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Do Not Go To Law School

At least half the Ephs who attend law school are making a mistake. Their lives would be fuller, happier and, often, monetarily richer if they did something, anything else. I spent 30 minutes six years ago talking with a junior (and occasional EphBlog commentator) about why his ill-formed plans for attending law school were a bad idea. Below is a cleaned up version of what I told him. Other comments welcome.

1) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what law school or the practice of law are like. They have watched Law and Order. They know that successful corporate lawyers in big cities make a lot of money. They like thinking about constitutional issues in a class like PSCI 216: American Constitutionalism I: Structures of Power. But this knowledge provides almost no grounds for making a good decision. As Jeff notes:

The only definite advice I’d give is to figure out BEFORE law school one (or more) legal career paths that are of interest to you, and try to learn what a day in the life on those paths is truly like. Too many people pursue law school, and go into enormous debt, thinking that it will “open up doors.” 99 times out of 100, the only doors it uniquely opens are doors to traditional legal careers, typically in law firms, academia, or government.

Correct.

First, before you apply to law school, you should attend a normal (not staged for applicants) first year class in something like torts or civil procedure at Albany Law School or at a night school in your hometown over the summer. (Yes, I realize that this is a hassle. But don’t be stupid. You are about to spend $150,000 (at least) and devote three years of your life. You need to get a clue.) Find out what a real law school class is like. You will probably be shocked at how boring it is. Do you remember that annoying PHIL 102 class in which 2 or 3 dweebs prattled on endlessly about the most semantic/pointless disputes imaginable? That is what law school is like. If you do not enjoy detailed discussions about extremely minor points, you will not like law school.

Second, try reading some of the material from law school, like this set of cases about torts. Read at least 100 pages of cases and commentary before you apply. You will read thousands of pages in law school. Now is the time to find out if you want to. Just because you like the sort of readings assigned in a typical Williams class does not mean that you will like readings in the law.

Third, spend a day with a lawyer, a regular working attorney. There are several alumni in the Williamstown and Albany area who would be happy to let you shadow them for a day. Find out what their lives are like. It is not glamorous! Law jobs are varied, of course, but you owe it to yourself to learn about the profession before going into significant debt. (Note that pre-med students have much less to worry about in this regard. Their interactions with doctors growing up have been very representative of what most doctors spend most of their time doing.)

All of the above is the minimum you should do before applying to law school. Too many Williams students tell themselves some version of: “I like writing. I like reading. I like thinking. I was good at all those things before Williams and I have only gotten better at them. Lawyers seem to do a lot of writing, reading and thinking. So, I should go to law school.” This is faulty reasoning because law school (and law practice) are radically different from your Williams experience.

Even worse are the Williams students who think: “I get good grades at Williams. I like school and do well at it. I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. Getting a job doesn’t have much appeal. My parents will be happy if I go to law school. So, let’s apply!”

2) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what their likely career path in the law will be. At least 1/3 of the Williams students who apply to law school would not apply if they took the above steps. They would realize that law school and a legal career are not for them. But there are still many Ephs, even among the 2/3 who find tort law cases interesting and who were intrigued by the life of a lawyer, who are making a mistake in going to law school because they misestimate the odds of getting the law job that they want.

Consider:

It’s time those of us inside the profession did a better job of telling others outside the profession that most of us don’t earn $160,000 a year, that we can’t afford expensive suits, flashy cars, sexy apartments. We don’t lunch with rock stars or produce movies. Every year I’m surprised by the number of my students who think a J.D. degree is a ticket to fame, fortune and the envy of one’s peers — a sure ticket to the upper middle class. Even for the select few for whom it is, not many last long enough at their law firms to really enjoy it.

There’s something wrong with a system that makes a whole lot of people pay a whole lot of money for jobs that are not worth it, or that have no future. If we wanted to be honest, we would inform students that law school doesn’t keep their options open. Instead, we should say that if they work hard and do well, they can become lawyers.

Or:

Every year tens of thousands of wannabe lawyers enter law school. The majority will be extremely disappointed by their career opportunities.

Thus the title of this essay: law school is a big lie. People enter law school with the idea that a law degree is their ticket to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. In fact, just the opposite, law school for most is a ticket to a worse financial state than if they had not attended at all.

Read these posts. (What other links would Ephs suggest on this topic?) Now, to be fair, much of this advice is being given to students without a Williams IQ, students who are considering Tier II or Tier III law schools. Most Williams students attend highly ranked law schools. But even among the graduates of elite schools, the career paths are much more restricted then current undergraduates might suspect. The vast majority of Williams students who attend a highly ranked law school go in one of three directions. (And there is a great senior thesis to be written about the career paths and choices made by Williams students who attended law school over the last 50 years.)

First, they drop out of law altogether. Our lawyer readers can tell numerous stories about their classmates who no longer practice law. Almost none of those students go into a career that either required, or provides an advantage to those with, a legal education. They are just three years behind (and much more in debt) than the students who avoided law school. (If you and/or your family are independently wealthy, then, obviously, you can afford to spend three years in law school — or getting a Ph.D. in English Literature or sailing around the world or whatever — but almost all Williams students have money concerns.)

Second, they enter poorly paid government work. Now, there is nothing wrong with becoming a lawyer for the FDIC or HUD, but students need to be aware of the economic realities of those career paths. Most Williams students, to the extent that they want to work in government, are better off just going straight from Williams to those agencies. They will be in a position to climb the ladder faster without all the unnecessary debt.

Third, they enter BIG LAW, the elite law firms of the major cities in the US. Want to know what that is like? Read this:

Economically it represented a perfect reification of various Marxist theories. As associates we were wage slaves, members of a white-collar proletariat, objectively closer to the model described in Das Kapital than most nineteenth-century factory hands. It may seem odd to call someone a wage slave whose starting salary was $85,000 (though broken down per hour it was much less impressive). But the work of a junior associate, in reality, is being a clerk, a checker, the one whose job is on the line to make sure that the decimal points are in the right place. No one with an Ivy League education is going to perform this sort of drudgery for much less than 80 grand.

We were also faced with alienation from the products of our labor. You would work on the tiniest part of a huge transaction. You would never see the big picture, never know if your all-nighter made a difference, if your clauses appeared in the final documents, never even find out if the deal had gone through.

And this.

Biglaw women are more screwed because society expects more from mothers than “I pay the bills.” It’s BS, but it is where we still are. So on top of paying all the bills (to say nothing of actually carrying a child to term — you know, something that might get you laid off from K&L Gates), Biglaw women are also expected to invest the emotional and caretaking energy a family needs.

Which is impossible to do while billing the hours Biglaw requires. Not difficult, not challenging, it’s straight-up impossible. Biglaw women can break themselves in two and put on a cosmetically enhanced face and claim that they have the perfect job and family and life, but the only people stupid enough to buy it are younger women who want to be in Biglaw and aren’t yet able to deal with the fact that their career choices will have consequences in other areas of their lives.

What other articles about life in BIG LAW would readers recommend?

Both my parents are lawyers and both my grandfathers were lawyers. (And happy birthday Mom!) I was accepted to law school and (almost) attended. I am the sort of person who would have (and does at EphBlog!) liked arguing about minor points in endless detail. I know people who are perfect for a legal career. Yet most Williams students who apply to law school are completely uninformed about what that decision implies about their future.

Summary: Do not go to law school just because you are good at school, it will make your parents happy, and/or you don’t want to start a real job. Those may all be true, but they are bad reasons. First, learn about what law school and the legal profession are like. Second, understand what sort of career you are likely to have. At least 50% of the Williams students applying to law school from the class of 2018 are making a mistake. Avoid their error.

