The Most Important Thing I Learned in Undergrad

During our recent Scholars orientation the Faculty Fellows and I answered the question, "What was the most important thing you learned while an undergraduate?"  The responses were wonderfully rich.

Professor Cram spoke about the importance of absorbing and categorizing large amounts of information, a skill she cultivated in her first college major -- art history. Cram's movement from art history into biology also provides other lessons, about how different disciplines can teach us to "learn how to learn" and should also prove comforting to those who change majors -- the tools and talents you develop in one discipline are not "for naught" when you move towards a new area of study, but can be creatively repurposed.

Professor Wood spoke next, telling our Scholars about when he first arrived at college and feeling awed by the intellect and capabilities of those he saw around him. The most important thing he learned during subsequent years on campus, he told us, was that with hard work and creativity, he was capable of doing fascinating, amazing research -- his commitment to the process of learning and growing made that possible.

Professor Rappaport then told us about his undergraduate experience. Arriving on campus like a "hot shot," he said, he felt very confident in his abilities and had experiences confirm this sense of self, as he earned terrific grades and succeeded in class. Six or seven months into school, however, coursework got more difficult and it was here that he learned two important lessons. One, that when you are really learning, things should and will be hard -- and that is okay. Two, that there will always be someone who knows more than you do -- and that when learning becomes difficult, it is a sign of maturity and intelligence to put aside one's ego and learn from them.

For my part, I spoke about how learning to revise -- my writing, my ideas, and my opinions of myself and others -- was the most important thing I learned as an undergraduate. Being able to take what is useful and discard what is not, knowing that you can and will generate new insights, was key to my development as a thinker. Revision is a difficult practice and one I have not yet mastered yet, but thank you, Pat Crain, for your wonderful mentorship.