Any advice for those students who are struggling with their academics, especially those who feel they aren't "smart"?
Office Hours #4: AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Mark Eagle
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First: Struggling with academics does not mean you are unintelligent. Albert Einstein once said “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This is really a shame. The education system that most people participate in is designed to address the education of the masses not individuals. Some truly exceptional teachers will take the time to mentor and teach to the individual but most simply don't have the time or inclination to do so. This is a failure of the "System" and not the student so long as the student is applying themselves and trying.
Second: It can be a natural tendency to judge or "grade" ourselves based on the measurements of a system at school, performance reviews in business, or other similar measuring sticks. We can errantly think that these measurements are an indication of our value as people especially when we see the accolades heaped upon those who excel in the system. The fact of the matter is that grades do not even factor into the equations when it comes to the intrinsic value of a person. I have known many people who can show a great resume but are horrible people to be around. You can have the greatest test scores on the world but if you are a terrible person I don't want anything to do with you, and most people in the real world feel the same. Consider for a moment what is of more value to a prospective employer, someone who can easily rattle off facts and dates learned in school or someone who may have struggled in school but learned perseverance, commitment, and diligence. What skillset would be of greater value to you as an employer? Value as a human being transcends the grades received in school.
To provide a real life example, this morning, I was in a meeting with another manager discussing the performance of a particular employee. Frankly, they have been very poor at their job and the discussion was if we should go another direction with role or if it makes sense to continue to invest time and training in this individual. The conclusion is that this person has the intangible traits we would like to see and simply needs further time to develop. In other words the person in question is worth the additional effort on our side. Granted not all employers will have the patience for this, but good people are worth keeping. From a pure metrics standpoint this employee could have been judged as incompetent or not smart enough for the job. But from a more holistic view, they have demonstrated: commitment, willingness to learn and adapt, cooperation, kindness, and several other traits that cannot be easily validated on paper. These are the type of skills that ultimately matter in this situation as the rest can be learned in time - and are why we as a management team believe this person will be successful in their role with additional mentoring and training. At the end of the day, who this individual is as a person mattered more to us than the traditional measuring stick or grade.
Academia is an environment and a system. Depending on where are for your schooling, the requirements to do well vary. I know for myself, a lot of school success was based off of being able to memorize information and quickly recall that information. There was an emphasis on one way of thinking, and getting the right answer. I did not thrive in this environment, my brain just doesn't work in that way, so I did well enough, but I struggled and definitely have felt like I wasn't smart because of it.
Currently I am 4 years into industry as an R&D Engineer designing and developing medical devices and am thriving. In secondary school at college, I majored in Mechanical Engineering. After getting through intro maths and sciences, once I started getting into the engineering classes, I was blessed with professors that emphasized the systems of thinking. I was able to do well because I knew how to set-up problems with logic, set up the right questions, then recognize what I needed to get to the answer. Tests were open note, open text. No need to memorize equations, but you need to know what you needed to use.
Academia is a system. If you are struggling, there is a part of that system that is not working for you. By figuring out where your mind works best (such as building systems) and understanding where you struggle (memorization), you can reframe the situation from "I'm not smart, look at my grades" to "I am good at xyz, but ijk element is hard for me. I am smart. I am capable, this is just not the situation I thrive in". Grades are not a reflection of how hard you work, where you excel, or what you have to bring to the world; they are just a judge for how well you can do school work, and it is not a universal measurement system.
Jennifer recommends the following next steps:
In college as well there are also tutoring services part of the tuition; so if you have this opportunity definitely check them out and make appointments. I would also recommend Kahn Academy and Youtube videos in certain subjects; for example for me I watched many Youtube videos for chemistry and it really helped. Make sure to read, take notes and do practice problems and explain things back to yourself. Stay committed and it will pay off! However, remember that everyone has a goal in mind as well, I don't think always trying to be the top student is helpful to your mental and physical being. Therefore strive to be a student who does their best overall; yes get good grades but remember to have a goal and not to always try for the "A". Also, believe in yourself and that you are smart- grades, GPA, standardized exams are important but they do not define us 100%.
I hope this helps!
Best of luck!