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How To Lobby Alumni

How to lobby alumni to help you change college policy:

  1. Get organized first. You only have so many opportunities to get alums to care about the issue that has you all worked up. Actually, you probably only have one opportunity. Create an organization, select officers, put up a web page, recruit a “advisory board” of professors and staff, post of list of all the students who have signed on as supporters, decide on what, specifically, you want the administration to do (including packages of the minimal set of things you’d accept and the maximal set that the administration could conceivably grant). See here for a concrete example.
  2. Be realistic in your goals. You can demand that the College pave the walkways with chocolate, but alumni are unlikely to be impressed with your reasonableness. It is fine to have a big picture goal in mind, but what specific incremental step would you like the administration to take right now. You may want a Chicano Studies department, but what about a visiting professor next year? Some alumni will be in favor of your larger goals — and, by all means, sign them up to help with that — but, to be most effective, you want most alumni to, at minimum, think to themselves, “That doesn’t seem too outrageuous. Why won’t Morty go along?”
  3. Don’t be deluded into thinking that you can have a meaningful effect on alumni fundraising. The College’s fundraising machinery is massive, organized and professional. Virtually nothing that you could possibly say or do would influence it. Even a change that might conceivably have the alumni up in arms — something on the scale of ending Winter Study or the JA system — would not provide enough fodder to change the dollars flowing in. A college that could take the lead in ending fraternities can ride out almost any level of alumni frustration.
  4. Several thousand more words of advice below the break:

    Read more

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Do Not Go To Law School

At least half the Ephs who attend law school are making a mistake. Their lives would be fuller, happier and, often, monetarily richer if they did something, anything else. I spent 30 minutes five years ago talking with a junior (and occasional EphBlog commentator) about why his ill-formed plans for attending law school were a bad idea. Below is a cleaned up version of what I told him. Other comments welcome.

1) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what law school or the practice of law are like. They have watched Law and Order. They know that successful corporate lawyers in big cities make a lot of money. They like thinking about constitutional issues in a class like PSCI 216: American Constitutionalism I: Structures of Power. But this knowledge provides almost no grounds for making a good decision. As Jeff notes:

The only definite advice I’d give is to figure out BEFORE law school one (or more) legal career paths that are of interest to you, and try to learn what a day in the life on those paths is truly like. Too many people pursue law school, and go into enormous debt, thinking that it will “open up doors.” 99 times out of 100, the only doors it uniquely opens are doors to traditional legal careers, typically in law firms, academia, or government.

Correct.

First, before you apply to law school, you should attend a normal (not staged for applicants) first year class in something like torts or civil procedure at Albany Law School or at a night school in your hometown over the summer. (Yes, I realize that this is a hassle. But don’t be stupid. You are about to spend $150,000 (at least) and devote three years of your life. You need to get a clue.) Find out what a real law school class is like. You will probably be shocked at how boring it is. Do you remember that annoying PHIL 102 class in which 2 or 3 dweebs prattled on endlessly about the most semantic/pointless disputes imaginable? That is what law school is like. If you do not enjoy detailed discussions about extremely minor points, you will not like law school.

Second, try reading some of the material from law school, like this set of cases about torts. Current students should read at least 100 pages of cases and commentary before they apply. You will read thousands of pages in law school. Now is the time to find out if you want to. Just because you like the sort of readings assigned in a typical Williams class does not mean that you will like readings in the law.

Third, you should also spend a day with a lawyer, a regular working attorney. There are several alumni in the Williamstown and Albany area who would be happy to let you shadow them for a day. Find out what their lives are like. It is not glamorous! Law jobs are varied, of course, but you owe it to yourself to learn about the profession before going into significant debt. (Note that pre-med students have much less to worry about in this regard. Their interactions with doctors growing up have been very representative of what most doctors spend most of their time doing.)

All of the above is the minimum you should do before applying to law school. Too many Williams students (like the one I talked to in January) tell themselves some version of: “I like writing. I like reading. I like thinking. I was good at all those things before Williams and I have only gotten better at them. Lawyers seem to do a lot of writing, reading and thinking. So, I should go to law school.” This is faulty reasoning because law school (and law practice) are radically different from your Williams experience.

Even worse are the Williams students who think: “I get good grades at Williams. I like school and do well at it. I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. Getting a job doesn’t have much appeal. My parents will be happy if I go to law school. So, let’s apply!”

2) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what their likely career path in the law will be. At least 1/3 of the Williams students who apply to law school would not apply if they took the above steps. They would realize that law school and a legal career are not for them. But there are still many Ephs, even among the 2/3 who find tort law cases interesting and who were intrigued by the life of a lawyer, who are making a mistake in going to law school because they misestimate the odds of getting the law job that they want.

Consider:

It’s time those of us inside the profession did a better job of telling others outside the profession that most of us don’t earn $160,000 a year, that we can’t afford expensive suits, flashy cars, sexy apartments. We don’t lunch with rock stars or produce movies. Every year I’m surprised by the number of my students who think a J.D. degree is a ticket to fame, fortune and the envy of one’s peers — a sure ticket to the upper middle class. Even for the select few for whom it is, not many last long enough at their law firms to really enjoy it.

There’s something wrong with a system that makes a whole lot of people pay a whole lot of money for jobs that are not worth it, or that have no future. If we wanted to be honest, we would inform students that law school doesn’t keep their options open. Instead, we should say that if they work hard and do well, they can become lawyers.

Or:

Every year tens of thousands of wannabe lawyers enter law school. The majority will be extremely disappointed by their career opportunities.

Thus the title of this essay: law school is a big lie. People enter law school with the idea that a law degree is their ticket to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. In fact, just the opposite, law school for most is a ticket to a worse financial state than if they had not attended at all.

Read these posts. (What other links would Ephs suggest on this topic?) Now, to be fair, much of this advice is being given to students without a Williams IQ, students who are considering Tier II or Tier III law schools. Most Williams students attend highly ranked law schools. But even among the graduates of elite schools, the career paths are much more restricted then current undergraduates might suspect. The vast majority of Williams students who attend a highly ranked law school go in one of three directions. (And there is a great senior thesis to be written about the career paths and choices made by Williams students who attended law school over the last 50 years.)

First, they drop out of law altogether. Our lawyer readers can tell numerous stories about their classmates who no longer practice law. Almost none of those students go into a career that either required, or provides an advantage to those with, a legal education. They are just three years behind (and much more in debt) than the students who avoided law school. (If you and/or your family are independently wealthy, then, obviously, you can afford to spend three years in law school — or getting a Ph.D. in English Literature or sailing around the world or whatever — but almost all Williams students have money concerns.)

Second, they enter poorly paid government work. Now, there is nothing wrong with becoming a lawyer for the FDIC or HUD, but students need to be aware of the economic realities of those career paths. Most Williams students, to the extent that they want to work in government, are better off just going straight from Williams to those agencies. They will be in a position to climb the ladder faster without all the unnecessary debt.

Third, they enter BIG LAW, the elite law firms of the major cities in the US. Want to know what that is like? Read this:

Economically it represented a perfect reification of various Marxist theories. As associates we were wage slaves, members of a white-collar proletariat, objectively closer to the model described in Das Kapital than most nineteenth-century factory hands. It may seem odd to call someone a wage slave whose starting salary was $85,000 (though broken down per hour it was much less impressive). But the work of a junior associate, in reality, is being a clerk, a checker, the one whose job is on the line to make sure that the decimal points are in the right place. No one with an Ivy League education is going to perform this sort of drudgery for much less than 80 grand.

We were also faced with alienation from the products of our labor. You would work on the tiniest part of a huge transaction. You would never see the big picture, never know if your all-nighter made a difference, if your clauses appeared in the final documents, never even find out if the deal had gone through.

And this.

Biglaw women are more screwed because society expects more from mothers than “I pay the bills.” It’s BS, but it is where we still are. So on top of paying all the bills (to say nothing of actually carrying a child to term — you know, something that might get you laid off from K&L Gates), Biglaw women are also expected to invest the emotional and caretaking energy a family needs.

Which is impossible to do while billing the hours Biglaw requires. Not difficult, not challenging, it’s straight-up impossible. Biglaw women can break themselves in two and put on a cosmetically enhanced face and claim that they have the perfect job and family and life, but the only people stupid enough to buy it are younger women who want to be in Biglaw and aren’t yet able to deal with the fact that their career choices will have consequences in other areas of their lives.

What other articles about life in BIG LAW would readers recommend?

Both my parents are lawyers and both my grandfathers were lawyers. I was accepted to law school and (almost) attended. I am the sort of person who would have (and does at EphBlog!) liked arguing about minor points in endless detail. I know people who are perfect for a legal career. Yet most Williams students who apply to law school are completely uninformed about what that decision implies about their future.

Summary: Do not go to law school just because you are good at school, it will make your parents happy, and/or you don’t want to start a real job. Those may all be true, but they are bad reasons. First, learn about what law school and the legal profession are like. Second, understand what sort of career you are likely to have. At least 50% of the Williams students applying to law school from the class of 2017 are making a mistake. Avoid their error.

