them that what they were doing wasn’t good enough, that they could do better, or because I gave them a C on the midterm and shattered their world of perfection and pride while offering to literally hold their hand until they improve and get an A in my class. To receive such feedback after you’ve given so much is very frustrating.
Some professors have given up. But many have not. The professor you’ve mentioned is clearly not the only one at Emory (since I’m not him… but there are others too). And “office hours” was only figurative. Go see your professors any time. Most of them will be happy to speak with you.
 

12/21/12, #231: A professor’s secret, pt. 4: more on connecting with your professors – “I wish more students would try to connect with me.” I’ve heard this from so many of my colleagues. And in a way I feel the same. It’s not always easy, as #224 has justly noted. So here are some things to consider to make it easier (based on what I’ve heard from so many professors – stuff they usually won’t tell you): 1. Be responsible: if you schedule a meeting with your prof, show up, and on time; if you promise to email, email; if you missed a class, see your prof to make up for it. 2. Be respectful: if you text under the desk, we see it; if you are posting on facebook while we are lecturing, we know it; and if you fall asleep in class, well… 3. Show that you care about your own education (as opposed to just getting good grades) by going to office hours, or even catching your profs at the end of class for a quick conversation. Following this advice will signal to your professor that you are serious, and that you are someone mature enough to be worth befriending, even if you don’t get an A. If you have done all that and still feel you cannot connect with any of your teachers, you probably need advice on your course of study and what classes to take. More on this in my next post.
 

12/22/12, #256: A professor’s secret, pt. 5: There’s nothing you can do that’s more self-deprecating in the eyes of College professors than to tell them you plan to be a business-school major (and I’m not talking about those who are double majors in business/college). When such a student comes to me, I try to explain that one can always go to business school later (get an MBA, etc.), but this is the only chance you’ll ever have to get a broad liberal-arts education. I add that if you have business acumen, you’ll do well without business-school training, and if you don’t, being a business major won’t help you. I stress that creativity, the ability to think outside the box, and being a worldly person are the attributes that make a successful entrepreneur/business leader, and that such skills are acquired by reading texts from classical Greece and Rome, studying the French revolution, learning another language, taking a course in neuroscience, working as a research assistant for a professor in a physics lab, or doing field work in anthropology – and not by taking another course in corporate finance (nothing wrong with corporate finance, but that should come later, after you have broad foundations). I give concrete examples of business leaders whose training started in the liberal arts (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, etc.). I really use all my swaying power, and when alas I fail, I lament the waste of another $60k a year on someone who, at least statistically, will not be a great business leader, and won’t be as great as he/she could have been otherwise.
 

12/24/12, #303: A professor’s secret, pt. 6: Every time students tells me they broke up with the person they thought was their love of their life, or just someone they had a very meaningful relationship with, I want to cry. I genuinely feel sad, remembering it happened to me a week before the most important exam of graduate school and how awful and miserable I felt then. I thought I would fail and be kicked out, but I was strong and got over it thanks to friends and teachers and I survived. This appears to have happened to so many people posting here. When it does, please know you are not alone. Most of your profs have been through similar things already, and many of your friends have too. Don’t feel if you talk to your prof about it he/she will think you are just making excuses to not do your work. Anyone who has been through this knows how hard it is, how challenging college life can be with all those real-life miseries. And I’d like to believe most of my colleagues would want to help, each in his/her own way. Some might say I’m naive. I hope I am not.
 

12/25/12, #346: A professor’s secret, pt. 7: I give Bs and Cs every semester. It’s not because I’m mean. I was raised to believe that A- is the grade given for excellent work, and A for something truly exceptional (I don’t follow the latter advice though – many students have gotten As in my classes). What kills me is that students who get a C+ or B- in my class take it so personally that next time I see them on campus they ignore me and look the other way, just like a child who covers his eyes so others won’t see him. I wish those who seriously care about their education grew up a little and realized they probably got this grade because they didn’t put in enough effort throughout the semester, or because they had some personal crisis that affected their performance and they never bothered to tell me about it (see my previous posts about that), or because they were over invested in extra-curricular activities. Bad grades are not personal. I really admire some of my students who didn’t get As in my classes, and I wish they followed a more constructive approach and came to me asking for advice how to never again underperform as they did. Wishful thinking, I know.
 

12/27/12, #382: A professor’s secret, pt. 8: Writing course evaluations is never, unlike what many believe, a waste of time. Surely some profs (especially tenured ones) don’t care about you or what you think, but many do, and for untenured or temporary faculty it can make a difference (that is, good evaluations will not help them as much as bad ones would hurt them). I know that every semester I wait with great anticipation and trepidation to see mine. My hand shakes as I open the envelop and flip through the pages, joy rushing through my body as I read praising or constructive statements, and feeling my heart sink for each student I’ve let down. I know I can’t please everyone, but as I and many others believe, one still has to try. I really wish course evaluations were available to students so they could make better judgements about what courses to take, and so they would feel more obligated to take the evaluation process more seriously. Until that happens, I at least hope readers of this post will take this process more seriously just in case the professor they are evaluating next time is… me.
 

12/27/12, #398: A professor’s secret, pt. 9: The best criterion for choosing a course (beyond major requirements, personal interest, etc.) should not be whether you can get an easy A, but rather whether the professor can provide you with a meaningful educational experience, stir you in the right direction, and change your life for the better. We all want good GPAs, but the fact is, those professors who really care about you as a student are usually not the ones who hand out As easily. If you think about it, it makes sense: a prof who is truly devoted to his/her work as a teacher will also care about the quality of your work, provide ample comments, and spend much time assessing the quality of what you did. I understand the obsession with GPAs, I had that too, but you know what? I know so many successful people who went to the best graduate programs and got the best jobs and are really happy in life who had Bs and Cs and even Ds on their transcripts. Whoever sold you that load of malarkey that without a perfect GPA you won’t get anywhere in life had no idea what he/she was talking about. 10 years down the road you won’t even remember you got those “less than perfect” grades. But you will cherish the people who were really invested in your future and helped you get to where you are at.
I am truly humbled that so many people here would want to take a course with me. But to do that you don’t really need to know who I am. I promise you I’m nothing special. You can find “me” in every department on campus. Just do your homework and pick wisely.
 

12/28/12, #434: A professor’s secret, pt. 10: We met freshman year of college. She was my first serious relationship. We moved in together right before sophomore year. Everything worked for a while but the relationship gradually became emotionally and psychologically abusive. When we broke up after 2 years, I was devastated. I was strong enough not to let my grades suffer too much, but deep inside I was a mess, a dead body walking, a robot that imbibes knowledge and produces answers on tests . I blamed myself for letting her down, for not being the boyfriend I wanted to be, the boyfriend she felt she deserved. This haunted me for 4 years. I couldn’t have a serious relationship with any girl because I always feared I wouldn’t be good enough, that I would screw up; because I was still in love with that one girl. Finally I convinced her to try again. This time it only lasted a couple months. I realized it wasn’t me, it was her. She was the one who crushed me, who made me walk on eggshells all the time. No, walking on eggshells is an understatement. But trying again was the best thing I could have done. I was finally free.
Point of this story? First (or early) serious relationships are hard. They typically happen when we are in our late teens/early twenties, the most transformative period in our lives. And since we are relatively inexperienced, we make mistakes, we hurt others, and we get hurt. We become victims of those who use us emotionally (and sometimes physically) and then blame ourselves. So remember these relationships are also an important part of learning about yourself. Enjoy them while you can, never blame yourself for what others do to you (it is ALWAYS their fault), and get help when you need it, from friends, family, and others who have been through this already and now look back from the comfort of the great family they have, knowing how these tough experiences made them stronger, better spouses and parents.
 

12/29/12, #478: A professor’s secret, pt. 11: Like many profs at Emory, I’ve had the fortune to grow up in a home that supported learning. My parents have advanced degrees, I went to top schools, undergrad and grad, and never had to pay tuition because I got generous scholarships. I worked full time because I believed in supporting myself, but I didn’t have to. For so many profs coming from this background, and for most Emory students, it is hard to understand the immense hardships some first-generation college students at Emory have to face. Admittedly, I was like that too once. But as I gained more experience as a teacher, I learned to appreciate those who had to work a lot harder to get to the same point I did. I have had so many students who come from difficult backgrounds, who were wonderful in every way, and often more motivated than the average Emory student. I think we all should remember that for some, being at Emory is extremely challenging because they are expected to close an educational gap of 18 years in 4 or less. If you are asked to read so much when no one at home ever read to you or around you; to master using an academic library when no one ever took you to a public one as a kid; to comprehend sophisticated academic arguments written in a language that looks like English but is nothing like the English you used at home; to write essays without the foundations of English composition top high school graduates have; and to speak up in class when you feel everyone around you is smarter, I salute you for being here, for trying, for making it through another semester. I know that B+ you earned in my class was way harder to get than your classmate’s A. And I know that despite so many people here not realizing what it means for you to be here, there are some who do. Find those people – friends, professors – share your difficulties with them, ask for help, and listen. We are here for you, and your success is another proof that achieving your dreams has nothing to do with where you come from. It is your future, and we are here to help you own it.
 

