NU prof advises undergaduates in new book

Chris Kirk

The key to college success is behaving like a graduate student, according to a Northwestern professor’s new book.

“The Thinking Student’s Guide to College: 75 Tips for Getting a Better Education,” by political science Prof. Andrew Roberts, offers tips to students on how to make the most out of college, where the book critically observes, research and graduate programs tend to eclipse the undergraduate experience.

Research universities like NU give a low priority to undergraduate teaching, Roberts writes.

Professors have very few material incentives to care much about teaching undergraduates, and although universities often claim to factor in teaching excellence in promotion and salary decisions, “these claims are mostly rhetorical,” according to the book.

“Most of the decisions are based on, you know, ‘you’ve published this many books and this many articles,'” Roberts said.

As a result, many professors find undergraduate teaching distracts them from more financially and personally rewarding research activities, according to the book.

The best way undergraduate students can get their money’s worth at research universities, Roberts writes, is to behave like graduate students, who are more likely to pay attention in classes, develop personal connections with professors and involve themselves in research.

Roberts suggests students visit the office hours of all their professors at least once and involve themselves in research by writing a senior thesis and applying to research assistant positions.

Roberts said he was disappointed as an NU undergraduate advisor that many of his senior advisees had not come to know their professors and had not retained much from their classes, inspiring him to write the book.

He said he noticed students had avoided challenging classes and projects instead of embracing them.

“They’re afraid to step into the unknown or try something where they might not succeed,” he said. “There’s a little too much worrying about taking courses that are going to give you the right grades and that are going to give you a comfortable life.”

Instead of sticking to their pre-existing interests, they should explore new subjects, he said.

“There’s all these cool subjects that you never got a chance to take in high school – linguistics, anthropology, cognitive science,” he said. “Find something you really care about and something that you really love.”

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