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Monroe ’90 on careers

CMonroeIf you follow EphBlog’s annual advice to “Fall in Love” over Winter Study and ultimately marry an Eph (or even if you don’t), you’re likely to someday face the challenge of balancing your career with that of your spouse.

That’s especially true if, like Courteney Freedman Monroe ’90, you marry into the Marine Corps. In a recent profile in the Hollywood Reporter, Monroe, shared her experience “surviving ‘career suicide'” when it became time to let her spouse’s professional opportunities force a move:

He was ready for a different professional challenge, and he was interested in raising our kids outside of New York. There was a job opportunity in particular [an intelligence officer at the Department of Defense] that he wanted to pursue and, well, I went along with it. He’d moved to New York for me, and it was his turn professionally to drive the decisions in the family. But honestly, I don’t think at that moment I ever thought it was really going to happen. And then things start to progress…

I commuted back and forth [from Washington, DC] for a little less than two years. They would’ve allowed me to continue doing it, but I just felt like I wasn’t doing anything well enough. Being a full-time working mom is hard enough under the best of circumstances, but when that full-time job is actually in a different city than the one in which you live, it adds a complicating layer…

I began to realize as important as my job was to me, and as much of a huge part of my identity it was, family came first. So I made the decision to step away.

Monroe is now the CEO of National Geographic Global Networks, but when she left HBO, her path forward was far from clear:

At that point, I had not had one exploratory conversation in D.C. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for a living. And I was sure I was never going to be able to replicate that experience that I had worked so hard for or for so long. Now that I’ve gotten this opportunity to run the networks at National Geographic, I know that’s not true. But even for the first two and a half years when I was running marketing here, I never regretted my choice because every night I was going home to have dinner with my family, and that’s what it was about.

Those who have heard Monroe speak about her business career will find it unsurprising that she was able to take the long view of her career. She likes to tell the story of her first summer job, which was as a sales clerk at Laura Ashley. There, even entry-level staff were required to wear the brand’s (expensive) clothing. Even with an employee discount, her clothing cost her more that summer than she was paid for working.

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Good Advice from Amherst(!!)

From the Amherst Student and its editorial board, on “Studying at Home”:

It’s common wisdom among college graduates and seniors who think they know better that if you don’t study abroad, you’ll regret it. “Are you going to study abroad?” is a common question among Amherst sophomores and juniors. If the answer is yes, no one thinks twice. But if a student decides to stay at Amherst for both semesters, he’s consistently told that it’s the wrong decision, that he’ll regret losing an opportunity he’ll never have again. While studying abroad is certainly a fantastic opportunity, so is each of our semesters at Amherst.

As cheesy as it may sound, Amherst becomes a new place every single year. For one thing, you’d be hard pressed to find an academic experience abroad that beats Amherst classes. With just four short years here, there’s no shortage of incredibly transformative classes you can take that you’ll never have access to again. Furthermore, the growing number of clubs, sports teams and opportunities allow us to make this campus a better place, cultivate meaningful friendships and embed ourselves deeper in the community we call home for four years.

If traveling or living abroad is something you want to pursue, but you don’t think study abroad is right for you, ask the fellowship and career offices to learn about the myriad of opportunities available after graduation. Spending a gap year after college doing meaningful academic or volunteer work while traveling or living in another country is a fantastic way to transition into the terrifying “real world.” Amherst also has a lot of money devoted to internal fellowships; it just takes a bit of searching to find the right opportunity.

True at Amherst, and even truer at Williams. Indeed, the experience of being at Williams is unparalleled among undergraduate institutions – even better than Amherst. And for Ephs, Winter Study provides an opportunity to leave Williamstown without missing out on months of your time in paradise (although you will miss an ideal time to Fall in Love).

Many students arrive at Williams intending to take a semester abroad, have that inclination reinforced by general acceptance (as described at Amherst above), and fail (even if majoring in economics) to consider the opportunity cost involved.

Does that mean “don’t go”? Of course not. But put as much care into the decision of

    whether

to go as you would

    where

to go.

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Repost: Advice to Undergraduates: Things to Do…

A few years ago, jeffz compiled this invaluable post, “Things to Do in Billsville When You’re Dead.” Take note, 2019’ers!

(Original here).

 

[NB: this is a repost from last year, but I think warranted considering the collective thought that went into it.  Moreover, I’m curious if a new crop of Ephs / readers have any additional suggestions.  Apologies for any links that are no longer functional.]

Unless things have changed dramatically since my time at Williams, one of the favorite pastimes of students is to lament (a) the dearth of off-campus social options in Williamstown (b) the lack of area date venues and (c) the repetitiveness of campus social life.  If you are tired of the typical row house party scene and/or desperately need a break from late nights studying in the library, all it takes is a little creativity to find a surprisingly rich panoply of cool things to do.   As highlighted in this previous post by Larry George, the college has already offered a list of 59 alternatives.  [This excellent list appears to have vanished.  Has it just been moved to some other location on the Williams site?]

But this list  just scratches the surface.  So, new and returning students, Ephblog’s gift to you: our collective list of additional recommendations for your four years at Williams, derived from the comments to the previous post, among other sources.  Not all of these will interest all of you, but everyone should find at least a handful of appealing ideas out of the 123 (and counting) suggested to date by the college and by Ephblog readers.  Full list below the break.

(1) Spend a summer in Williamstown.  Get to know some of the famous actors in town for the Williamstown Theater Festival.

(2) Play trivia this Winter Study.

(3) Attend at least one home and one away basketball game vs. Amherst (the away games are especially fun when you can organize a massive crowd to drown out the home fans).  During the trip over, design creative taunts bashing the ‘herst

(4) Get your folks or your friends’ folks to spring for a dinner at Mezze.

(5) Try to make the wall of fame at Jack’s Hot Dogs (NB: prepare to spend next 24 hours in serious discomfort).

(6) Attend at least one home soccer game on a gorgeous fall day: no athletic setting is more amazing.

(7) Visit a local farm. Pick apples. Buy local or Vermont cheese to go with them. If you add a good loaf of bread, you have the makings of an excuse for a hike, bike ride, or cross country ski to go with the picnic. Consult with the Outing Club: Hanging Rock? Monumental Mountain? Broad Brook?

(8) Do the weekly Polar Bear Swim in the Green River with the Outing Club — the colder the better. Extra points if you have to break ice. Infinite extra points on the coolness and Ephness scales at your 50th if you did every swim for a whole academic year.

(9) Break your personal mold and do something wildly different for a Winter Study project (or if something wild enough is not available, design a 99).

(10) Take a Free University class.  Better yet, design and teach one.

(11) Invent a sandwich at Pappa C’s (if you are as lucky / creative as Margaret Howell ’96, you might even get your name in lights …. errr, wood).

(12) Make snow sculpture at Winter Carnival so sweet that people will still reminisce fifty years later.

(13) Practice uncomfortable learning, Gaudino style.

(14) Egg a curmudgeon on into doing something fun.

(15) Explore the steam tunnels.

(16) Stay out late drinking with a professor.

(17) Watch the sun rise on Easter morning from Petersburg Pass.

(18) Do a service trip during spring break.

(19) Sit on a stone bench in the cemetery in the middle of the night talking about life, the universe, and everything.

(20) Play in the rain.

(21) Waste three hours talking to every random acquaintance who comes into the snack bar.  Eat grilled honeybuns while doing so.

(22) Do the Pratt-to-Pratt run (a relay-style, early morning naked run from Williams to Amherst prior to an away football game).

(23) First-years: find out which of your classmates have never seen snow fall.  Throw them a snowperson building and snowball fight party when the first good snowfall comes.

(24) Do a WOOLF trip. Then become a WOOLF leader the next year and then a leader instructor/planner/equipment manager that.

(25) Surprise the whole campus with a well organized, clever prank.

(26) Design a witty Williams-themed t-shirt and donate the proceeds to a local charity.

(27) Write a post on Ephblog.  Or if too cool for that, start a discussion on WSO.

(28) Attend the Williamstown Film Festival at Images.

(29) Fall in love.

(30) Serve on the Junior Adviser Selection Committee.

(31) Take the most interesting conversationalist you know to Hopkins Forest, find a great log, split a six pack of beer, and relive the spirit of Mark Hopkins.

(32) Plan a really cool event at The Log that will get the campus excited about this underutilized venue.