12/30/12, #513: A professor’s secret, pt. 12: “So what’s next?” I like to ask students sitting in my office after we’re done talking about the matter for which they came to see me in the first place. I don’t mean tomorrow, of course, but what would they like to do after college. Usually, this question takes my students by surprise (apparently no professor has ever asked them that). But most then open up and tell me about their plans, their passions, or about how confused they are in college and really haven’t decided anything yet. Statistically, the answers I get suggest male students have a plan, while female students have dreams that they are clueless about how to realize.
There’s a reason for this. It is sometimes hard to realize at a place like Emory, but my experience in less-privileged colleges has taught me how much we really do still live in a patriarchal society that pays and values men more, and educates boys (but not girls) from childhood that they should always have a plan. We live in a society where male politicians (and bosses, and teachers) still believe they have the right to make choices for women that are none of their business. And yes, as the responses to post #405 very well argue, we still live in a “rape culture” that devalues women. Thus I often meet students – all girls – who don’t do well in class because bad advising put them in a class that’s simply too easy and boring for them; who don’t believe they’ll get into a top grad program or internship because society has always signaled to them that they won’t get it; who don’t speak up in class even though they have smart things to say, because it’s the guys who do all the talking; and who aren’t bold enough when interacting with professors and staff and therefore are less likely to get into a course that’s already full or to have a course that’s not cross-listed under their department be counted for their major.
As a professor, I believe empowering women to successfully navigate through college, pursue their dreams, be successful, and fight stigmas, is one of my most important missions. And again, I know I’m not alone in this approach.
 

12/30/12, #526: A professor’s secret, pt. 12.5: A couple points I intended to make in my previous post (#513), and which would also respond to some of the comments:
1. Maybe women at Emory are facing fewer challenges than their counterparts elsewhere, but the problems I described are real. I see them every week. My experiences are not representative or general, they are just my own. If some (or even most) female students on campus believe there’s no real problem, that’s terrific. All I want is to reach out to those who feel otherwise.
2. It’s never only about having the fire to succeed. You worked really hard and everything seems to be turning out well for you? Great. But has it occurred to you that maybe someone isn’t good at making plans or is clueless about navigating real life because she never had anyone to inspire her, to show her how to set goals and to achieve them, or, maybe the goals people (family, high school teachers, professors) suggested for her promoted underachievement rather than success? Or maybe she is a survivor of sexual assault and can’t bring herself to see a bright future (sexual assault and rape are quite common at Emory, after all). For some reason I believe such scenarios happen more to women than to men, but I’ll be really happy to learn I’m wrong. Please remember there’s more to achieving one’s goals than not being lazy. There are things we need to fix in society and on campus. Some student groups are doing a wonderful job, and I think we as faculty too could and should try harder.
 

1/2/13, #559: A professor’s secret, pt. 13: I went to school for 10 years to get my Ph.D. while my friends embarked on their careers right out of college. Most of my students will make more money than I do the day they leave college. Virtually all of them will within a couple of years after that. Emory pays entry-level administrators with a BA at least 50% more than it pays me, even though most such positions have no bearing on the quality of education you get. I probably won’t see a 6-figure salary anytime in the next 20 years, yet Emory’s president made 1.17 million in 2011. And it’s more likely than not that in the near future, like so many young professors who got their doctorates in the last decade, I’ll find myself out of academia working in some boring desk job because whatever a university offers to pay me will be significantly less than my monthly expenses (and I don’t splurge).
But you know what? For now I’m happy. I have the best job in the world, and it’s thanks to my students (and those liking and commenting here who I wish were my students) and the many lives I can touch that I come home every day with a big smile. It’s all a question of perspective, I suppose.
 

1/3/13, #598: A professor’s secret, pt. 14: I’ve been really puzzled by the many responses to my earlier posts, which express amazement that a professor like me actually exists. One student even suggested that I am “masquerading as an Emory professor” (Emory Secrets can perhaps confirm I’m indeed real). I really don’t think what I’ve been saying here is that special. I’m not the only one who views close interactions with students as part of a professor’s job. I can’t be the only one who cares. No, I know I am not, but unfortunately I’m not in the majority either. Why?
There are several reasons, among which are the different personalities and interests of professors. Yet I think one major explanation is that our university (and research institutions in general) doesn’t care about that part of our job, and does not figure it into promotion or retention considerations. For instance, I spend over an hour every week on the phone with one former student whose life was literally destroyed due to a family tragedy; and many more hours with students in my office, talking about anything from coursework to their boyfriend/girlfriend who just left them. This is the best part of my job, one where I feel I’m making a difference in people’s lives, one that I would devote more time to if I could. Whether I do it or not, however, makes no difference whatsoever in how I am assessed and whether the university would choose to employ me in the future. Another professor down the hall may keep his/her door shut at all times, come to campus twice a week only to teach classes and for office hours, get mediocre teaching evaluations, never attend any extracurricular activities, and still be considered a superstar. I’m not saying all this to complain – I love my job, really (read more on that in my previous post, #559) – just to emphasize that we don’t actually get paid for engaging with students beyond class time. For you students, this means it may be harder to find the right professor to work with. But despite the skepticism of some, people of our sort do exist, and we sure ain’t masquerading.
 

1/4/13, #640: A professor’s secret, pt. 15: A few years back I encouraged a student to improve his/her grades, LSAT score, and try for better law schools than he/she was aiming at. I thought that student undervalued him/herself. I told him/her: we are in this together. I will read your final papers for all courses to help you improve, I will speak to other professors on your behalf, I will give you a room in my house if you need a quiet place to study for the LSAT (his/her apartment was too noisy), and I will write the best letter of recommendation for you anyone has ever written. I kept my end of the deal, but the student showed no motivation to succeed. Eventually, he/she only got into a mediocre law program.
So I wrote him/her a long note saying I think he/she made a huge mistake, and that basically all the hours I spent helping him/her were for nothing, since he/she could have gotten into that law school without my help. Ouch, I know, but I did put 2 years of work into that student’s career… He/she didn’t take it so well. We used to be very close; we hardly ever speak. This episode was very hard for me emotionally, and it is still difficulty to write about it, let alone share it with other students. But I know this won’t change who I am: I will always give everything I have if I believe in someone, I will always push my students beyond their limits. And, I will always believe in my right to tell them what I think, whether they take it the right way, or not.
And to all of you who have been following my posts (especially #171, 212, 221, 303, 346, 398) I will say this: if you have a professor who believes in you, who is trying to get you to do the impossible, who really wants to be invested in your future, listen. And give it a shot. If someone is willing to put in so much time and energy for you, you must be worth it.
 

1/5/13, #661: @#641: My door is always open. You need not take a course with me. Your interests don’t have to correlate with mine. You may think what I study is boring. If you know who I am, stop by any time. I may not always have the best answer, but I promise to listen. If you don’t know who I am, well… I guess you’ll either have to ask around (some people here know me) or wait till I decide to reveal my identity.
@#655: It’s hard to give concrete advice without knowing you, but I second everything said in the comments. It’s a good idea to do something that builds your resume, but it doesn’t have to be big. If you need money, work in whatever job you can find. Then, in your spare time, volunteer. On a different note, I think you should believe in yourself a little more than you do. Why do you think you wouldn’t get those internships? Are you a lousy student? Have you been told these internships are impossible to get, or just not for you? Have you had the right people write letters of recommendation for you, or advise you on which internships to seek? (see #212 for more on this). There’s still time to apply to other internships/scholarships/programs for the summer. I’m not an expert on such issues, but talking to juniors/seniors who have been there before you might help.

 

1/6/13, #685: A professor’s secret, pt. 16: I really wanted to write about something else, but since I read #653 (and especially her response to the comments) I’ve been troubled and restless. To the author of that post and others who have been in a similar situation: I admire you; you are so brave. Please know you are not alone. Emory’s treatment of this issue is deplorable and inexcusable. Emory doesn’t own you. It does not decide what you are allowed or not allowed to do. Despite the difficulties in going to the police and convincing prosecutors to take a rape case, I believe (as I said in #193) that until someone goes to prison for 30 years, nothing will change.
For those of you frustrated by the obdurateness of the university to handle such cases properly, I can only say that there are people on campus who are happy to help. The different student support groups are doing a great job (emotionally and by promoting awareness). If you need someone older to talk to, or even to go with you to the police and support you through the legal process, and you don’t want to involve your parents and the counselors won’t help, consider talking to a professor you trust, someone you are close with. We know how to keep things confidential, we want you to succeed, and most of us – I want to believe – have little sympathy for the administration’s (perhaps inadvertent?) protectiveness of alleged criminals for the sake of boosting college rankings.

 

1/6/13, #709: A professor’s secret, pt. 17: I too get annoyed with people who don’t answer emails. At least a one line response is the right thing to do. For #694 and others, here are some tips on how to increase the chances of getting a response from your prof:

1. Fill in the subject line: we get hundreds of these a day, so make sure to catch our attention.
2. Be concise: many profs won’t read beyond the first 3-4 sentences; get to the point right away, tell me what you need, why, and what can I do to help.
3. Be respectful: open with “Dear Dr./Prof. X,” and end with “Sincerely,” or “All the best,” or something of the sort. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I get with “Hey,” “Hi Professor,” “Yo Prof” or even with no such introduction whatsoever. Personally I don’t like formalities so I couldn’t care less about these things (or if you call me by my first name), but I would guess the professors who tend not to respond to your emails care more.
4. Be reasonable: feel free to ask for stuff, but don’t expect a prof to write a letter of recommendation for you when the deadline is tomorrow, to come to campus especially to meet with you on a day he/she wasn’t planning to be in the office, or to read a draft of your final paper 2 days before the deadline when he/she has not offered this service to the other students (all things that happened to me many times at Emory).
5. Remind: If you haven’t heard back after a week, try sending a gentile reminder. We are human too, and sometimes we just forget.
If you’ve done all that and still didn’t get a response, please understand that some periods (beginning and end of semester, for example) are very busy for us just as they are for you. I don’t condone ignoring emails, and I believe if you’re unavailable you should at least set up an auto reply saying when you expect to be back. But please understand that sometimes, on breaks or leaves, you don’t hear from a professor because he/she is specifically on a period designated as “free from teaching,” which means no emails to/from students. Again, I believe most people do respond, but some professors have worked hard to get funding for a semester off and have no intention spending 2 hours a day writing emails (that’s what I spend on average) when they have a book to finish. Not trying to make excuses for others, just pointing out the other side of things.

