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Any advice for those students who are struggling with their academics, especially those who feel they aren't "smart"?

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Jason’s Answer

There has been some great feedback in response to this questions and I just have a couple of points to add:

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.
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Quinci’s Answer

I wouldn’t worry about academic struggles just try to pass the class or if you feel the class isn’t a good match you should drop the class and look for something else. Also there are a lot of decent careers that you can get without a college degree so don’t stress that much about academics because you can still succeed in the world without it.
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Simeon’s Answer

First, take advantage of the tutoring resources available to you and also reach out to the teachers to let them know that you need help. Second, I'd say focus on just passing the classes to the best of your ability. Being "smart" is hyped during your school years, but doesn't amount to much once you're out in the real world. Your employers, especially after the first one, won't really know much about your education. They won't know your GPA and they won't know which college you went to, so focus on getting through to the end of your education track and don't feel like you're less of a person for not getting the best grades.
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Yasemin’s Answer

Hello! First, I would like to say that everyone struggles with their academics in either a couple of ways or at least just one. I also believe that everyone is smart, but interests lie in different areas. I also personally struggled with their academics, math and science especially scared me and as someone who gained interest in medicine and decided they wanted to be a physician I knew I had to find ways to overcome these obstacles. In the end I ended up being a tutor for the sciences! That being said a couple of tips I would give would be to find a tutor and/or teachers for help after school. I know with COVID this may be harder but try to email teachers and maybe set up zoom meetings with them. In high school I would stay after school many times and ask help from my teachers; it would take sacrifice to do extra effort but it really paid off.
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!
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Jennifer’s Answer

tl;dr: remember we all have strengths and weaknesses. Academia is not a good measure of these; it is generally a single style of challenge. If one understands what about school is particularly challenging (memorization, stress during tests, etc), then one can start to decouple school with intelligence. "I am dumb, I have C's" can then turn into "I am not good at memorization, so I struggled in taxonomy. I do well with understanding systems, so I did well in solving word problems in physics". Remember that intelligence does not look one way, and academia is not the epitome of intelligence. I accel at art, but did poorly taking notes in class. I started taking notes with pictures and drawings, and it worked so much better. Feel free to carve school out to work for you!

Background:
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:

Non-judgementally, figure out what you struggle with in school
Figure out what you excel at
If possible, try to use your strengths to assist your weaknesses (see above)
Remember that school is not a good example of how industry works
Give yourself grace; grades are only one type of intelligence
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