The question was “What do you do when you don’t love a subject you have to take.” Questions are powerful. I have for years told students that it was important to speak up and to ask questions.

Being someone who asks marks you as inquisitive and a learner. You also don’t know who else in your class may be sitting with the same question and the usual fear of being seen as stupid for asking.

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Asking is never stupid. My late husband used to say that if I ever began a question with the phrase “ This may be a silly question but… “ that the person being queried should beware—I usually had good ones. And you never know who else has the same question and could also benefit from the response. Now I have proof that is true.

About exactly a year ago I got an email from a student who had been at a workshop I had given before he left for college. His name is Timothy and in addition to expressing thanks for what I had shared at the workshop (a good move in itself) he asked a really good question.

I realized that it was one that many students faced and so I turned my response to him into a blog which was featured on the Huffington Post. The topic of the blog was Just Not Feeling it: Or When You Don’t Love a Subject You Have to Take.

The Blog had several hundred likes on Facebook and then I got a call from Oxford University Press which was going to produce a book and wanted the blog as a chapter. Oxford University Press has just released College: A Reader for Writers by Todd James Pierce. It includes my Huffington Post Blog: “Just Not Feeling It–Or When You Don’t love a Subject You Have to Take.”

Some of the points made in the piece are:

  • First unpack the course. What are the skills you are going to get from it? Does it push you to read, research, write, collaborate with others, and solve problems? Which of these skills are you likely to need in the workplace where you see yourself?

  Your motivation can be to really perfect those skills because they will be useful to you for achieving your dreams.

  • Second, what might you learn about the world that could be good to know. Does it help to know something about how the body fights disease when you have a sick grandmother? Does it help to know something about the political process when the outcome of an election can change your quality of life? How does this subject relate to your life?
  • Third you can talk to upperclassmen who are doing this as a major. I remember assembling a panel of students of different majors to share with underclassmen what they liked about their chosen fields. And each was wildly enthusiastic about their own major.

  So use the experience of those who are immersed in the subject but closer to your own goals and life experience to see what they see through their eyes. How do they study? What professors do they love? What questions excite them?

So thanks to Timothy for taking the risk and asking the question on the minds of so many. You, Timothy, have given them a gift. Keep it up. And all those who are still shy, give it a shot.. ask that question! You never know the impact you may have.

Marcia Cantarella

Marcia Y. Cantarella, PhD, has held positions at Hunter College, Princeton University, New York University, and Metropolitan College of New York. During her 22 year career as a dean and vice president of student affairs she has enhanced the academic experiences of and outcomes for generations of students. She has written for Huffington Post, and is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide

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