 

1/8/13, #762: A professor’s secret, pt. 18: A few weeks ago a former student called me, saying she finally realized what she wants to do in life. She just didn’t know how to start pursuing her dream, and asked if I could help her figure that out. So I ran some online searches, talked to a few people, and got back to her with options I thought looked really promising: two internships, two graduate programs. “But I’m never getting into these,” she said, “not with my grades and not with a BA from that university.” “And what do you think distinguishes the few who get into those top programs from the multitude who don’t?” I asked her. “GPA, money, the reputation of their school,” she replied.
Actually, no. People who get into a top graduate program at an IVY-league school, for instance, often have these attributes, but they are not defined by them. It’s the people who make the right choices, plan ahead, network tirelessly, don’t have crazy shit about them that comes up in a simple google search, and keep a reasonable balance of academics – extra curriculars, who eventually stand out above the rest. And it is often the most promising and brilliant students (like many at Emory) who get nowhere because they have their priorities messed up. I have such students every semester. They miss too many classes because they are on some university team that’s really exhilarating now but that no one will care about in 5 years; they perform poorly on assignments; and the worst part? They resist attempts to reach out to them.
Yes, you got that right: I don’t wait for them to come to office hours, I invite them, I offer to meet them anytime and anywhere on campus they like, but they say no. I know some readers might say “it’s not our fault that we don’t know what to do, that we sometimes make lousy choices; Emory’s guidance and advising system sucks.” That’s true, but there are still things one can do. If you’re not the kind of person who connects well with professors or other more experienced professionals, you should at least talk to someone more senior (freshmen talk to seniors etc.) once a semester about making plans and sticking to them. Even if you seem to be on the right track – you have a great GPA, you’ve taken all the right classes, all your professors worship you, and you are very confident as a person – you might still want to talk to someone whose been there already from time to time.
And finally, @#736: this is a question for a separate post, but in short I’ll say this: would you eat at a restaurant whose owner is a white racist who hates African Americans and donates millions to the KKK? No? So why would you eat at CFA? You see, for LGBTQ students today, the struggle for equal rights is the same as African American students had to face in the 1960s (and still face to some degree). And white protests against integration of blacks then were as preposterous as those against gay marriage today. That opposition to gay rights stems from religious and not racial principles isn’t relevant: they are both grounded in hatred, ignorance, and medieval values that smart, educated people who attend Emory (or any college) should be ashamed to support. And when you eat at CFA, you do, whether you want to or not. So my take on this? CFA can stay on campus if that’s what most students want. But I won’t eat there, and I won’t allow students to bring CFA food to class (because it may be offensive to some, and my classes are a safe zone for LGBTQ students).

 

1/9/13, #814: A professor’s secret, pt. 19: I wish more students would disagree with me. Sometimes I say something really stupid or outrageous in class just to test the limit of students’ tolerance to things that really don’t make any sense. And even then, only few speak up, while others simply giggle quietly. At a recent conference colleagues from other universities spoke of similar experiences: “it is very difficult to get my students to disagree with me, to express a mind of their own, to develop a clear argument that is inherently contradictory to mine.”
Why is that? I’m sure many feel they don’t know enough about the subject to voice a coherent argument. Others may be uncomfortable speaking in class in general. And yet there are those who’d rather play it safe, not wishing their disagreements with their professor – especially on political issues like the one we discussed in #762 – to affect their grade. These are all valid considerations, yet in the kind of courses I teach (humanities and social sciences), a good discussion is built on a discourse that involves different opinions. It takes time to get to know your professor and figure out if he/she’s yearning for a good argument, or is so full of him/herself (“I worked hard to get my Ph.D., who are you to tell me I’m wrong?”) that speaking up would be a risky waste of time. But please, when your professor deliberately asks for your opinion or wants to hear other views, don’t be afraid to speak. In such classes (mine included), students who come up with decent arguments – as annoying as they might be for the professor – are likely to be rewarded for it. I know I’ve given really good grades to students whose views on certain issued seemed quite ridiculous to me, but who knew how to explain themselves and were confident in their beliefs. Seriously: your teacher is not the source of all authority in this world. We are here to learn with you and from you, not to dictate. But for actual learning to take place, we need your help.

 

1/10/13, #848: A professor’s secret, pt. 20: Syllabi for my spring courses? check. Resources on Blackboard? check. Plans for first few weeks of class? check. I’ve done this so many times – start a semester or school year, meet new students, plan carefully what I’ll say – yet I still experience the same level of excitement and anxiety as a first grader soon to be left alone in school for the first time. I can’t help but wonder: what will my students be like? Will they like what I teach? Will I be able to challenge them? Will they like me as a teacher? Will they come talk to me when they have a problem, or just to chat? Will they respond when I reach out to them? Will they give me the chance to really get to know them? With who among them will I develop a relationship that transcends the classroom, or Emory in general?
These questions occupy me every semester. Yet this term will be different, thanks in part to Emory Secrets. I have read all 840+ posts, and they have taught me so much about the world of Emory students. I really feel I understand better what my students are going through, and that this knowledge will help me become a better teacher. And to all of you who have read, liked, and commented on my posts (#171, 193, 212, 221, 231, 256, 303, 346, 382, 398, 434, 478, 513, 526, 559, 598, 640, 661, 685, 709, 762, 814): I wish I could have you all in my classes. I wish I could meet you all – and especially those of you who seem so lost – personally (and maybe one day I will). Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts. It means a lot.

 

1/14/13, #910: A professor’s secret, pt. 21: I sort of anticipated the responses to my post on disagreeing with your profs (#814). Too many profs indeed have a huge ego that leaves little room for dissent of any type, from students or other faculty. For people like me, who don’t think they’re the shit, getting students to speak up is often an uphill battle precisely because so many have been chastised before for developing a mind of their own; and because the ruling academic atmosphere does not leave enough room for independent and creative thinking. I believe it is this very same atmosphere that impedes student activism in general.
Let me explain. Students burned campuses in the 60s and 70s all over America in protest of the Vietnam war. When I was an undergrad, not so long ago, there wasn’t a month without a rally, demonstration, submission of petitions, locking up of gates and buildings, and police intervention and media coverage. Non-violent protest (we never caused damage to property or people) taught us to be caring citizens, to be sensitive to the miseries of others, to fight injustices, and, most important, to believe we can change the world. We fought anyone, including our professors. We were not worried how that would affect our grades, and as far as I know, it didn’t.
Activism still happens: at Harvard quite often, last year on many campuses thanks to the Occupy movement, and even here at Emory, with the occupation of Jim Wagner’s office in protest of the recent cuts, and the CFA petition. Yet if you think about it, there are so many other issues students at Emory should have taken to the streets (or the quad) for: the overpriced mandatory meal plan; the ever-increasing administrators’ salaries and hires, and the parallel declining faculty ones, which means you get less education but continue to pay more for it; and of course the university’s atrocious negligence in handling sexual violence.
If, for instance, students went on strike, set up tents in the quad, and refused to evacuate or go to class until the university changed its dining policy, do you think the administration wouldn’t eventually give in? I guess I wonder why the customers of this system (students) don’t do enough to actively try to change the really big things. Is it that not enough people care? Is it the consequences down the road people are afraid of? Or maybe teachers, conduct officers, and administrators are so good at intimidating you to be “well behaved” and not “trouble makers” that people choose to be wonderful students and socially active in so many clubs, groups, and functions, but not revolutionary?

 

1/16/13, #930: A professor’s secret, pt. 22: Having taught my classes for the first time this week, I know I should be thinking about the impression I made (at least I didn’t shoot daggers out of my eyes at late students), whether I was interesting, how many students will choose to stay, what exactly I’ll be teaching in the coming weeks, and how many of my students will let me reach out to them. But really all I could think of was how many of them actually knew or suspected the person standing in front of them was me?