(33) DJ at WCFM, or else hang with your friends when they DJ — especially late at night when hardly anyone is listening and you can do and say anything.

(34) Partake in KAOS.

(35) Attend an event thrown by a cultural group from outside your own background, such as the Moon Festival.

(36) Go to a Williams-student cooked Sabbath dinner at the JRC.

(37) Perform in something you’ve never tried before (a student-directed play, one of the singing / dance groups, etc.).

(38) Invite a professor for a drink at your coop / dorm (or think of another creative way to get to know professors, and get funding from the college to do so).

(39) Drop by office hours to learn how a professor got interested in his/her field.

(40) Stand outside late at night and listen to the silence when it snows.

(41) Tour the various old frat houses and check out all of their “secret” rooms.  (Personal favorite: the Perry goat room …).

(42) Check out the witty and whimsical tombstone inscriptions in the Williams College Cemetery that supposedly gave rise to the comment of a philosophy professor that “they make you worry that faculty meetings never end.”  Two markers of particular note: Michael Davitt Bell’s, and the backside of S. Lane Faison’s.

(43) Play beach volleyball behind Perry House.

(44) Explore the ruins of the Chapin Hall organ.

(45) Buy a Lindt chocolate bar at Hart’s and then spend the evening eating it while reading old magazines in the library stacks (one favorite was Esquire from the 1930’s, but you could do Life in the 1950’s, Time in the 1960’s, etc.).

(46) Take a walk around the non-Spring Street parts of town.  Start with the Cole Avenue area and eat breakfast at Leo’s Luncheonette.

(47) Get to know locals over a drink at the American Legion, Water Street Grill, the 6 House Pub, the Red Herring, or a breakfast at Leo’s (this one’s for you, PTC!).

(48) Volunteer locally.  Some good options: a local school, the Williamstown Youth Center, the Berkshire Food Pantry, Sweetbrook, or the Williamstown Commons.

(49) Read the Alumni review from 10, 25 or 50 years ago and compare it to life at Williams now.

(50) Find random, old-school Williams gear on ebay, impress friends with unique suite decor.

(51) Visit the Williamstown Public Library and the House of Local History.

(52) Get to know someone at the CDE, have lunch with them and their colleagues.

(53) Go to Sawyer Library and find out who certain houses are named for and why.

(54) Go to Pub lunch in the middle of the week in the sunshine and then attempt your afternoon class while slightly altered. (When the Purple Pub finally re-opens…).

(55) Find your way to the Preston Room in the basement of Stetson at night and tell ghost stories.

(56) Attend any event in the old lecture room in Griffin 3 (I think I have that number right) as the late afternoon sun filters in.

(57) Sunbathe on Chapin Beach.

(58) Check out the Williamsiana collection in Chapin Library.

(59) Play snowball tag in the quad of your choice.

(60) Check the performing arts calendar at MassMoca and check out something off the beaten track (while you are there, be sure to check out the Saul Lewitt exhibit, which is sure to impress ANY visitor from out of town).

(61) Play frisbee golf on campus / on the Taconic.

(62) Predict Mountain Day and go for a sunrise hike. At the top of Stone Hill, you can even hear the bells play “The Mountains” as the Sun is coming up.

(63) Visit a local swimming hole, in particular, the Tubs.

(64) Design a creative, original prank for a Williams-Amherst sporting event that will be remembered fondly for years.

And finally, do something certainly iconoclastic, foreseeably not to be permitted by the College for mention on any of its silly ass, sanitary posters and also probably immature and foolish, of which all or almost all of those of authority in your life would strongly disapprove!

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Repost: Things the Williams Freshmen Should Know

Another entry the Class of 2019 should review, from EphBlog’s “Advice to Undergraduates.”

(Original here).

 

I went back

All that I remember about the day I arrived on campus eighteen years ago this August was that it was hot and that I was not looking forward to two-a-days. Like pretty much every incoming freshmen at pretty much every school, I’m sure I was a volatile mix of anticipation, fear, excitement and a few dozen other emotions endemic to teenagers. But mostly what I remember was that it was hot.

One thing I’m sure of, however, is that there was no note waiting for me from my future self. It’s not clear to me even now that I would have been any more willing to listen to an older version of me than I was, say, my parents. Not listening to anyone is a seventeen year old’s prerogative, I suppose, for better and for worse. Mostly for worse. Whether such a missive would have helped or not, however, it certainly couldn’t have made things worse. My initial year in the Purple Valley was…not strong.

Nothing in my brief history up to that point had prepared me for my performance, which bore an unfortunate resemblance to a slow-moving car crash. I failed. Repeatedly. Even in my strong subjects. I turned things around academically midway through my sophomore year, but my GPA never really recovered from the beating it absorbed prior. Not that that has mattered much, professionally: apart from your first job or graduate school, your grades won’t come up much. Like most Williams students, however, I’m competitive, and I wish that my performance more accurately reflected my abilities, rather than the life lessons I had yet to learn. Lessons that my future self could have passed on to me, were such things possible.

Sadly, they are not. But for you new people, I offer the following with no warranty whatsoever. Mystical wisdom, it is not. These are just a few of the things I wish someone had told me, and which I in turn thought I would offer to you now. As my good friend Sean Bowler ’98, who was taken from us all far too early, did for his students when he said farewell at Salisbury, I will try and keep it short.

And will, predictably, fail.

There is Always Someone Better Than You

This one was easy for me, because I was never King of the Hill in the classroom or on the field of play. It was quite obviously an adjustment for a few of my classmates, however. Accustomed to being the big fish in the small ponds they hailed from, it was jarring for some of them to be second best, or just as often, third or fourth. But that’s what going to a place like Williams is all about. In that one aspect, at least, the campus is exactly like the real world. With the exception of a very small number of us, there’s always going to be someone who’s smarter than you. Or a better athlete. Maybe both.

Where you can’t change this through hard work, you need to acknowledge the situation and then find ways to compete. Because that’s life. The playing field isn’t always going to be even. Or fair. But neither do the best and brightest always win. Show some adaptability and you’ll be fine.

Cole Field Really is the Coldest Place on Earth

If you play sports or go there to watch them, you will think this at some point. Whatever they may teach you at Williams about climate change and meteorology, Cole Field is likely to be, at any given point in time, the single coldest place on earth. It can be pushing a hundred on campus, but down at Cole there will be woolly mammoths walking around, as one of my coaches memorably put it. Prepare all you want; there’s nothing you can do. We tried everything, from long underwear to those awful, burning chemical heating packets, and we still froze. As you will.

There’s nothing I can say to help you here; I just wanted to be able to say I told you so.

It’s Not How You Start, It’s How You Finish

Looking back, it’s borderline shocking that I recovered as much as I did academically, given how horrifying my grades were that first year. And, it must be said, my first semester as a sophomore. But while I accept full responsibility for getting myself into that mess, the credit for my recovery belongs entirely to someone else. Part of it was reducing my athletic workload – and the related social calendar – from one sport to two, part of it was a few significant changes in my social life, but the man who more or less singlehandedly salvaged my tenure at Williams was Professor Thomas Kohut.

Just trust me on this: it is not easy to pick a major when you’re barely holding your head above water in all subjects. How can you ask a professor to be your advisor, when you both know you’re failing? When your professors look on you with a mixture of disdain and disappointment? Not that I blame those who did: I deserved that scorn. Fortunately for me, however, there was one exception. Professor Kohut, for motives of his own, spoke to me honestly but not unkindly. Better, he threw me the rope I desperately needed, agreeing to serve as my advisor. With that came a direct and frank appraisal of where I was failing, and what I needed to correct. Instead of writing me off as a lost cause, he took the time to sit and speak with me about his own experiences, and how he thought that I might improve. It may well have been the first time in my academic career that someone treated me as an adult, one reason it was easy to listen.

His opinion – subsequently confirmed – was that I needed smaller, more interactive classes to hold my interest. The difficulty of the material was not, for the most part, my problem; it was rather my engagement with same. Professor Kohut’s recommendation was simple: I was to take smaller classes on subjects that held some interest for me with professors that would care whether or not I was in class. So what I would tell you, Future Williams Graduate, class of 2014, is this: do not write yourself off. You may think, at times, that you’re an idiot, but the folks that run admissions are most certainly not. If you got in, you can do the work. We all make mistakes, it’s how you recover from them that matters. Seek out the professors that understand this and genuinely care – Kohut and Shanti Singham were two of the best I encountered – and stick to them like glue.

