Thursday, November 29, 2012

45 Year Old Finola With a Big Thirsty On, Errr, "Mature" Students.

I’m in my mid-forties and have been raising kids and working for the last 21 years. Now I’m going back to university. My first degree was done on a tiny campus; the student numbers were in double digits and we regularly socialised with the lecturers. My new campus is one of the largest and most prestigious in the country. The Internet was Not A Thing the first time I was studying, so I have little knowledge of tech etiquette.

In short, I have no idea how to conduct myself at a large modern university. I desperately want to avoid being an Accidental Snowflake. Some things are obvious: address the lecturer by title and surname unless invited otherwise, be on time, do the work, don’t text or Facebook in class and RTFS. Is there any other advice you can give me?

Q: If you could design the perfect mature age student, how would she act?


  1. In the humanities, she would come prepared to class, and model what participation truly looks like, contributing thoughtfully, succinctly, and on point. She would make connections, relating course material to the "real world" as appropriate, drawing links between readings and different weeks of the course. She would listen, she would make space for others, and she wouldn't talk down to her classmates, even when they are idiot children.

    Oh, and since it apparently doesn't go without saying, she wouldn't spew racist/sexist/homophobic garbage.

    She would also let her instructors take the lead about how they engage with her outside the classroom, particularly if this is an undergraduate course. She would understand she might intimidate the fuck out of her 22 year old TA or 30 year old prof.

    She would take care of her own stuff capably, but not mother anyone.

    She would not reply to all. Ever.

  2. You seem to have things pretty well in hand, Finola, but DiaMC makes several good points. I would only add that it helps immensely to be ready to engage with your classmates as their peer if/when this becomes appropriate in the classroom (exercises, projects, etc.)

    When I was a young punk of a TA teaching a language course, I had a mature student who was even beyond your age (more like 60). His classmates kept their distance at first, but by the end of the term they adored him. He never challenged my authority, and he modeled impeccable behavior: strong participation, near-religious attendance, game for even the most retrogressive language review activities (e.g. singing, dumb games). The students who worked with him in any capacity throughout the term all turned out the better for it. He even shattered the myth that older folks are disadvantaged when learning a new language -- in just one term he made better progress than anyone else.

    Recognize that you have a lot to learn from the courses you'll take, and the prof is there to teach you, no matter how old s/he is and no matter how strange hir tactics might seem. But always remember your main advantage as a student: you have way, way more to offer the class *as a student* than your twentysomething classmates, simply by virtue of having lived outside of a classroom for so long. Use this advantage judiciously, while maintaining respect for your prof, and you could wind up the star of the roster.

  3. You don't need to be perfect. Especially don't worry about the Internet, since if you got far enough with it to send in this message, you should be fine. If you are on time, do the work, don’t text or Facebook in class and RTFS, and even better, if you do the readings for your classes and take notes while reading in the manner of a university student of a generation ago, you will be head-and-shoulders above most other students. You may quite soon be astonished with how immature they can be. It's not that they act like 18-year-olds, which one might expect, but all too often they act like 8-year-olds. They -really- have no idea how to conduct themselves at a large modern university!

  4. I remember a book came a few years ago that was presented/reviewed as an 'expose' on how university grades weren't really about test performance or merit. The book offered to tell students what 'really' got the profs to give you good grades. One day in the bookstore, I thumbed through a copy to see what it had to say. It offered that the way to get ahead in university was to
    - participate in class, but don't be pushy
    - go to office hours to ask questions but read the material first so your questions are sensible
    - evince interest in the material, but don't suck up
    - be polite and professional

    The book was allegedly very subversive, 'blowing the lid off' university secrets. All I could think was if that's subversive, then bring on the revolution, baby! I've often wondered if it wasn't a brilliant false flag campaign by the proffies who wrote it.

  5. It's not that snowflakes are a special kind of lazy, stupid, entitled little brat. They are the usual type of lazy stupid entitled little brat. You've probably dealt with one or two of them as coworkers. We bitch about them so much because instead of one or two in the office, we have dozens in our classrooms.

    You know what not to do. It doesn't sound like you'll have any problem adjusting.

  6. This one is important, at least for me.

    When a traditionally aged student in the class does or says something stupid, please do not make eye contact with me and roll your eyes, smirk, or talk to me out of class about how some people just aren't prepared and isn't that awful and so on. I will mumble something noncommittal about "different students prepare in different ways" and walk away from you, because I will not be drawn into a bitching session about a student with other students.

    I've had several older students do this, and it makes me uncomfortable each time.

    But in general, I like the older students, as long as they don't relate everything to the pain of childbirth or something (real life example, btw).

  7. The perfect mature student would act the same way that a perfect 'traditional' student would act:
    do the work,
    don't schmooze or make excuses,
    plan accordingly,
    seek reasonable help when needed,
    don't procrastinate,
    don't brownnose,
    don't attempt to become buddies with the professor,
    don't monopolize class discussion with irrelevance,
    cue in to what's going on around you,
    don't do anything we complain about on this blog.

  8. The advice here is all good! And the fact that you asked at all shows me you won't be a problem! Good luck.

  9. All of the above, including the opinion that you sound like you'll do fine.

    But: usually at least one class has a student who answers the professor's questions immediately and without raising a hand first. This student seems to consider the class a private conversation with the proffie, and usually is oblivious to the reality of being one of 35 - 75 other students. Often that student is considerably older than the rest.

    Don't be that student.