This is the second part in my series of posts for new undergrads. Some or all may apply to you. As in part 1, I am including a series of corresponding cat gifs in my further attempt to be hip. #YOLO.
6. Don’t Cheat. But, if you do, do it wisely.
This is odd advice, I am aware. You are constantly told the first part and I wholeheartedly agree with it. You shouldn’t cheat in university or life for that matter. Not because you’ll get caught necessarily, but because it’s a coward’s way out and results in you learning nothing. If university is solely about a piece of paper or grades for you, then your priorities are way out of whack. The second part of this advice is by no means condoning cheating. Your profs and TAs are experts at finding cheating in the form of plagiarism and general fakery. Experts, y’hear? That means that if you are inclined to cheat at all, you’d better be damned good at it lest you jeopardize your entire university career. Here’s the truth: most students cheat so poorly that I’m embarrassed for them when they’re caught. Here’s the other truth: if you’re caught cheating, it’s likely not much will happen to you. That’s been my experience anyhow. In the plagiarism cases I’ve seen the students were not kicked out of school or anything like that. That’s reserved for extreme cases and repeat offenders. The immediate consequences are not all that severe for first offenses. Notice how I said ‘immediate’? So, you plagiarized your English final essay and got caught. Here’s what likely happens to you: 1) your prof calls you in for a meeting 2) prof either has incontrovertible proof (such as a lifted passage from the internet or other source) or you admit you cheated 3) if there is no substantial proof, your prof will likely engage you in a thorough discussion of the topic you ostensibly wrote your paper on. If you are completely clueless about the contents of your paper that’s a pretty clear indication that you did not write it. 4) once your cheating is established, a kafkaesque series of events unfolds through all sorts of department, faculty, and university councils. There’s paperwork, interviews, meetings, letters, and all kinds of inane bureaucracy to go through just because you couldn’t be bothered to write 1000 original words on Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5) after all this is done with, you most likely won’t be punished severely. You’ll probably get a big ol’ goose egg for the assignment and possibly the course, but you’ll be back next semester.
However! The fact that you were caught cheating will be on your transcripts forever and always. That little tidbit will follow you around for the rest of your university career and will come up any time you apply for other programs. Let’s put your credentials side by side with someone who didn’t cheat in university in applying for law school or some other competitive program. If you’re both relatively equally qualified (GPA, experience, etc) and the one difference between you and someone with similar credentials is that you are flagged a cheater, guess who’s going to law school in American Samoa? If you’re still hellbent on cheating, all I can say is that you had better make sure you don’t get caught. Oh, and, if you cheat, you’re scum. The result of your cheating means countless hours of your prof’s time is wasted on catching and proving the cheating, filling out the necessary reams of official paperwork associated with academic dishonesty, sitting in meetings with departmental and faculty brass to deal with this one incident, not to mention the mental toll and personal disrespect educators feel when their students couldn’t be bothered to do their own work or, at the very least, come and discuss any problems they were having. Profs take this stuff seriously and they have many, many better things to do that do not involve students who cheat.
If you cheat, you might not get caught the first time. Rest assured, however, that you will get caught at some point. You might feel like Walter White for a little while, but if you take a classics course you’ll know that all empires have to eventually fall.
Side analogy on cheating: the cat in the above picture is the cheating student. He thinks that cup on his face — his plagiarized work — is invisible and is caught unawares when the other cat makes him aware that it is visible. The other cat gives the cheating cat a disapproving look and disavows the cheating cat. You have been warned.
7. You don’t know what you don’t know. Embrace it.
This point kind of goes with my first point about not being in high school anymore. University is not the place one goes because of knowledge or facts already in their brains. Maybe you were a precocious student and you’ve read Plato or some other haughty subjects. Congratulations. Shut up and absorb all the things you didn’t know about that and other stuff. The fact is, as the title suggests, you really have no idea what you don’t know. The topics offered in universities cover such a vast array that it is impossible for you to have even scratched the surface of many of them. Your professors are experts in the topics they’re teaching. They have devoted decades to their subjects and for you to walk in and think you’re going to rule the class because you read one thing by one guy one time is simply arrogance run amok. I have seen uppity students get their asses handed to them by profs in lectures. It’s nothing for someone with a PhD to pull rank and put jerks in their place. Many don’t enjoy doing it and will use it only as a last resort. Your job in university is easy: be curious.
This comes up every time someone gives advice to new students, no matter what level. Reading is so very important at university. You could say it’s what everything else hinges on academically. Undergrad is your chance to read things that you may never have found on your own. The people they hire at those places usually have pretty good taste in reading materials or at least a super good reason for having you read certain things. If you’re not overwhelmed with reading, something’s wrong.
Well, that’s it for now. I mean, there are plenty of other things you ought to know for starting university but I can’t really list them all. Some stuff is best to figure out on your own. If you want more good tips you can check out #SaturdaySchool on Twitter or the funknbeans page on advice for new college students. On that note, I would urge you to follow academics and profs that are on Twitter. They’re on there to share their wisdom with whoever wants to listen and they want to, in turn, listen to what you have to say. If you’re nervous, just start by following me. We’re in this together now.