 

1/17/13, #955: A professor’s secret, pt. 23: It’s that time of year again: deadlines for the summer and fall are coming up, and with them comes the inevitable flood of requests for letters of recommendation. I’ve talked about this before, but this would be a good time to revisit the issue. I usually don’t say no to a letter request, but many times I do wonder why the student is asking me. Yes, you took a course with me. Yes, you got a decent grade. And yes, you did contribute something to class discussion. But do I really know you? It frustrates me every time I have to write a letter for someone I don’t know that well. Big deal, you were smart enough to do well in my class. Everyone at Emory is. You are bright and promising, but everyone here is too. You have a 3.7 GPA, you are on 5 different clubs, and you’ve already held 2 internships. Great, but there are hundreds like you. What is it about you that really makes you stand out above the rest? If I don’t know that, I can’t write the kind of letter that would get you in. And neither can all the other profs who write letters for you. Think about the 200 other letters the person on the other side must read. Everyone is outstanding, everyone is bright and promising. All the letters are the same, they are so boring… If the person sorting through the files gets to yours last, at the end of a very tedious day, and your application doesn’t really stand out, you lose.
So how do you get a professor to write that very special letter? First, ask people who know you really well. No, taking one lecture course and doing great on it wouldn’t do. If you and I never had a serious one-on-one conversation, I don’t really know you, do I? So please, help us help you: invest time in creating those relationships, tell us more about you, your proclivities, your hardships. The more we know, the stronger, more supportive letter we can write. Second, provide the info. I always ask my students to tell me what they’d like me to say about them, things they would want others to know but can’t say in their own application so they don’t appear too pretentious. I ask them not to be shy but rather to provide as many details as possible, including as much as they care to divulge about their personal life story. You wouldn’t believe how seemingly unimportant details from your past can be useful to someone writing a recommendation for you. If your professor doesn’t ask you for this, volunteer the info. You can’t tell your profs what to write, but you can gently suggest, after they say yes: “will it be ok if I send you some background information about me and why I’m seeking this opportunity?” Most profs would expect you to send them your resume and transcript anyway, so why not attach another file to the email while you’re at it? Your professor may or may not take the time to read what you’ve sent, but most people would, and would know what to do with it.

 

1/19/13, #993: A professor’s secret, pt. 24: On day one I already noticed something was off. The student’s hands were trembling, he had black circles around his eyes, and sitting by the desk, he sank into his winter coat as if desperately hoping I won’t see him. But I did. I’ve been doing this for a while, after all, and I somehow know how to discern promising students who are in some sort of trouble. I thought I’d give it time. Maybe it was a bad day. But a few weeks passed and nothing changed. No class participation, absences, and it didn’t seem he was communicating with any of the other students. On the first assignment he had written so poorly that I could easily tell this was an A student performing at the F level. So I gave him a C and invited him to talk about it. I emphasized that I will still give him an A as a final grade if he worked with me, if he helped me help him. But he wasn’t willing to open up. He wasn’t really interested in talking to me at all, not even about the essay. Just like any relationship, these things take time, I know. So I tried again. And again. And again. In my office, at a coffee shop. The semester was halfway through and I still couldn’t get to him. “I have all sorts of personal issues” is all he cared to divulge. As if I didn’t already know that. I tried to explain that I’m there for him, that I will listen, that he can trust me, that I’m not like that counselor he talked to who dismissed his problems, that no, I don’t think he’s making this all up as an excuse for poor academics. But there was a missing link. I’m not a psychiatrist or a counselor. All I have is my experience. This time it wasn’t enough. I ended up giving him a C for the course (even though he should have failed).
This was quite some time ago, and I’m still thinking about him occasionally. If only I tried harder, if only I managed to get to him, I could have helped him turn his life around, I could have made him see his true potential. I know it’s not always my fault and that I should not blame myself. But reading all those secrets here by students who are experiencing true crises, who are crying out for help, who feel no one at Emory understands them, I cannot help but wish more of us profs reached out to our students, and that more students would accept these attempts at reaching out as a genuine desire to help and not a gossipy meddling in their private affairs.

 

1/22/13, #1036: A professor’s secret, pt. 25: I told a few colleagues about Emory Secrets. Reactions ranged from “eh” through “you shouldn’t get too involved in your students’ lives” to “yeah, I’ve read stuff on that page a few times, it’s really interesting.” One other colleague was shocked when I told him/her about some of the issues that had come up here, but s/he didn’t seem too eager to take part in the discussion. I know for a fact there are professors who are deeply interested in what is going on here. Yet they are few, and I just haven’t seen them this week.
Then I went home wondering why have I been loosing so much sleep the past month or so reading those secrets about breakups and love and suicide and rape. If all these issues are part of the “world of the students” that we shouldn’t be involved in, if I’m really only supposed to care about decent lectures and excellent research, why can I not stop thinking about everything I’ve read here? Why do I have the urge to post more secrets? I’ve counted more than 300 individuals who have commented or liked at least one of my secrets. And in the past week I’ve had the fortune to meet some of you. If I helped even one person out of the 300, it was worth all those sleepless nights. But I can’t help thinking I might just be in the wrong profession.

 

1/24/13, #1084: A professor’s secret, pt. 26: Today a colleague asked me if students ever come to me asking for special accommodation because they broke up with their boy/girlfriend. I said usually not, but that I always offer it. S/he thought for a minute and said: “I really want to help, but I don’t always know how.” Then s/he explained that s/he is always afraid to cross the line, to sound too pushy, to interfere in something the student wouldn’t want his/her prof to know about. That is so true, I thought. I know I’m always so hesitant to ask my students personal questions. I really don’t want to offend anyone, I don’t want to put anyone in a difficult position, where on the one hand s/he doesn’t want to talk about his/her problems, but feels obligated to so as to continue to impress me. This “crossing the line” between teachers and students has been a hotly debated issue in many professional educational publications. It is definitely not an imaginary problem.
So what do we do? As teachers, we need to be more sensitive and perceptive, realize when our students don’t feel comfortable sharing personal information, and not push it. Recognizing there’s a problem is often enough to offer help. As students, you should talk about it with your profs. Really. There’s no shame in asking for help. If you miss many classes or deadlines and don’t tell me why, I can’t really help you. I know many students fear their profs will dismiss breakups or other relationship troubles as petty issues that aren’t a real excuse for underperforming academically. But they are a VERY good excuse. The way to handle this, then, is to show that despite the issues you are experiencing in your personal life, you are serious about and committed to your education. Offer to come to office hours, take extra assignments, and notify your prof before each class you must miss. Say and demonstrate that you will do whatever it takes to make this work. This is by far a better approach than pretending there is no problem and ending up getting a B- or a C because your prof just thought you were one of those mediocre, slacker students.

 

1/26/13, #1121: A professor’s secret, pt. 27: Last year, a student wrote the following comment in his/her evaluation of my course: “the professor was a huge disappointment. He caused me great distress and was one of two professors I have had during my time at Emory who I do not believe should be teaching here. His style does not match the university’s. I would have been much happier had I not been his student.” As someone who usually gets decent reviews, I was taken aback by that comment. For a while I asked myself what have I possibly done to him/her (if I’m right about who it was, that one D on a paper might have been it). I soon realized I could never please everyone, and decided to let it go. The way I choose to engage with students doesn’t work for everyone, I know it, and it is very possible that some think I’m a good teacher while others would feel exactly the opposite. But my inability to please everyone doesn’t mean I don’t try. And to get even a good shot at this, I need my students to take their evaluations of me and my teaching seriously.
I am well aware of the prevailing sentiment among students that evaluations are a waste of time (see, for example, #1081). True, some profs clearly don’t care about them. Others don’t like teaching, and a few are really bad at it and nothing will change that. Evaluations neither break nor make a professor’s career here. But I don’t know too many who would be oblivious to a comment such as the one above. We are all human, we want to be good at what we do, and when someone tells us we are not doing a great job, it bothers us. If, like some people posting here, you feel all or most of your professors are indeed so bad that they wouldn’t care about you or what you think about them, you are either 1. in the wrong place (maybe someone convinced you to be pre-med but you are really meant to be an anthropologist?) or 2. didn’t get good advice about what courses to take and career choices in general. Instead of blaming the system, ask yourself when was the last time a prof engaged you in a conversation about your true desires, the future YOU want and how you plan to get there, or simply challenged you to explain why you are studying what you are. When was it that you had an honest conversation with a prof that lasted more than 20 minutes about anything but coursework? If the answer is “never” or “not recently,” perhaps you just need to look for new mentors.

 

1/30/13, #1167: A professor’s secret, pt. 28: Since my post on minority students (#478) many have pointed out to me that the life of non-traditional/first-generation/non-white students at Emory can be considerably more challenging than I had imagined. Putting in place diversity and affirmative action policies has helped bring in more students of different backgrounds to campus. But policies alone cannot make people feel at home in institutions like Emory. It is for all of us to realize higher education is changing, and changing for the better, and that people who look different than us, or don’t drive a Lexus SUV, or who grew up in rough neighborhoods where violence and drugs ruled the day rather than books and fancy private schools, are no less talented or interesting. Yet so many secrets here have indicated there’s still a major disconnect between the two populations at Emory, “traditional” Emory students and everyone else.
We (students, profs) must do a better job. We all must remember some people come from immense hardships we cannot even begin to imagine; that facing such hardships says nothing about anyone’s talent and promise; and that the classroom setting in which minority students often underperform has been designed by and for “traditional” college students representing what used to be the dominant culture on most campuses. So yes, some of us speak English with a heavy accent, don’t participate as much in class, and write mediocre essays. But we are all wonderful people, and every time I have a conversation with any of you who has faced difficulties (academic and other), I am reminded of that. I am proud to be your teacher, proud to get the opportunity to know you, proud to take part in the challenges you face, in helping you realize your potential and flourish in college and after. I just hope everyone else would be equally proud of having you as friends, and that more people at Emory would admire the resilience and perseverance some need to have to even be here.

