It’s another new student registration day, and I get to spend a big chunk of it as an advisor. I hope there are no tears this time, unlike last time.
Yeah, tears. This is an incredibly stressful event for the students. There are two things that promote breakdowns during registration.
Uncertainty. Some students come in not knowing what to expect, or thinking this is like a greased chute that will give them a job when they slide out of the end. My favorite are the students who are shocked when you tell them they are going to sign up for about 15 credits this term, which is about 4 classes, and they have no frame of reference. Is that a little or a lot? Why am I signing up for chemistry, isn’t there like a pre-med class I can just take and be done with all this? Why do I need to take a history class, I want to be a dentist!
They don’t quite get that they’re signing on to a voyage of adventure, and they’re going to be completely different people at the end of four years. Or maybe they do. They freak out and are afraid they’ll make a mistake. I just want to tell them that of course they’ll make mistakes, this is a system to help you recover from error — it’s 4 years of dynamic equilibrium in which you learn and adjust. That doesn’t help the ones who want a stable, certain, plodding path.
(Parents don’t help here. They’re so happy that they’re investing in turning their little girl into a doctor at the end, but she might come out the other end an art historian or statistician, and happier for it. Let ’em find the their true love in the world of the mind!)
High school. This is the big one. Most of high schools do a fine job, but the number one shock to some students is coming here expecting to emerge with a STEM career, and we discover their schools let them coast and they don’t even have basic algebra mastered. We give incoming students a math placement test, and we know…we know they’re going to flunk out of first year general chemistry if we let them take it (we don’t). We have a remedial path that involves summer school, stuffing their first year with the general education distribution requirements, and a catch-up senior year that’s nothing but solid science courses (can you imagine taking 3 lab course in a semester? I wouldn’t want to), and students are sometimes very upset about that.
I do wonder what the administrators at those high schools are thinking. At the very least, shouldn’t all their graduates be able to read a novel, write a coherent 5 page essay, know a little bit about their country’s place in the world, and solve a simple algebraic formula? All of their students, not just the ones looking at STEM careers. We’re not asking a lot when we say a high school diploma ought to mean something, but apparently some students and some schools take a laissez fair approach to education, and our Republican overlords like to encourage that.
I try to let the students know I’m there to help them, and I have a plan that’ll put them right on track, but that’s like criticism, dude, and now it’s panic attack time.
But now I have to put on my positive attitude and brace myself to go in. Let’s hope all the students today are eager and enthusiastic and well-prepared, and that none of the general chemistry lab sections they need to take are not closed. We’ll get through this. I promise I won’t cry, at least not until I get home.