Monday, July 28, 2008

Fond memories of college.

This post was inspired by FSP's post about textbooks. It got kind of long so I put it over here instead.

Basically she was writing about how students complain that textbooks are too expensive. Most of the 27 comments there so far seemed to agree, that textbooks were expensive and only useful for one semester, maybe not even a semester if the professor didn't use them effectively (which seems to be the norm?).

I guess I was unusually lucky and/or careful about which classes I took.

My school was fantastic about making class evaluations available, and most professors handed out a syllabus on the first day and/or required texts were clearly marked in the bookstore.

You could always find out ahead of time which professors sucked, and which ones tended to pick the expensive, worthless textbooks. That was a sure sign that the professor would suck, no matter what the evaluations said.

Although in a previous post I considered throwing them all away, with few exceptions, I still have all my college texts, for both electives and non-electives. They were all really well written, and my professors used them effectively. If they didn't, I read them anyway. None were disappointing.

I was very serious about college: I went with a long view in mind. I deliberately chose classes based on what I always wanted to know or thought I would need to know later. I already knew what I wanted to do: run my own research lab. I figured my goal was to tool up with a good fundamental understanding of basic skills. And for the most part, I think I achieved that.

Oh sure, there are some classes I wish now that I could have taken, and others that were required but useless. But I can honestly say I can only think of one or two that were a total waste of time.

(unlike most of the 12 years in public school prior to that...)

I enjoyed being able to buy my textbooks, and discovered that for the price, it was worth it to be able to highlight and write in them, which I couldn't do in public school prior to that, and which I found greatly increased my connection with the material.

For the first time, I really felt engaged. I felt like I was finally not just allowed, in the privacy of my room, to think on my own. I was encouraged, I was challenged, I was inspired! Thinking for myself works really well for me!

(I felt smart, for the first time, in college, and it was fun to feel smart...)

And yes, compared to the outrageous price of tuition, the cost of the textbooks seemed a small price to pay for learning. Plus, you got something tangible! Learning you can actually hold in your hand!

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At 10:41 AM, Blogger Miranda said...

Yes!! Really owning my books made my college experience so much better. But I went into college (just finished) with much the same mindset as you.

I lurk here but never comment so I also wanted to give you an attagirl. I hope you do persevere and get your own lab one day soon.

-Recent econ grad but only because in ones thirties and with three children to support, years of post-docs was not for me even though (real) science remains my first love.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger tnk0001 said...

Textbooks were expensive yes, but I love keeping them. The only times I sold them back was so I could get a little money for food...tuition is outrageous!

I still treasure my first neuro text. It's highlighted, falling apart, margins covered with notes, but I love it.

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Hermitage said...

Wish mine had been that straightforward, finding which textbook to buy was a treasure hunt every.single.year. I never appreciated my textbooks because for most of my undergraduate career it was the book or groceries. I do wish I had more of them now though...

At 12:55 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Thanks, Miranda!

tnk0001 and Hermitage,

I have to agree, but I was lucky that there were a lot of affordable food choices where I went to school, and at that point in my life I really didn't care about what I ate (or even if I ate).

Now, I'd have to say that in the grand scheme of things,
food > books in the short term, books > food in the long term.

There is something to be said for eating in the moment. =D

At 4:35 PM, Blogger JaneB said...

Where we had set books I bought them. Where we didn't I bought even more books. I love books! I don't drink or smoke but book-buying consumes and always has consumed a rather large proportion of my discretionary income. I haven't managed to talk myself into disposing of my notes from my A-level classes (16-18 year old studies in UK), never mind my text books. I am a sad person...

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Dr. A said...

I LOVE books! They are my not so guilty pleasure, I buy them to celebrate or reward myself, and I buy them to cheer myself up. There were, however, 3 semesters in college where I could not afford text books. This was difficult and I managed by alternating between borrowing from the library (when the greedy graduate students were not hoarding!), borrowing from friends in the class, finding older versions at thrift stores or from former students. Sometimes I just had to research things on my own, but I think it made me a better student and I was forced to get alternate perspectives. Now, when I teach, I keep 2-3 extra copies in my office (publishers are happy to provide these to instructors) for students to peruse.


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