Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Learning to Let Go: When a B is not an F

When I was completing my first B.S. in Professional Writing, I found the A's easy to come by, with minimal effort required. So, as I started my second degree, in a science, I expected to do well with only slightly more effort. My past grades told me so. I was wrong.

To get an A in a science course, I have to do ALL of the assigned work, study hard for EVERY test and quiz and then go above and beyond and seek out practice problems and additional reading. I take advantage of the software that comes with the textbook. If I don't understand a homework problem, I email the teacher. I've come to expect, here at OPU, that an "A" really means "excellent" and not just "average."

I've set the bar for myself pretty high. I know I can do well if I put in the work.

I got my first calc test back the other day and I got my first B (I don't mean ever, I just mean in the last four courses I've taken). It was a low B. I knew it was going to be an "eh" grade. I've had a rough month and the course moves at an incredibly fast pace. I don't have time to do practice problems because the homework assignments and labs take up all of the time I have to devote to the class.

Y'know what? I don't care. It's a B. It's not the end of my school career.

I don't know what brought about this change in my attitude. I think part of it is that I can't change the grade, so I can either accept it or act like a crazy person over a grade that is entirely acceptable. The other thing is this: I've spent the last few days really worried that someone I love is very ill. In the shadow of that, a grade on a test seems like it's the least important thing in the world. The annoyance I feel over a lower grade than I'd like is NOTHING compared to the fear and anxiety* I've felt this week. It's cake.

*I just wrote this as "axiety" and the spell-checker picked it up. I stared at it for a few minutes, trying to figure out what was wrong with "axiety." I even compared it to the correct spelling and STILL couldn't figure it out. I need sleep. Oh...what's that? I have a snow day tomorrow? I can sleep in and watch movies? Thank you, Winter! Now, go away!

1 comment:

Jerry D. Harris said...

Y'know what? I don't care. It's a B. It's not the end of my school career.

Bully for you! I honestly don't know what's the norm in paleo these days, but increasingly in lots of professions/majors (especially medicine), schools (and advisors, I'd have to say) do NOT want students that come out of high school or, more importantly, bachelor's programs, with straight A's. That may sound really strange, but there's been an increasing tendency to perceive (rightly or wrongly) people that get straight A's as people that devoted all their time to rigorous studying and work, and never, as a result, learned how to socialize -- they didn't learn how to be "people." In med schools especially, there is increasing demand for people that can actually relate to patients rather than treat them (and interact with them) as if they were nonliving subjects...treat them as people rather than as cases. (For a while, it seemed like med schools loved English majors rather than biology majors [English major with Biology minor was probably ideal], probably for this very reason...dunno if this is still the case.) I think that this attitude is spreading, being generalized out of medicine and into science in general. We're all familiar with the problems scientists are stereotyped as having with communicating effectively with the public, and part of this is, indeed, caused by the stereotypical "nerdy" scientist that can no longer communicate in everyday language. (__[insert name of favorite deity here]__ knows that I've been guilty of that on more than one occasion, on which, inevitably, my wife will chastize me with "People talk, honey...people talk!") My impression is that more and more science advisors are seeking students that are human beings, rather than computerized automatons. The latter can get straight A's more often, but people that take the time to socialize and develop non-academic skills often know when they've put in enough effort to get a decent, if not perfect, grade and still have time to have a life. Should I ever get to be an advisor, I think that this would be a quality I would look for in a grad student.

Of course, it's certainly possible (if rare) for people to do both -- get straight A's (or, at least, consistently very high marks) and still be well-developed, socially functional human beings, and (again in my experience) this would qualify the bulk of science-oriented grad students that I've had the pleasure to associate with in my tenure...by grad school, people tend to know themselves well enough to know how much effort they have to put into anything to be effective, but also know where and when to set aside the student and be a person. This is far less common in high-schoolers and undergrads (particularly freshmen and sophomores), who haven't learned to balance the two yet, and either their grades suffer badly or their social skills do (usually the former, perhaps not unsurprisingly). You (Amanda) seem to be among the coveted minority of undergrads that is naturally bright and can get good grades but still knows when to be a human being, too, which I applaud. This will help you immensely when it comes time to get into grad school.