 

1/31/13, #1197: A professor’s secret, pt. 29: When you hide your cellphone under the desk and text, I see you. When you are facebook chatting while I’m lecturing, I know it. And when you are playing a game on your ipad and supposedly hiding your shiny retina-display display from me, well, I see that too. Now, I really don’t like formalities, don’t really care if you pay attention or not (it’s your money after all, so feel free to flush it down the drain), don’t expect students to be too polite (I can be quite rude myself at times), and often resort to all sorts of words and graphic descriptions that other profs wouldn’t use with their students. But even within that informal atmosphere that I try to maintain, smuggling of text messages or the clandestine use of irrelevant websites in class bothers me. I guess it’s a question of respect: I have immense respect for my students, and expect them to have some for me. So often when this happens I just nonchalantly walk about in the room and just by chance stumble by the “offender’s” chair/desk without saying a thing. I should have smashed their phone on the wall like I saw in some crazy American Pie-style college movie. But being the non-violent person that I am, I instead move on, silently enjoying the embarrassment I might have caused that student.

 

2/2/13, #1228: A professor’s secret, pt. 30: Every time a student calls me “professor” or “doctor” I pretend like that is the natural way to address me, but it really makes me feel awkward. It’s been a few years since I got my Ph.D., yet to me I’m still that nerdy kid who played in the park and liked trucks and dreamed of walking across Europe and play electric guitar in a rock band one day and got rejected by every girl in school only to come back home to write (pretty awful) poems about it. To some degree, I’m still stuck somewhere in my teens or early 20s (maybe that’s why I like working on a college campus so much…). I always thought “professor” is what people call those serious dudes with doctorates and glasses who sit in libraries surrounded by books and read all day. Me? Professor? This is obviously a mistake.

 

2/5/13, #1249: A professor’s secret, pt. 31: I was filling my cup at the coke fountain in cox and overheard two female students behind me talking about that awful professor (they mentioned his name) who never agrees to meet with them outside his designated office hours, who offers them no more than 10 minutes of his time when they finally get to meet him, and who never explains why he takes off so many points on assignments. The conversation between the two was more colorful than what I just described thanks to their creative use of the word fuck on its different conjugations and combinations (I shall adopt some of their linguistic creations and use them when I’m really frustrated!). And that just made me think that: 1. Professors eat at cox too. Luckily for the two, I don’t know the person they were talking about and would never have said anything even if I did, but you never know who else might hear you. There are many jerks in this world, so one is better safe than sorry. The same goes for the bathrooms (unless you check all stalls are empty first), and 2. Hopefully those two very frustrated students don’t have such a horrible image of all their teachers. You see, relationships between students and profs are just like any other relationship: sometimes there’s a click, sometimes there isn’t. Your awful teacher could very well be someone else’s miracle worker.

 

2/6/13, #1268: A professor’s secret, pt. 32: I sit on one side of my desk, you sit on the other. I ask questions, and listen, and then talk, and then listen. And our conversation usually transcends beyond academics. Since I came to Emory I’ve heard so many wonderful and painful personal stories; and I’ve read even more on Emory Secrets. Each student I help, each person I get to, is (so I hope) another small step in making the world better. It has definitely made me better. But there’s one thing I always want to tell students sitting in my office and hardly ever get to say. And since it’s applicable to all of you, I will share it here: embrace the moment, enjoy your time at Emory with all its virtues and the quandaries it puts you in; learn to appreciate even the toughest of hardships; and don’t let them break you. Don’t let all those profs and counselors and RAs and anyone else you feel is doing a mediocre job get to you. You will only be in college once, only be 19, and 20, and 21, and 22 once, you most likely won’t get to live in dorms for too long after college, and you will hardly ever get to “enjoy” eating at the DUC or Cox once you are out of here. Your relationship problems won’t be the same after you graduate, neither will your professional ones. Your ability to travel abroad extensively will eventually diminish. College is this great experience, for good or bad, so whenever you leave my office after a long conversation, no matter who you are, the first thing that comes to my mind – and don’t get me wrong, I love my life – is: “damn, I wish I could be in college again, and redo it so much better, just like my students.” So envious of all you, like, for real.

 

2/10/13, #1312: A professor’s secret, pt. 33: Last spring I taught a class whose demographics included about 75% seniors. Most of these seniors were taking my class for pass/fail (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), but of course I was not aware of that because professors are not exposed to that info until it’s time to grade (the logic being that if I knew someone was not taking the class for a letter grade I might treat that person differently). Those students taking my course for pass/fail ruined my entire class: they cared very little about what I had to teach, hardly came to class prepared or came at all, and almost never spoke up. We couldn’t have any meaningful discussion, and the other students who weren’t seniors suffered: they did not get the level of education they expected, and I felt terrible that I let them down. To their credit, I must say my senior students were honest all along. They admitted they already had jobs/internships/grad schools waiting for them, and only needed that one course to graduate.
This year I came determined to not allow this to happen again. I don’t know who is taking my class pass/fail, but I made it clear that if you don’t take active part in class, don’t complete most assignments, and show lack of any interest in what I have to say, I will not give you the “S” grade you need to graduate. And if that screws your plans for whatever comes next, well, tough luck. I said it on day one, and asked those who are looking for an easy ride to take another course. Maybe they did, I can’t tell now who was there the first day. But I’m hoping I got this somewhat under control. I was in that situation too once. I looked for easy courses to complete requirements. But I never disrespected my fellow students to the extent that my lack of participation would hinder their ability to enjoy the class. And I definitely did not blatantly show my professors I didn’t care about the subject they were teaching (even though, at times, I didn’t). So I don’t know, maybe times have changed? Maybe I’m asking too much? Maybe I should just accept that some students would “use” me to complete their degrees and let it go? Any thoughts?

 

2/13/13, #1368: A professor’s secret, pt. 34: Last semester a student suggested in his/her evaluation of my course that when I criticize someone’s essay and give a low grade I should be kinder and emphasize the student’s talents and ability to succeed if he/she tries harder. So now, having just graded papers, I remembered this advice and took it seriously by commenting extensively on the weak papers, trying to sound encouraging, and reaching out to the students I thought could do better. So to whoever wrote me that advice, thank you. You helped me become a better teacher.

 

2/17/13, #1413: A professor’s secret, pt. 35: “Dear Professor, I was wondering if you could write me a recommendation for…” wait… what? who? I tried to think. I remember the name, he sat in one of my classes last year. I haven’t seen him since. I looked him up in my notes. He got an A-. A decent writer who never exchanged a word with me outside of class. And then I thought he must be really naive. So to all you great students out there (and great is irrespective of grades): getting an A or a B in a class doesn’t entitle you to a letter of recommendation. Many profs would say yes, but the letter they’d write for you would be generic, bland, copied and pasted from one of hundreds of other letters they have already written. You want that special letter that would put you over the top? How about getting to know me first, and allowing me to know you at least a little? Honestly, that would help me write a powerful letter for you a lot more than any strong performance in my class. And since, like in any relationship, getting to know someone well takes time, you might want to invest in those relationships with your profs from freshman or sophomore year, not wait till you are about to graduate and suddenly need them to write for you.

 

2/19/13, #1444: A professor’s secret, pt. 36: Got interviewed for the Wheel this week about my posts on Emory Secrets. I guess now I’ll be really famous. Anonymously famous, that is.

 

2/22/13, #1506: A professor’s secret, pt. 37: A student asked me about getting a PhD in the humanities. Another asked about a field in the social sciences. Both aspire to become university professors. So I wanted to support them, I really did. I wanted to encourage them that this is a wonderful career choice, and it is indeed so for some. Then I thought I should tell them about the very long hours (I work 70+ hours a week, but most of my work is done off campus, so students don’t usually see it), the many years they would spend in grad school while their friends will be making money and developing useful skills, only to realize in their early 30s that their starting salary is in the low 40s, if they are lucky. I wanted to tell them about the inverse ratio that often exists in academia between your performance (excellent teaching evaluations, good research) and the reward (pay cuts or no raises 5 years in a row). I also wanted to tell them that tenure-track positions, those that lead to job security and a flourishing career in academia, are so hard to come by these days that over 50% of university professors in the US are now adjuncts who get paid by the course. That means something like $3000. Per course, not per month. Yes, that means $1200 a month for a semester of teaching 2 courses (the equivalent of full time at Emory). No health insurance, no benefits, no job security, you can be fired at the end of each semester. That’s quite meager considering the 10 years you’ve just spent getting your PhD. No one goes into academia to become rich; but no one wants to live on food stamps either. And finally, I wanted to tell them that those $60,000 their parents are shelling every year fund not their own education, but primarily administrators and deans, who would make more money than they could ever dream of as professors. I really wanted to share that gloomy reality with them, but at the end I didn’t. Maybe because I didn’t want to kill their dreams, maybe because I didn’t know how well they would take it. Hopefully, they read Emory Secrets too.