It worked for me.

You Need Math, Especially If You Think You Don’t Need Math

One of the worst things to happen to me at Williams was actually a test I passed. According to the Quantitative Skills Assessment, I had satisfactory math skills and thus was obligated to take exactly zero math courses. Which I promptly did. In retrospect, this was a mistake.

This isn’t about the rise of Fivethirtyeight.com or Freakonomics. Or at least not entirely. You may never face that time your elementary school teachers warned you about, where the ability to solve a quadratic equation is a life or death affair. But it’s a safe bet that whatever your chosen occupation – brewer, entrepreneur, author, real estate agent, chef, artist, teacher, or, yes, I-banker – the ability to do math is going to be of benefit.

Businesses – most of them, these days – are increasingly about numbers. Whether you think this is a positive or negative development doesn’t, I’m sorry to say, matter much. They’ll go on without you. The fact is that industries that ran themselves for years on intuition and tradition are increasingly functions of algorithms. Baseball is Exhibit A in that department. This means that math, and its first cousins statistics and economics – should be staples of your Williams education. I took neither, largely because I had no idea they would be so important later, and I’m still paying the price.

There’s a reason I had to go and take a statistics course this past spring, and that reason is that I was dumb. Don’t be like me. Take some math.

There Are Lots of Things You Can Do Besides Consulting and Investment Banking

Unless things have changed radically at Williams, you may not realize this, as it’s basically those two industries interviewing on campus. This is not to say, please note, that there’s anything wrong with either profession. I myself was a consultant, and my brother – a Bowdoin grad – was an investment banker, and we’ve done all right. Both professions are, if nothing else, excellent training for jobs that you’ll have later in life, as they can teach you quite a bit about how businesses are run and how they are run into the ground.

It’s important to remember that if you don’t talk with one of the I-banking/consulting firms coming to interview, there are a host of things you can do with yourself. The entirety of which, obviously, I can’t cover here. But look around, and think not just about what you think you should do, but what you want to do.

Beirut is No Substitute for Beer Pong

I understand that they’ve outlawed Beer Pong on campus, and that Beirut – a distinctly inferior game – is ascendant. This is sad, because a better drinking game than Beer Pong has yet to be invented. There was a time when the Slippery B – if it’s even still called that – was the Beer Pong capital of this country. It’s depressing that those days are behind us, and that that elegant game from a more civilized age has faded from the average student’s memory.

The People You Meet Matter

Later, when you consider going to business school, and I’d wager that a lot of you will entertain the notion at some point, one of the Pro’s you write down to weigh the decision will be “networking.” Which is legitimate. Of the friends and former classmates that I know who’ve gone for their MBAs, networking has been at least 50% of the reasoning for shelling out the money and losing the years.

The same principle, though you may not have realized it yet, applies to your Williams education. Maybe you don’t meet the next Mark Zuckerberg, or, in our case, the next Bo Peabody, but given that you’re going to be on campus for four years with some aggressively bright and talented people, you might want to meet a few. Or at least remember who they are, so when you read about them later, you can comment knowledgeably.

Question Everything

I’ll be the first to admit that as a history major, I should have adopted Euripides‘ mantra – “question everything” – far sooner than I did. Nevertheless, you now have the opportunity to grasp this important lesson at a much more profitable age than I.

One of the things you learn as you go along, you see, is that everyone is wrong all the time. We jump to the wrong conclusions, we misread the available data, and sometimes we just want to believe something that’s not true. But when you’re younger, it’s natural to assume that at least the folks older than you – your parents, your professors, even the seniors – have the answers. They don’t.

Sometimes, of course, yours is not to reason why. Socrates questioned everything, after all, and ended up dining on a hemlock milkshake. But where it’s practicable – and particularly where conventional wisdom is concerned – do not forget to employ your critical thinking. Too many do these days; just watch the news.

Learn Everything You Can About Everything

Someone wants to teach you how to knit, gentlemen? Learn. Seriously, I’m not joking. You never know when the ability to knit will come in handy; a good friend of mine was wooed, at least in part, by a knit hat from her now boyfriend. Pick up anything and everything you can. Parkour. Frisbee. Guitar. Japanese. Learn to drive a stick. Whatever. You’re going to be around people who know a great many things you don’t, and even if you don’t master them, you never know when the exposure will be useful later in life.

More to the point, unless you retire early, you’re not likely to have another period in your life where your primary mission in life is to learn. Later, you’ll be distracted by reunions, work, a family, and thousands of weddings. Even if you don’t think you know that many people.

Save Your Papers

The good ones, anyway. Mine are now lost to history, unless they turn up when my parents move. This is not exactly a major loss for history, but there are those that I’d like to have back, if only to reflect on how, even then, I could never use one word when I could use five.

Winter Study is Just as Awesome as it Sounds

When else in your life, after all, are you going to be able to take a course on “Auto Mechanics?” And have it be the only course you’re responsible for? Exactly. Winter study is what college should be. With the exception of the one year a classmate and I spent freezing to death behind the Clark Art Museum hunting for turkeys that were clearly smarter than us, winter study was uniformly outstanding.

College is About More Than the Classroom

The administration probably isn’t going to put me in the Alumni Review for saying this, but this is for you, freshpeople, not them, so remember: there is more to life than class. No, you shouldn’t cut all your classes. Or even some of your classes. Take advantage of the education, because it’s the best you will ever get. And it’s certainly the last undergrad experience you’ll have. But that undergrad experience is also about learning how to live your life outside the classroom, and that portion of it shouldn’t be neglected. Enjoy your friends, your boyfriends and girlfriends, your teammates. Because the time when you all live together, too, shall pass.

I remember playing home run derby down on the women’s softball field with my best friend on a beautiful spring day my senior year as much as I remember any single class I ever took. And there were some memorable ones, believe me.

Reach Out to Alums

Here’s a secret that probably no one will think to tell you: alums love hearing from students. I remember sitting at a table in the OCC as a senior with no idea what I would be doing the following year, leafing through binders of probably out-of-date contact forms for alumni. What could be more intimidating than presuming on the mere shared experience of a Williams education, contacting someone you’ve never met for help?

Logical as that sentiment may be, however, I can assure you that it is misplaced. I have yet to meet an alum who isn’t happy to help a fellow Williams student, myself included. Perhaps it’s a failure on my part, but I speak to far, far too few students. Want to know what it’s like to work in technology? How to go about getting a job? What kinds of things employers are looking for in new hires? I can help, and so can the other alums. There’s an Eph in every industry.

Don’t be shy: I’m not hard to find.

Do What You Love

Life is short. You’ve likely heard that a few thousand times, and at this point in your life that phrase will have effectively no meaning. That’s fine. If you can tentatively accept it as true, however, it’ll make some of your more important decisions easier. Many of you will embark on careers that will make you miserable because of the hours, the content, or both. And there’s nothing wrong with that for a few years; paying your dues is a necessary part of the process in a great many industries. But if you are still unhappy years later, remember what you’ve been told: life is short. Do you want to spend it doing work you hate, or would you prefer to work on something that you enjoy?

That question is easier to answer, obviously, than execute. It’s hard to get paid to do what you love. Paul Graham believes – and I happen to agree – that there are two primary approaches to this:

The organic route: as you become more eminent, gradually to increase the parts of your job that you like at the expense of those you don’t.

The two-job route: to work at things you don’t like to get money to work on things you do.

Which one of those works for you will – assuming that the idea of doing something you love appeals to you – will depend on your passion and your priorities. Being a starving artist sounds romantic until you’re actually starving.

Eventually, however, you will get to a point in your life where you’ll look back on what you’ve accomplished and reflect. If you’ve been punching the clock for ten years, that’s not going to be a fun conversation to have with yourself, so my advice is work on things that matter. Whatever those might be for you.

You Will Miss Williams

I know. Every alum says this. But that, by itself, should tell you something.

Enjoy your next four years. Like life, you’ll only get one crack at it.

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Advice for the Class of 2019: From the EphBlog archives

As I noted a few weeks ago in “Good, Bad, and Other Advice,” the EphBlog archives are brimming with Advice to Undergraduates, advice that is more specific to Williams College than what you find in the pages of the New York Times.

