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Kick in the Ass

Which Williams professors gave you a kick in the ass when you most needed it? Tell us your stories!
(Here is one) from Chad Orzel ’93:

This is one of the reasons why one of the most important bits of advice for students going off to college is to get to know some of your professors. It’s also one of the key things that places like Williams (and Union) are selling with their eye-popping tuition.

My own college career had a similar turning point, though it was a little more blunt. I owe a lot of my success to Professor Kevin Jones of the physics department at Williams, for snapping me out of a bad place in my junior year.

The Fall semester of my junior year was a little rough. I was playing rugby, but there were some things that weren’t going well, and I was in kind of a foul mood about that. I was doing a whole lot of drinking, and not enough studying.

Prof. Jones was teaching introductory quantum that term, and stopped me on my way out of class a few weeks into the semester. “Do you have the problem set that was due today?” he asked. I said I was working on it, but had a couple of things I still needed to fix, and would get it in later. This was a blatant lie– I hadn’t started it. Or the previous two, which he also asked about. I said I was still working on them, but wanted to get everything right before I handed them in.

“OK,” he said, “But you know, maybe you should just hand in what you have, and cut your losses.”

It’s not a real warm-fuzzy kind of statement, but what I needed at that point was more a kick in the ass than anything else, and that did the job. I skipped the parties I had been planning to go to that night, and the next couple of days, and spent a whole lot of time in the Physics library doing the homework I hadn’t done to that point. And that pretty much got me turned around– I found a group of other students who worked together on problem sets from that class, and spent most of the rest of my undergraduate career working with them on various things. I ended up with a pretty good grade in that class (I don’t think he penalized me for the stuff I handed in a couple weeks late), and got good grades in the rest of my physics classes.

I’m sure a lot of people who are now successful have similar stories of turning points when they were in college. I try to keep that in mind when I encounter students who seem to be floundering in one way or another, though I can’t say I know of any successes I’ve had in that regard. The few students who I first met as goofball frosh who ended up well mostly turned things around on their own, or at least without an obvious kick from me. But then, I’m not sure Prof. Jones would even remember the conversation that was the turning point for me, though it’ll always be an important one for me.

Of course, the really tricky part is figuring out who needs a kick in the ass, and who needs more gentle intervention…

Which Williams professors gave you a kick in the ass when you most needed it? Tell us your stories!