 

An article published in the Emory Wheel about my posts, while my identity was still unknown:

http://www.emorywheel.com/a-professors-secret-the-man-behind-the-screen/

 

2/25/13, #1553: A professor’s secret, pt. 38: “I can’t believe so many professors are living in poverty,” a student who knows my identity told me, referring to my last secret (#1506). “I’ve been to their homes and I see the cars they drive. Do we really have people like that at Emory?” Well, I said, maybe less here than elsewhere, but yes, we do. You see, back in the day (up to the early 90s) you could get a reasonable academic job right out of grad school. It didn’t pay much then, but it was a tenure-track job, which meant that with a decent publication and teaching record you would eventually reach a nice salary (120-150k), little teaching requirements, and generous research budgets. If you think of all your professors who live in huge houses, drive Acuras or Mercedeses, and pretty much afford anything they want, you will see one thing most of them have in common is age: they are well over 50. This is not to say it can’t happen today. The good jobs are still out there. But as a professor I feel I have the duty to warn my students that landing one of those positions, at a place like Emory or any of the IVYs or even a good state school, is like winning the lottery. In some humanities and social science fields, there are 500 applicants for one position, all graduates of the best programs. My point is that times have changed: higher education is not as well funded as it was, which particularly affects fields that don’t bring in outside money as the sciences do; universities tend to hire contingent, slave-labor faculty and pocket the difference in cost, which they then use to hire more administrators that have little effect on your education; and salaries are shrinking. So, if being an educator-scholar isn’t truly your passion and you are not willing to accept a position anywhere, even in remote, isolated locations, and at least several years of poverty, you would be better off thinking of another career.

 

2/27/13, #1579: A professor’s secret, pt. 39: The professor who offered to dispense advice and invited students to meet with him/her (#1558) just proved what I’ve been arguing since I started posting here: there are many profs on campus who would love to talk to you, to listen. To all those who have been saying they don’t know how to approach their profs or how to talk to them about anything that’s non academic: get over it, and take the first step. Go to office hours or schedule meetings with your profs, and tell them what’s on your mind. It’s not a shame to talk about stuff that has been affecting your personal life or your academic performance. We were all students once, we were all in our late teens/early 20s, some of us in fact not so long ago. Virtually every story that appeared here (and I’ve read all 1600 or so secrets) has either happened to me in some form, or to people I know well. Depression? A broken heart? Death of relatives? Abuse? We’ve been there too, and we obviously survived. Don’t underestimate the perspective of someone who looks back at the same problems you are experiencing now which he/she had faced a few years back. As the other prof has said, there are many among us who are actually interested in your personal stories, in your hardships, who want to listen to you when you are heartbroken or angry or depressed. And we can probably help you more than the several comments and few likes you would get by posting your story here (nothing wrong with that though). Find us and let’s talk. We are here for you (and his/her idea of establishing some kind of a consulting service isn’t bad – I might just step out of my anonymity if I knew I could be helpful to so many people).

 

3/3/13, #1637: A professor’s secret, pt. 40: This week I learned that I will not be teaching at Emory next year. This was hardly surprising given the current financial climate at the university. Somewhere deep inside I hoped (but never expected) that somehow a way will be found to stay here. Oh well, at least I have a couple more months to spend here, work with my students, and talk and listen to as many of you as possible, before I embark on a new (and hopefully exciting) path.

 

3/8/13, #1720: A professor’s secret, pt. 41: Should profs tell students the truth even when it is discouraging? The story told in #1700 is a good case in point. As a teacher I might be wrong in my assessment of your abilities. This was clearly the case with the profs that student interacted with. But if I strongly believe you are making a mistake, should I not tell you? And I don’t mean in a nasty way, but should I not at least hint that I believe you could be making a better choice, academically or in life in general? Assuming you are talking to a professor who knows you beyond the classroom, someone who has demonstrated he/she cares about you and is invested in your success and your future, would you not want that person to be honest with you? To share his/her experiences with you? Well, I sure hope the answer is yes, because as some of the people reading this who know me would attest, I don’t shy from telling my students what I think – on academic or personal matters – even when they don’t like to hear it.

 

3/13/13, #1738: A professor’s secret, pt. 42: Even though I won’t be here to see it, I was very happy to read this week that CFA will be removed from the food court at Cox. This is a great victory to the sane majority on campus that understands a religious fundamentalist from the middle ages who believes it is ok to discriminate against gay people because some ancient text and a bunch of clerics tell him they are sinners, and who regularly supports groups that deny gay rights on preposterous grounds, should not be supported no matter how exquisite the product he is offering is (and CFA isn’t even that great…).
And to those who have been complaining that professors and Emory in general are imposing a liberal agenda, well, you came to Emory to learn about the greater world, no?. There’s a thing in that great world called science. It is the only yardstick we use in the world of knowledge (and hence in universities) to determine right from wrong, true from false. Science has long determined some people are born attracted to the same sex, that it isn’t a choice or whatever else your religious tradition has brought you to believe. Hence here on campus there should be no room for and no tolerance of those who call for anything but equal rights and acceptance of all, regardless of sexual orientation. If you are sorry seeing CFA go because you liked their food (really???) and couldn’t care less about their politics, it’s probably time you developed some social and political awareness and realized where you spend your money affects the lives of others. If you believe attraction to the same sex is a sin, keep it to yourself. Seriously. This should have been a non-issue decades ago.

 

3/16/13, #1760: A professor’s secret, pt. 43: Spring break is nearly over, and that means I only have a little more than 6 weeks before I’m out of here. For good. I don’t really want to leave. Emory is actually a pretty good place to work at. I’ve made a few really significant connections here, with colleagues and students. And the experience of Emory Secrets has been quite humbling. I really wish I could meet, even once, even briefly, everyone who read, liked, or commented on my 40+ secrets

 

3/19/13, #1783: A professor’s secret, pt. 44: I was disappointed to hear the two teenage rapists from Steubenville, OH got very light prison sentences (1 or 2 years? Why not 20?). I can’t say I was surprised to hear the responses from local and national media that sympathized, not with the victim, but rather with the rapists whose future would now be ruined. This is another example of the rape culture we live in, one that discounts and white washes sexual assault. It is a culture created by the police, and DAs, and men, and unfortunately, women too (for example, that CNN reporter who felt sorry for the rapists), one in which women feel shame when reporting what has happened to them. SAPA has done very important work to fight this culture, and on many other campuses similar student groups have done the same.
The next step would be for professors and students – especially survivors – to come together and act as detectives, collecting evidence and building cases against rapists who wander freely on campus awaiting their bright career. Yes, this should have been the work of the police, but since they don’t do it and universities don’t report cases (for a desire to maintain their prestige), we would have to act, and hand DAs conclusive evidence against rapists that would leave them no choice but to prosecute. It won’t be easy, but it has been done before, it can be done here, and when it will, the rapists among you (and at least statistically, some of the readers of this post are rapists) will go to prison for 20 years. Maybe when people realize their actions actually have consequences rape culture would end. Your bright future? You should have thought about that before you ruined someone else’s.

 

3/21/13, #1803: A professor’s secret, pt. 45: Someone drew a huge penis on a walkway on campus with a chalk, and wrote underneath that he/she would have drawn something else if the art program would not have been cut. That made me think of all the student protests against the cuts. The boldest action taken so far was the sit down at Jim Wagner’s office last semester. Then there were some op-eds in the Wheel and a few other creative demonstrations. Overall, student reactions to the cuts were quite mute, and hence despicable and disappointing. If everyone is so angry at this as they seem to be (at least that’s what I hear from my students), why don’t you take bolder actions? You have student government, right? You call them student leaders? Why don’t you ask them to lead then? Or maybe they have heard the call to lead but have decided not to? You know, you are the clients of the system, so you are the only ones who can make a difference. The cuts have been announced a few months ago. If you are not too passionate about this, fine. I’m not for action for the sake of action. I’m not a troublemaker. But if so many of you strongly oppose these measures, why haven’t students gone on strike yet? Set up a tent city in the quad? Announce that life on campus won’t go back to normal until the cuts are reversed and the missing funds taken from elsewhere? What are you all afraid of? A potential employer googling you in the future and finding out you were involved in social protest on campus? That you got arrested once god forbid? You know, one day you will have children and you will want to tell them that if they want, they can take on the world, they can effect change, they can make the impossible possible. You would want to inspire them. And when they ask you, “yeah, and what did you do to change the world?” you would say what exactly? I wrote an op-ed for a student paper? College is your time to be activists, to make a difference. Think of the poor example you might be setting for yourselves and your future children by not acting, and, if you believe something needs to change, do something about it. Otherwise, enough with the whining.

 

3/25/13, #1840: A professor’s secret, pt. 46: The increasing number of secrets about GPAs is really troubling me. Someone has managed to market very effectively the “perfect GPA” illusion. It’s time to deconstruct it, again.
Good grades in general are not a bad idea. But getting them shouldn’t kill you. Life is not about that. Yes, you can get a good first job with a 3 or even 2.5 GPA (may not be your dream job, but so what?). Yes, you can get into a good graduate program with a few Bs and Cs on your transcript (I had Cs and Ds as an undergrad and got into a graduate program in an IVY-league school where the acceptance rate is about 6%). No, your grades don’t make or break you. There is so much more to you than grades, and people – graduate admission committees, potential employers – will see it. Instead of burning so much emotional and physical energy on having the perfect GPA, focus on your whole image: do more extracurricular things, build connections with profs who will write those special letters for you that would attest to your real abilities. So many of you that I’ve gotten to know are really amazing individuals. Amazing as in I envy you and wish I was like you. And I say this without knowing what your GPA is. I just don’t care.
I have so many success stories of students who were lousy in school, or came from a mediocre state university, or both, who got really awesome jobs and into wonderful programs. I know some law and business and medical schools require the perfect GPA, but then you can always work for a year or two and get practical experience to make up for the less than perfect transcript. What? Are you in a hurry to get it all done so fast? Why? Parents pressuring you? Society? This is an imaginary race. I repeat, imaginary. You can “win” without running, and you’ll enjoy life a lot more. I’m not saying don’t work hard. All I’m saying is enough with all that stress about your GPA. Totally not worth it. Go talk to your favorite prof about it if you don’t believe me.