Actually, some of it is what you find in the pages of the Times – at least, when it’s written by Ephs. Here’s the late James MacGregor Burns ’39, from 2009:

Try to read a good newspaper every day — at bedtime or at breakfast or when you take a break in the afternoon. If you are interested in art, literature or music, widen your horizons by poring over the science section. In the mood for spicy scandals? Read the business pages. Want to impress your poli sci prof? Read columnists.

Burns in 2011, as featured at the

Burns in 2011, as featured at the FDR Library Tumblr

Burns continued:

[A] great newspaper will teach you how to write: most articles are models of clarity and substance — with no academic jargon! Pay attention to the writer’s vocabulary, see how many active verbs are used, file away striking new words for future use. Study how articles are structured — how the first paragraph tells the reader simply and clearly the subject and main points. Take a look at the last paragraph; it will often show you how to conclude an essay with a pithy phrase or a telling quotation.

Read the whole thing.

Of course, with a dwindling number of good newspapers in circulation — and the 2013 closure of the Williams Newsroom, a longtime fixture on Spring Street, this is harder than it used to be.

More advice to undergraduates from the EphBlog archives still to come.

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First Days Advice from the class of 2018

Not surprisingly, social media shapes arriving at Williams College today, as Sam Alterman ’18 explained last year in the Williams Record:

If you are a first-year here at the College, there’s a very good chance that you know our names and maybe even our faces. We are the admins of the Class of 2018 Facebook group.

And now we are here, on campus, with you. You see us on the sidewalks and the quads, in Sawyer and the ’62 Center, in Driscoll and Whitman’s and Mission. You see us at soccer games, in classes and in Paresky. And you run up to us, shouting our names, taking our pictures…

For many of you, however, we are your celebrities. For months you have been seeing our names on your computer and mobile screens… Some entries are apparently playing games of who can take the most pictures of us around campus. It’s all rather flattering, to be honest.

A little different than receiving the name of your roommate and his mailing address (I think in my case, it was a P.O. Box) and a few phone calls and photocopied letters from freshmen coaches and upperclass teammates-to-be.

Alterman continues:

Facebook has a strange way of making us feel like we know people before we have met them. Because we have access to so much information about our Facebook friends… Facebook makes it so easy and so tempting that many of us just can’t resist. When entry lists were released in July, I immediately began tracking down my entrymates, poring over the past several years of their posts and pictures, pegging the nerds, the jocks, the partiers and the generally dull. On move-in day, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what my entry looked like. I thought I knew who I would like and dislike, who would be my friend and who I would merely tolerate.

Not so fast, he warns:

People I had pegged as “unfriendly jocks” turned out to be some of the most intelligent and caring people in my entry; people I had expected to be dry and dull ended up being hilarious; people I thought were just about partying were in fact some of the hardest working and most thoughtful people in my entry. An entry that I originally thought was a very mixed bag revealed itself to be my favorite group of 22 people on campus.

I urge you, my fellow classmates, to get to know each other; to not just cling to the faces you recognize from the Facebook group and instead talk to someone you have never heard of before. I know this gets repeated so much that it sounds incredibly fake, but, really, we are all here for a reason. I guarantee that everyone in this valley has a story to tell and something to teach you. So please, don’t just cling to the Dorothy Gabys and Sam B. Altermans of this campus. Instead, try introducing yourself to three new people a day. After all, you never know who may end up being your best friend.

Good advice! I hope the Class of 2019 hears it early and often.

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Good, Bad, and Other Advice

The New York Times recently featured “Advice for New Students From Those Who Know (Old Students).”

Highlight:

If you’re like me — meaning fairly driven and self-assured — you’re coming into college with a strong idea of what you’d like to do with the rest of your life. At 18, I was set on medical school, with the hopes of becoming a neurobiologist. When I got to college, however, a single freshman seminar showed me that both my academic talents and interests lay with religious studies and Spanish, of all things. At first, I was hesitant to pursue these fields because they didn’t fit the image of success I had imagined for myself. With time, I learned that interest and success are highly correlated — do what you love, and you’ll be good at what you do. Don’t be afraid to take classes that challenge your suppositions. A single course could be a game-changer. — Sasha Ward, University of Virginia, ’15, University of Oxford, ’17

Yes to the first part, especially at Williams. If you’re a math geek, take a religion class. If your life revolves around the stage, study astrophysics. Intending to join the Williams Art Mafia? Dabble in Political Economy. No to the second part. If you love something, and your professors (who
will know you) tell you that you really don’t have the talent to pursue it as a career, thank your lucky stars you’re at Williams where the faculty cares about you, and think about where your interests and your skills overlap. Don’t laugh — the Williams faculty can make you fall in love with something and work impossibly hard at it when everyone else has it easy.

Low light:

You know those tables set up by the student store trying to get you to sign up for a credit card? Those are a scam with insanely high interest rates. Take the time to go to your bank and sit down with a financial adviser and discuss what the best options are for you. You need debt to earn credit, but not 15k of credit card debt. — Brittany Nicole Brisson, East Carolina University, ’15

No, not all credit cards are “a scam.” Sign up for credit cards. Follow a budget in your spending, pay off your credit cards every month, and you’ll help build a solid credit foundation for leases and loans after you graduate. As long as you pay your bills, you won’t pay late fees or interest on your spending, and you won’t regret your choice.

Sheds no light:

College life is similar to what happens when you get high — i.e., you have a vague idea of your surroundings and forget who you are and where you wanted to go… — Sangepu Ashrith, Indian Institute of Technology Jodhpur, ’17

Umm.

Obligatory Amherst View:

I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy… — Brittanie Lewis, Amherst College, ’17*

It’s hard to be at Amherst when the glory of Williams shines such a short distance away…

———-

Over the years, EphBlog has provided ample advice of the sort excerpted above.  But ours is specifically directed at current Williams College students. Find it in this category of posts: “Advice to Undergraduates.” I think you’ll find that our advice is better. And with a new class of Ephs starting in the days to come, we’ll repost a few highlights.

 

*Selectively quoted.  Okay, we have higher standards here than the Grey Lady often does.  Here’s Ms. Lewis’s full quote:

I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy and social incompatibility specific to my experiences as a low-income, first-generation student, and you will face similar challenges. Your more fortunate peers will frustrate you with their well-meaning suggestion to just “buy a new one” after you lose your coat; they may sadden you when they ask where your parents went to school, where your siblings want to go, why you seem so different from your entire family. Sometimes, you might feel you just don’t belong on campus. I implore you to extend grace to yourself and have confidence in the fact that you were chosen not only for your academic competency but also for the perspective you have to offer your peers and professors. You are now part of a conversation that would be lacking without your voice. Speak even louder, and help others understand a life story they may not have considered before they met you.

Your Williams peers will probably not be so callous if you lose your coat.  And they will value your perspective.  Even if your first choice was Amherst.

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Advice from Brzezinski ’89: Sweat Bullets in Front of a Crowd

Town & Country magazine featured an enjoyable recent interview with MSNBC anchor Mika Brzezinski ’89.

Brzezinski '89 at a 2010 Williams event.  Photo credit Kris Dufour, Sports Information

Mika Brzezinski ’89 at a 2010 Williams event. Photo credit Kris Dufour, Sports Information.

Brzezinski didn’t mention her time at Williams College, but Eph undergraduates are in one of the finest places to take advantage of key elements of her career advice:

[Q:] What life skill do you think is of utmost importance for young women who are starting their careers?

Being able to think on your feet, get on stage, and talk in front of people. I urge every young woman to do that [talk on stage]. I think that it will get you out of your comfort zone and teach you to communicate visually and experience that kind of “hot, red, I’m really embarrassed, everyone’s looking at me” feeling. And you can find these moments, you need to find them, and do them consistently.

If you have a career that has you hiding under a rock, and never having to speak in front of anyone– look elsewhere. Make a toast at a party, give a speech at someone’s wedding. The first few times are awful– and you’ll sweat, and all of the sudden, you’ll realize your outfit is wrong. You’ll look at pictures, and you’ll be able to visualize, and feel what it’s like when it’s showtime in your life. You need to actually communicate effectively. It may be negotiating a contract, or negotiating a marriage. You can’t do that just by thinking you can wing it: “when I get there, I’ll figure it out.” No, practice; get in front of people.

