September 4, 2015

Carpe Diem, Rutgers! Advice from a Professor

Today's guest blogger is Dr. Charles Häberl, a professor in the AMESALL department, who offers five great recommendations about exploring your academic options at Rutgers:

Discover Yourself

You likely chose Rutgers with a specific major in mind. Don’t be alarmed, but history and experience tell us that you may throw out all those ideas before you even declare your major next year.

Remember, Rutgers is not just another four years tacked onto high school. Here, you’ll be exposed to entirely new experiences—many good, some bad—and through them, you'll likely find a bunch of new interests that you didn’t even know you had. Maybe you came here wanting to be a doctor, but now the sight of blood makes you squeamish. Perhaps your ambition is to be an engineer, but calculus keeps kicking your butt. You may plan to be the next Toni Morrison or Junot Díaz, but find you’ve got a terminal case of Writer’s Block.

No worries! If you keep an open mind here, you WILL discover your passion, and that will inevitably translate into better grades and a successful career.  Being a mediocre student at something you THINK will guarantee a job may make you miss out on your calling. In the "real world," your passion and your GPA will matter more than the subject that appears on your degree.

Challenge Yourself

Don’t take a course simply because it is required or you hear that it's a GPA booster. Let both your mind and your heart be your guides as you review the course listings and finalize your fall schedule. Part of discovering yourself is finding the courage to try new things and experience different perspectives on the world.

This may be your first experience away from your hometown and your comfort zone. At first, the myriad perspectives of your classmates and your faculty may seem odd or even alienating. Avoid opportunities to simply surround yourself with people with like minds, interests, and backgrounds. Learning how to navigate, tolerate, and even celebrate differences in people and ideas is probably THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL you will learn at Rutgers.

A willingness to SEEK OUT new subjects to learn will serve you well. Your eight short semesters will be your best opportunity to be flexible. As you grow older and establish families and careers, you will find it more and more difficult to learn new things and tread unusual paths.

Study a Language (or two, or three, or…)

Rutgers is one of the most multi-linguistic campuses in the world, offering classes in more world languages than you can even imagine.  Hungarian, Sanskrit, Japanese, Swahili, Twi, Korean, German, Filipino, Italian, Polish…the globe is the limit!

Yes, learning a second (or third, or fourth…) language will open new scholarly and cultural doors for you and help make you a well-rounded adult. But, language fluency is also a path to a lucrative career.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified Translation and Interpretation as the 5th fastest growing career, particularly in the legal and medical fields.

Don’t delay, though: fluency takes time and practice! Ideally, you should start language study in your first or second year to enable you to build fluency. You also open the door to a possible Study Abroad plan or even a second major or minor in the language.

Embrace Electives
The best kept secrets at Rutgers are our electives: electives (those courses that are NOT just Intro-to-Your-Major) are routinely rated higher by students than required courses. You need 120 credits to graduate, and even after your SAS Core and major/minor courses, you’re still guaranteed to be a few credits short. Bridge this gap with electives. Not only will you likely enjoy those electives more than your required courses, but you might discover a new interest!

The course I remember most vividly from my own college experience was an elective course on Russian Fantasy and Science Fiction. It had absolutely nothing to do with my major, but twenty years later, I remember the professor (Alexander Levitsky), all the authors (Andrei Bely, Alexander Bogdanov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Sologub, Ivan Yefremov… there was A LOTof reading), and the books (still found in a favored space on my bookshelf). I must have taken dozens of other courses, but none that I remember with the fondness that I do that one elective.

Read the Syllabus

READ THE SYLLABUS. Seriously. It’s THE strategy and FAQ guide to your course. Your professor has crafted it specifically to give you great information about the class. Most of the answers to your questions about the course are there - In the syllabus. If you really want to get your professor hella mad, ask a question about something that is covered in the syllabus. I don't recommend this, though…

Good luck in your journey at Rutgers!
Dr. Charles Häberl is a professor in the African, Middle East, and South Asian Languages and Literatures (AMESALL) department and instructor of the very cool, Languages in Peril course (013:305).