 

3/28/13, #1879: A professor’s secret, pt. 47: Sometimes I wish we all recognized dealing with others’ expectations of us can be very hard. Not all of us face this problem, but many do. It’s usually even more difficult if your parents are immigrants who came to this country knowing it would be very hard for them but that the return would be the success of their children – success that is often narrowly defined by 3-4 possible professions, without room for compromise. If your parents are also paying your tuition, you find yourself in a position of not being able to say no. So you stress out and you have no life for 4 years and you take all those classes that don’t interest you, and you don’t do as well in some of them (because they are really not for you), and you feel really bad having disappointed your parents who have worked so hard to get you here because deep inside you just want to read literature or be an anthropologist. And then you post a secret saying how that chemistry class has ruined your GPA or how your life is over because you bombed two exams. If you are a woman, the expectations of you are even higher, because you are supposed not only to have a stellar career path, but also to get married and start a family. And if you come from a traditional background and are expected to date only men from your ethnicity/religion, you might have another layer of pressure on you: your partner, who may feel it’s ok for him to pursue a career without any restrictions, to get married after he experimented with women at the age of 27 or 30, while you ought to be fresh, young, almost a virgin, and willing to embrace motherhood right away, in addition to whatever dreams you may have.
So what do you do? First, talk to yourself. Figure out what you want to do, for real. What would make you happy? Can you find a sustainable way to do it? Then talk to your friends about it, and to your profs too. Get as many perspectives as you can, including on how and when to present this to your parents. Many professors have chosen unconventional careers and have had similar discussions with their parents back in the day, so we can help. It is never too late to change plans, even in your senior year. You’ve studied really hard as a pre-med but don’t want to go to med school right away or at all? So what? Knowledge gained is never wasted.
Remember, it is your life, not anyone else’s. Don’t give up on your dreams because someone else is paying your tuition, or because society expects you do to something else, or because your partner thinks it isn’t for you. Take this from someone who has gone against the advice of many to a career that requires long hours, brings little money and much frustration, but that actually makes a difference in people’s lives.

 

3/31/13, #1907: A professor’s secret, pt. 48: Over 270 people liked what I said about how grades don’t matter that much (#1840). The next day I got a huge pile of assignments to grade and couldn’t help but wonder if it was my words that caused so many people to stop taking themselves seriously. And since I find it hard to believe my secret had this mesmerizing effect on my students, I had to look for other explanations. Honestly, I’m still perplexed. I know not all of us take schoolwork very seriously. Clearly good grades come easier to some, and I still stand by my words that ultimately they don’t matter as much unless you constantly fail. And I understand my course may not be one’s #1 priority right now. But please, do me a favor: I just spent an hour grading your essay, and many more hours grading others. I wrote comments generously. Often there’s more of my pen than your printer’s ink on the paper. At least have the decency to read my thoughts (I can tell when you don’t); and if I invited you to meet with me to discuss your performance and give you tips on how to improve, it actually means I care about you, that I want to listen, that I’m on your side, that I want to help you make the most out of the $60k your parents (or financial aid) invest in you every year. Why on earth would you ignore that and never show up in my office?

 

4/4/13, #1941: A professor’s secret, pt. 49: I was waiting in the security line at some airport on my way back home. Another job interview. I’ve been to so many in the past few years. And then my phone rang and it was the chair of the department that just interviewed me. And he was calling to offer me the position. I couldn’t help it, and started crying. Not weeping loudly like in the movies, but the tears were there. I’ve been waiting 5 years for this. I have not told my students this story, but every time one of them talks to me about personal difficulties, bad grades, love problems, depression, or their definite inability to get into that great program they had been dreaming of since high school, I think of my personal journey. Things never came easy to me. I always wanted to be a teacher and a professor. So I decided I would attend the best grad program even though my GPA was eh, maybe ok for an average school but not for the fully funded IVY one I coveted. I prepared for the application, for the interviews, I had the right people writing for me, I had work experience, I had to give up a relationship or two that were too demanding, and I made it. And then, when I had my prestigious PhD, the one that when I mention I have the average person raises an eyebrow in amazement and appreciation, I had to start all over again. To get to that great job that I’ll be starting in the fall? It took me another 5 years AFTER the PhD. 5 years of applying for jobs where I was one of 100 or more applicants for one position. All brilliant people, impossible competition. But I knew that if I did everything right eventually something good will happen. So I worked in jobs I didn’t always enjoy (and some that I never wanted to leave, like here), didn’t mind the mediocre salary, and made a rule to myself to always smile at the ridiculous discrepancy between the respect my students showed me, and the second-class citizen status I had as a temporary faculty member. I did all that because I had a dream. I wanted to do something I was really good at, to touch and affect and change lives for the better. I wanted to be that one professor my students would remember 20 years later. I wanted to give up many times. But I didn’t, because I still believed patience and perseverance were the only way to get there. I guess my point is: believe in yourselves, don’t let stupid, minor issues like an annoying roommate, an insulting facebook status, or a C on an exam ruin your day, make sure to learn from your mistakes so you do a better job next time, and always have a goal in mind, the place you decide you WILL go to, the one thing you will do whatever it takes to get. If that means another post-college job, another internship, more volunteer work, moving to another city, you do it. It is your dream, and no one will go get it for you.

 

4/8/13, #2008: A professor’s secret, pt. 50: Secrets and comments since my last two posts on grades (# 1840, 1941) wished to remind everyone that many grad programs care only or mostly about your GPA, that those who managed to make it without a stellar GPA are the exception, almost like Bill Gates. Given the much attention this issue has received, and the several pieces of nonsense advice I’ve read here in the last few days, I think I should clarify a few things:
1. Work as hard as you can, strive to be your best, I’ve never suggested otherwise; but don’t kill yourself. No good grade is worth a nervous breakdown, or depression.
2. More and more grad programs nowadays care about practical experience, one which many times can offset bad grades. This obviously doesn’t apply across the board, but in most fields there are quite a few really good programs that would apply this rule. Not having the perfect GPA will likely delay, but not make impossible, your admittance to that dream program. Getting another masters degree or working for a while? Not such a bad idea, even if it takes a few more years.
3. Surely some programs care mostly about numbers. If your dream grad school is one of those, by all means do whatever it takes. But remember that if you go to the school that’s number 4 on your list, your career won’t ultimately be so different. So short term, yes, a 3.5 vs. 4.0 GPA will make a difference. 10 years down the road? Probably not. Whether you choose the short- or long-term lens to view life with is up to you.
4. Connections – going back to my first ever secret (I thought that’s fitting, this being my 50th anniversary…): make as many connections as you can, find the right mentors in the real world and in college. Last year I wrote a letter of recommendation for a student who wanted to transfer to a better school. He had a few bad grades his first semester here, but there were good personal reasons for that. His transcript didn’t say why there were Bs and Cs there. He couldn’t really explain it in his essay. But I, having been in touch with him throughout his long crisis, wrote a very detailed letter explaining why his grades didn’t represent his abilities. He made it. I’m not taking all the credit; he might have gotten in anyway. But being really close with some of your profs can’t hurt. At some point we all need someone to make a strong case for our candidacy for something. It’s always better if that someone actually knows you. And the more he/she knows, the better.
Bottom line: work hard, be patient, get to know people who could and would support you and ask them for help, learn from your failures, and you will have a fulfilling and meaningful life. All that “omfg I’m going to kill myself because I got a C”? Totally unnecessary.

 

4/10/13, #2031: A professor’s secret, pt. 51: I was still ambivalent about exposing my identity when the message about the upcoming meeting on 4/18 – a student initiative – was posted here a few days ago. But then one of the students I got to meet through my “secret prof” posts walked into my office accompanied by a girl, a high school senior who was recently admitted to Emory. She seemed to be very stressed about coming here. Apparently she is the first from her family to go to college, and the only one from her high school getting into such a good school. I could tell at once she was very bright. And terrified. She had many questions, and I tried to answer them. She was interested in a field I knew little about, but I still wanted her to understand that college is the place for her to explore, to learn about herself; that instead of being afraid of that one course everyone fails at, she should see it as an opportunity: “if you don’t do so well at it, and at the same time really enjoy something else,” I said, “you will be on the right track to figuring out what it is that you want to do.” I continued by suggesting she take courses in different areas her first year, and let her gut feeling lead her: “if you really like a course or a professor or a general topic, don’t fight it because someone told you you should be studying something else, or because you feel only in that other area you could prosper. Instead, go with it, let it lead you to what makes you happy. First figure that part out, then worry about a career,” I continued, “not the other way around.” She left my office feeling better about coming here, or so it seemed. I obviously didn’t change her life in 5 minutes. But I think I did give her a little bit of optimism, maybe even a sense of excitement about coming here. And, she saw that talking to professors and seeking advice was a good idea. After they were both gone, it finally came to me: if I can have a few of these short chats with more students here before I leave, I will have done something. I don’t know how many of you will make it to the meeting. Some probably think it’s a stupid idea. Others probably don’t care about it too much. And I know some didn’t like the stuff I said before. But if you feel you might benefit from whatever meager advice I can offer, I would love to meet you.