Perhaps not surprising advice from a live-television personality, but it’s good advice for succeeding in almost any field. And through regular classwork, senior theses and academic colloquia, not to mention the unmatched array of extracurricular opportunities in theater, comedy, a capella, student government, and the like, no one should graduate Williams without taking on and overcoming this kind of performance anxiety. Williams students take note: you’ll never have a friendlier, more supportive environment to gain practice communicating in front of a crowd!

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Two related; too related? Two posts together …

A reader pointed out to me that the juxtaposition of the post “I am fine” and the post “Revisiting the Value of Elite Colleges” 1960s to 1980s …”
causes an interesting tension.

What are the stresses put on the psyches of students who strive for admission to the elites when they get on campus, how do they handle them, what is the price paid as a student and after graduation, and is it worth it?

The ‘comments’ sections of both posts have produced some very interesting insights.

If you haven’t been following them, read through and see for your self. If you want to add your own observations from your own experience, please join in.

The FaceBook extension of the Williams College site asked the same questions of readers. The responses with names edited out are below under ‘more’.

Ed Note: It would appear that Facebook can have a life of its own in addition to its site. Any volunteers?

I believe that a collection of personal anecdotal experiences may be of value to those charged with campus life at Williams.

Read more

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Savage Love Coming to Williams

This is awesome:

The Williams College ’62 Center’s Off-Center Series will present internationally syndicated columnist Dan Savage on Monday, Oct. 25 at 9 p.m.

Savage, who writes the weekly love and sex advice column “Savage Love,” will recreate the “Savage Love” podcast with questions from the audience. Savage Love ranks as the number one “Health” podcast and number 20 overall on iTunes. Questions can be submitted in advance by going to tinyurl.com/WCLove

The show will take place at Chapin Hall, located at 62 Chapin Hall Drive. There are no tickets. This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. A limited number of Williams Savage Love t-shirts will be on sale. All proceeds will be used to support the Williams Queers Student Union’s charity Sylvia’s Place.

I highly recommend going. While Dan Savage is a brilliant columnist, he is even better live and in person. For those unfamiliar with the man, go here.

Also: Listen to Dan Savage in Act Three of this This American Life podcast (starts around 38m), it’s the most moving thing I’ve ever heard on the radio.

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Things To Do In Billsville When You’re Dead (Now With Links!)

[NB: this is a repost from last year, but I think warranted considering the collective thought that went into it.  Moreover, I’m curious if a new crop of Ephs / readers have any additional suggestions.  Apologies for any links that are no longer functional.]

Unless things have changed dramatically since my time at Williams, one of the favorite pastimes of students is to lament (a) the dearth of off-campus social options in Williamstown (b) the lack of area date venues and (c) the repetitiveness of campus social life.  If you are tired of the typical row house party scene and/or desperately need a break from late nights studying in the library, all it takes is a little creativity to find a surprisingly rich panoply of cool things to do.   As highlighted in this previous post by Larry George, the college has already offered a list of 59 alternatives.  [This excellent list appears to have vanished.  Has it just been moved to some other location on the Williams site?]

But this list  just scratches the surface.  So, new and returning students, Ephblog’s gift to you: our collective list of additional recommendations for your four years at Williams, derived from the comments to the previous post, among other sources.  Not all of these will interest all of you, but everyone should find at least a handful of appealing ideas out of the 123 (and counting) suggested to date by the college and by Ephblog readers.  Full list below the break.

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Things the Williams Freshmen Should Know

A special rebroadcast of our Sept. 6th feature presentation… -K
I went back

All that I remember about the day I arrived on campus eighteen years ago this August was that it was hot and that I was not looking forward to two-a-days. Like pretty much every incoming freshmen at pretty much every school, I’m sure I was a volatile mix of anticipation, fear, excitement and a few dozen other emotions endemic to teenagers. But mostly what I remember was that it was hot.

One thing I’m sure of, however, is that there was no note waiting for me from my future self. It’s not clear to me even now that I would have been any more willing to listen to an older version of me than I was, say, my parents. Not listening to anyone is a seventeen year old’s prerogative, I suppose, for better and for worse. Mostly for worse. Whether such a missive would have helped or not, however, it certainly couldn’t have made things worse. My initial year in the Purple Valley was…not strong.

Nothing in my brief history up to that point had prepared me for my performance, which bore an unfortunate resemblance to a slow-moving car crash. I failed. Repeatedly. Even in my strong subjects. I turned things around academically midway through my sophomore year, but my GPA never really recovered from the beating it absorbed prior. Not that that has mattered much, professionally: apart from your first job or graduate school, your grades won’t come up much. Like most Williams students, however, I’m competitive, and I wish that my performance more accurately reflected my abilities, rather than the life lessons I had yet to learn. Lessons that my future self could have passed on to me, were such things possible.

Sadly, they are not. But for you new people, I offer the following with no warranty whatsoever. Mystical wisdom, it is not. These are just a few of the things I wish someone had told me, and which I in turn thought I would offer to you now. As my good friend Sean Bowler ’98, who was taken from us all far too early, did for his students when he said farewell at Salisbury, I will try and keep it short.

And will, predictably, fail.

There is Always Someone Better Than You

This one was easy for me, because I was never King of the Hill in the classroom or on the field of play. It was quite obviously an adjustment for a few of my classmates, however. Accustomed to being the big fish in the small ponds they hailed from, it was jarring for some of them to be second best, or just as often, third or fourth. But that’s what going to a place like Williams is all about. In that one aspect, at least, the campus is exactly like the real world. With the exception of a very small number of us, there’s always going to be someone who’s smarter than you. Or a better athlete. Maybe both.
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Do Not Go to Law School

At least half the Ephs who attend law school are making a mistake. Their lives would be fuller, happier and, often, monetarily richer if they did something, anything else. I spent 30 minutes this Winter Study talking with a current junior (and occasional EphBlog commentator) about why his ill-formed plans for attending law school were a bad idea. Below is a cleaned up version of what I told him. Other comments welcome.
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How to Break Up with William’s College

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., June 3, 2010 —

When I first met William, five years ago on a blustery April afternoon, I knew I had found something special.

“I’ve got a lot to offer,” he said, as I listened with the impressionable eagerness of an overachieving high school student, “and I can’t help noticing that you are rather well-rounded.”

Our courtship was typical: a protracted flirtation in which backgrounds were dissected and attributes appraised. I read his guidebooks, his blogs; he read my personal essay, my recommendations. He was certainly my type: preppy, athletic, a small town intellectual who liked the outdoors and was attractive in the most charmingly pastoral manner. He was financially generous, and, rumor had it, extremely well endowed.
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Advice for photographers

David asked me to post on EphBlog the advice that I sent to Torrey, for the benefit of others in the future. Here are my suggestions for anyone desiring to post many photos over time on EphBlog.
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Heck of a Weekend at Williams …

Whether you are an alumnus in town for the big game, or an undergrad looking for ways to distract yourself from approaching finals, this weekend should be a fun one on and around campus.  One suggested itinerary:

  • Thursday night, check out jazz/funk legends Medeski Martin & Wood at MassMoca.
  • Friday night, check out one of Eph Stephen Sondheim’s best musicals, Company, at the ’62 Center Mainstage.
  • Saturday morning, catch the first half of the women’s soccer NCAA contest before sprinting over to Weston Field for the Amherst game.  More info on Homecoming events here.
  • Saturday night, don’t miss the Octet’s 35th Reunion Concert, featuring tons of Octet alumni making it back to campus to perform.
  • Sunday morning, depending on Saturday’s results, make the 45 minute drive to Troy to support men’s soccer against host RPI in NCAA action, or head down to Cole Field to catch the women in second round action.  (Alums pay special heed to this one — Troy is on the way home for anyone from the NYC area crashing in Williamstown Saturday night!).
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Rent a place in the woods

All this continuous blogging about noise complaints, restricted parties, lousy housing options and the pressures of the purple bubble has really got this townie wondering…

How come students don’t rent a place in the woods? Finding a rural property within 10 min of Williams is easy. Students could keep their campus housing and pitch in to rent a place in the middle of nowhere dirt cheap.

Have students ever thought about a co op in the mountains of Pownal as a crash pad on the weekends and for events when they want to make some noise? I knew one student who lived up White Oaks road… he was an artist, and had a fantastic rural pad that he lived in for two years. Another student built a log cabin on our property when I was a kid. You all could have a heated pool… a pond, and a huge deck for dancing the night away.