 

4/12/13, #2059: A professor’s secret, pt. 52: Had another disappointment this week. A former student I helped quite a bit demonstrated she has no plans to even try stepping out of her comfort zone to have a chance of becoming something. In her case, her comfort zone includes a boring but well-paying job, and a loser boyfriend who is holding her back because, as I understand it, he is not the kind of guy who would support a woman’s independent, successful career. I wasn’t disappointed because she asked me for advice and then ignored it. As a teacher, I’m used to that. But it really bummed me out that another smart woman might not have the career she could. This happens all too often. Our society might have advanced quite a bit since the feminist movement of the 60s when it comes to opportunities for women. But men have yet to internalize this change. For some reason, too many men are still stuck in this medieval mindset of being intimidated by successful, powerful women. Such a mindset would be perhaps expected from ignorant or ultra-traditional guys in their 50s and 60s, but to see so many young, educated men in their teens and 20s – yes, even here at Emory – believing they have the right to control how a woman dresses, who she talks to, how many sex partners she has, what she studies, and what kind of career she will have, is very disconcerting. I would say such guys belong in a garbage dump rather than in college. The problem is, too many women give in and prefer to have a relationship with someone like that over their career. After a while, they get comfy with a guy who makes all the money and hence all the decisions. Fortunately, those “rare” men who would actually prefer dating a smart, ambitious woman, who would be liberal enough to accept a woman who makes more money than they do (God forbid!), who wouldn’t mind some day to be a stay-at-home-dad a day or two a week – fortunately, these men do exist. So please, don’t ever give up on your dreams for a partner, even if the right guy will take some time to show up in your life. You should always come first. Whoever wants to be with you will have to respect that.

 

4/15/13, #2089: A professor’s secret, pt. 53: I was 18 when I was put in charge of a group of 15 sixteen-year olds in a youth organization. One of the kids in my group had a lot of issues. We had many conversations on everything from school to girls (not that I was too qualified to give advice on either…). Two years later I met him again and he told me how I changed his life, how he did better at school, and how he finally asked that girl out (and she said yes!). He told me I should be a teacher, work in education, that this was my thing. I was humbled by his kind words, and said I’ll think about it. Three years and many teaching gigs later I was on my way to grad school. I already knew teaching was my passion, and I realized it was this guy who made me see it. So I wanted to look him up and thank him for inadvertently helping me find my purpose. But I was too late. A few months before he went on a camping trip with some friends and was killed falling off a cliff. On the anniversary of his death I went to visit his grave. His parents were there. I introduced myself, but felt the occasion wasn’t right to tell them about how their son had helped me. So I didn’t, and I never saw them again. I so wish I had told them. I think about him every time a student asks me when did I know I wanted to be a professor, or how did I know. I guess we all have people and experiences that shape our lives and help us realize what we want to be. I had a general sense by the time I got to college. If you are not sure about what you want to do, or who you are exactly (politically, religiously, sexually), college is a good exploration ground. When you meet someone or have an experience that ignites that internal spark within you, let it lead you, don’t fight it. It might be your road to happiness, to self-fulfillment. How prestigious, lucrative, or socially accepted that path is, or whether it pleases those who sent you here, is irrelevant. I mean, think about it, you really believe my parents wanted me to be a teacher?

 

4/17/13, #2108: A professor’s secret, pt. 54: “He unfriended me on fb, it was so disrespectful”; “we texted for hours and then I never heard from him again”; “I sent her a text and she never responded”; “we chatted on fb for hours, and then he turned out to be an asshole”; “he does not want us to be fb official”… Such stories, accompanied by frightening concerns over the future of relationships, heartbreaking emotional screeches, and vivid depictions of people sinking into deep depression, have appeared all too often on Emory Secrets. Since I do (obviously) use facebook and do text (those of you who have my number can confirm this), I think I do understand the importance of those technologies. But I refuse to let them take over my life. Think of the problems with each of the statements above: have your relationships become so shallow that you actually get offended by someone unfriending you on a social network? You were texting for hours and then he never got back to you? Maybe the problem is that you texted, and not talked? She never got back to you via text? Really, and that’s it? Have you called her, left a message on her voicemail, or knocked on her door? A cute text is how romantic as it gets for you? Or have we all become so afraid of human connections that showing up at one’s doorstep is seen as too creepy? You chatted on fb for hours and then discovered it’s a different person? How surprising… the internet allows us to be whoever we want. Great for lurking on porn sites; not so much for actual human connections. He refused to be fb official? So what? Is your life defined by official declarations? If that’s all that defines your relationship, it probably shouldn’t be fb official anyway. Many times I find myself giving relationship advice to students. The #1 rule? If you want a real relationship, not a virtual one, get real. Communicate, talk, meet, touch (not necessarily in a sexual way). And take all this texting and messaging business for what it is: an instant way to send a quick note. Use the full power of mobile and social networking technologies; but don’t let it take over your life, or define who you are or who your friends are. Before you ascribe a deep meaning to a tweet or some post on fb, stop for a second and think how ridiculous you would have sounded saying the same thing 10 years ago. And then stop.

 

4/21/13, #2130: A professor’s secret, pt. 55: It’s that time of year again: professors are asking you to fill out course evaluations. Some only want the standard, computerized form. Others add a verbal section. I am well aware of the widespread assumption that evaluations are a waste of time. Sometimes they are. Yet if there are courses you haven’t evaluated yet, I’d like to encourage you to take the process seriously. At the end of the day, we all want to be better at what we do, we all want to do a great job, we all want to be there for you (ok, most of us do). Evaluations help us understand what we’ve done really well and what we can do better. They don’t necessarily affect our career, so that is not why you should fill them out. The little you can do for those who seem to care deeply about their teaching – and note that someone may want to be a good teacher and for various reasons isn’t – is give your honest opinion. This means that if you give a low grade (especially 1,2, or 3) on the numerical part and there is also a verbal section, you should explain why you think the prof’s performance wasn’t so great. Otherwise, your prof wouldn’t know what he/she could do better. I still want to believe there are students who are selfless enough to want to help their teachers become better at what they do. The evaluations I will get this semester will not benefit anyone at Emory anymore. But they will give me a sense of what I need to improve in class and in my interactions with students outside class. Maybe I think I’m cool but students find me offensive? Maybe I have made seemingly naive comments but students found them to be intimidating? If you don’t tell me, how would I know? If not for any other reason, when you are asked to fill out evaluations think of all the hours your teacher has put into the course. If that brings up within you even a tiny urge to give back, that would be a perfect way to do it. So many thanks to all of you who took/will take the time to write evaluations this semester.

 

4/22/13, #2142: A professor’s secret, pt. 56: Before I got that job at the other university (see #1941), I was very stressed I’d be unemployed come May. Emory wouldn’t renew my contract, and with such a tough competition for academic jobs I realized I must have a plan B outside of academia. But I wasn’t sure I was at all employable, that it wasn’t too late for me to start fresh. Yes, I have a PhD from an Ivy school, but my training isn’t really very practical. What corporation would hire someone with a humanities degree? So I started looking online, and reading, and asking around. Soon I found so many people who had changed careers successfully. People with doctorates in English, anthropology, history, or linguistics who work in the real world, in business consulting or journalism or various government positions. Making the transition wasn’t easy, they told me, but once you have you will rise very quickly. So I was no longer depressed. I knew I would eventually find something.
The same rule applies to those among you who feel they have made too many mistakes, that they chose the wrong major (because someone at home told you to?), that it’s too late for them to pursue their dream career. Here’s the thing: if I could make a career change in my 30s, your less-than-perfect grades or your seemingly poor choices in your early 20s can definitely still get you there. That moment when you realize you’ve screwed up and it’s too late? Exactly the time to make a new plan, a long-term one, a plan that would bring you where you want, one devised with more experienced professionals and perhaps one or two mentors, one you will stick to even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. It won’t be easy; however, the hard part won’t be meeting the necessary objectives to get to where you want, but overcoming your own insecurities. So just remember this: of the hundreds applying to all the good jobs/grad programs, most don’t make it not because of talent or grades, but rather because they didn’t have a plan, because they didn’t do the right thing. Don’t be one of those people. Get help, ask questions, talk to your parents, professionals in your field, and teachers, follow their advice, get it done.

 

4/24/13, #2177: A professor’s secret, pt. 57: This will be my last secret. For several months I’ve shared with you my thoughts about professor-student relations, college and life challenges, and even some burning (and often controversial) social issues. When I first posted on Emory Secrets (#171 on 12/19) I did not know I’ll keep going for 50+ secrets, and I definitely did not imagine that hundreds of people would read my posts; and, that I would learn so much about student life from reading each and every of the 2000+ secrets. Over these past few months I was fortunate to meet some of you, and each such meeting filled me with excitement, and joy, and many thoughts about how I could help more people. There were many more of you I wanted to meet, especially those who commented on my secrets regularly, who I feel I already got to know to some degree, just enough to yearn for more.My involvement with Emory Secrets was one of the best experiences of my career as a teacher. My goal was to reach beyond the limited audience I have in my classes. If in that process I managed to help even one of you in some way, if any of you found my advice somewhat useful, I did something. So many times I wanted to post comments, to respond to your secrets, to share my experiences; and perhaps soon I’ll be able to do just that. So thank you all for taking the time to read my secrets. And a big thanks to the Emory Secrets people for providing this wonderful venue (I am not one of them, nor do I know them, despite some rumors to the contrary). I will be leaving Emory soon, and would love to hear from you, either in person or via email/facebook. If there’s anything I can do for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please get in touch.