How come you guys don’t rent a place to do as you wish?

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M4W on Craigslist

Unfortunately, the listing has been flagged for removal, but last night Jimi Morales, ’10, discovered something both hilarious and horrifying on Craigslist and lovingly decided to share on WSO in a post adeptly titled, “alumni.”

A “Boston exec” in his thirties offered $1000 for a female “friend with benefits” for his frequent (monthly? I can’t quite remember the listing.) two- to three-day visits to Williamstown.

Any guesses as to whom this generous alumnus might be?

UPDATE from dk: Here is the original Craig’s List post. (Click for larger version.)

alumni

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Is it better to be safe?

Frank and I had an exchange about safety at a school like Yale in New Haven, v a place like Williams. Is safety a consideration for parents and students when choosing a college? Williams is in a sleepy little New England town, it has its own internal housing and dinning, essentially sheltered from the world. No doubt, it is very safe. The students do not mix much with the outside populace. Is that better for education? Do young people learn something more from living on the economy and interacting with the larger culture around them? Is a “safer place” really better for a young adults development?

Are the bonds that are formed by Williams graduates and the high degree of loyalty and % of alumni giving partially related to the fact that the Williams experience is a unique experience that everyone shares? Is it harder for the individual to have a unique experience in a setting like that? Does Williams impact its students more culturally than other places because it is so self contained?

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Courses to Audit

Results of our Twitter experiment:

From Andrew Goldston:

If you’re into history (of course you are) try anything taught by Profs James Wood or Alexandra Garbarini.

From MiniLaura:

I don’t know the current class offerings, but if I were there now I would audit History of Science classes

From Anna Morrison:

ARTH 101, Social Psych, the Documentary film class with Edwards, Any English class with Rhie or Thorne!

From yours truly:

ARTH 101-102, Music 101 (Listening to Music)

From Jason Hoch:

ARTH 201 American Landscape History. Satterthwaite is a an institution. Still use his collection of readings 14 years later.

Feel free to suggest more via comments or twitter.

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Things To Do In Billsville When You’re Dead (Now With Links!)

Unless things have changed dramatically since my time at Williams, one of the favorite pastimes of students is to lament (a) the dearth of off-campus social options in Williamstown (b) the lack of area date venues and (c) the repetitiveness of campus social life.  If you are tired of the typical row house party scene and/or desperately need a break from late nights studying in the library, all it takes is a little creativity to find a surprisingly rich panoply of cool things to do.   As highlighted in this previous post by Larry George, the college has already offered a list of 59 alternatives.

But this list  just scratches the surface.  So, new and returning students, Ephblog’s gift to you: our collective list of additional recommendations for your four years at Williams, derived from the comments to the previous post, among other sources.  Not all of these will interest all of you, but everyone should find at least a handful of appealing ideas out of the 120 (and counting) suggested to date by the college and by Ephblog readers.  Full list below the break.

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Off-Campus Life

James MacGregor Burns ’39 offers some advice to undergraduates in the Times:

Try to read a good newspaper every day — at bedtime or at breakfast or when you take a break in the afternoon. If you are interested in art, literature or music, widen your horizons by poring over the science section. In the mood for spicy scandals? Read the business pages. Want to impress your poli sci prof? Read columnists.

The newspaper will be your path to the world at large. At Williams College, where I was a student in the 1930s, we read the alarming reports in The Times about Germany’s brutal onslaught against peaceful nations. In the spring of 1938, we burned Hitler in effigy — and made Page 11 of The Times! In June 1940, as France fell to Nazi troops, hundreds of graduating seniors urged compulsory military training, and provided another Williams story to the paper.

In addition, a great newspaper will teach you how to write: most articles are models of clarity and substance — with no academic jargon! Pay attention to the writer’s vocabulary, see how many active verbs are used, file away striking new words for future use. Study how articles are structured — how the first paragraph tells the reader simply and clearly the subject and main points. Take a look at the last paragraph; it will often show you how to conclude an essay with a pithy phrase or a telling quotation.

A great newspaper will help you in the classroom — and it will be your conduit to the real world outside the classroom. Become addicted.

Another way to stay connected with the real world: get to know your teachers outside of class. Chat and engage with them, perhaps on the walk away from class. Ask them not only about the coursework but also about their own intellectual interests and research. Equally important to maintaining that lifeline to the universe beyond college is getting to know the janitors and housekeepers in your dorm, the security staff on the campus, the people who work in the cafeteria. Talk to them, ask them questions and thank them.

Other contributions from Stanley Fish, Gerald Graff, Harold Bloom, Carol Berkin, Garry Wills, Martha Nussbaum, Nancy Hopkins, and Steven Weinberg

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Today is Move-In Day!

Though a few students have already arrived, today is when most of the Frosh hit campus to begin a new chapter in their lives. The JA’s have been in town since this past weekend; Ephventures leaders arrived on Monday, and others involved in First Days are still arriving.

If you’re one to do this, say a prayer for Tiny Dancer and all of the other JAs who are about to embark on a year that promises to challenge and stretch them. I count many of them as friends, and my Facebook is all a’Twitter with their trepidation and joy as they prepare themselves to welcome the Class of 2013.

Think back to that day, and how much you didn’t know about Williams and about your amazing peers. What personal advice would you give your freshman self today?

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When Will I Use Math?

The Williams Math Department links (approvingly?) to the When Will I Use Math? webpage. For 95% of Williams students, isn’t the answer to that question “Never?”

1) Almost no one who is not in a numbers-related field uses calculus, much less anything beyond that, after college. How many of our readers have used the math that they learned at Williams after graduation? Have you had to do any real analysis recently? Topology? If you aren’t a math professor (or an academic in the mathematically orientated subfield of some other discipline), math is irrelevant.

2) Even those who go on to be math teachers, like my roommate Chris Jones ’88, now head of the Math Department at Horace Mann, spend almost all their time teaching the math that they knew before they arrived at Williams.

3) Even the geeky people in finance and business (like me) almost never use anything beyond calculus. In a decade of applied work, I have used calculus no more than a handful of times.

As always, I am a fan of the Math/Stat Department and think that being a math major is almost always a great idea. And everyone who wants to increase their chances of success in the business world should take every statistics class that Williams offers as well as a computer science class or two. But, only a handful of students will actually use the math that they learn at Williams after they graduate.

Q: When Will I Use Math?
A: Never

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Not To Be Missed

100 office public affairs

(graphic copyright Williams Office of Public Affairs)

Three members of the Class of 2009 (Hillary Betchelder, Donald Molosi, and Amanda Montano) compiled a list of things their classmates recommend that current and prospective students do before leaving Williams. The Office of Public Affairs has made a poster posting. There are plenty of things visiting alums can catch up on, too.

You’ll see a lot of EphBloggers’ favorites: adventures on Stone Hill, apple cider donuts on Stoney Ledge on Mountain Day, taking a math class, playing broom ball, and taking a tutorial.

What would you add?

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How to Get A Job

Looking to get a job post graduation? According to the New York Times, you should take David’s Winter Study Course. Students taking this class are much more likely to get desirable internships/jobs than students, all else equal, who do not take this class.

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Atkins ’11 in Fortune

3_gordon_atkins
Fortune magazine profile of Gordon Atkins ’11 (via Sports Info).

At the beginning of his fall 2008 semester at Williams College, Gordon Atkins made a list of all the baseball teams in cities where he knew he could find a place to crash. There were only five.

He contacted them all, and by November, he’d landed a gig with the Minor League Baseball’s Daytona Cubs as one of 15 unpaid interns. (To make the trip possible, he secured a grant from his school.)

As glamorous as working for a professional baseball team may sound, Atkins’s gig isn’t all fun and games. The economics major does spend some time making sales calls, organizing promotional events, and choosing music to play during games, but he also picks up trash, hawks concessions, and sells tickets. He now even knows what it’s like to visit bars dressed as the Cubs’ bear mascot, Cubby.

Good stuff. Kudos to Atkins for showing such initiative and to the generous alumni who have provided summer internship funding.

My advice to Atkins (and anyone else interested in professional sports) is to learn some statistics at Williams. (Taking my Winter Study class is a good idea, too.) Although spending one summer picking up trash is a character building experience, Atkins probably has higher goals for his future career. Read Money Ball. For the vast majority of Williams students, performing data analysis in order to predict the future performance of players is their comparative advantage.

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