Dear colleagues—if you have been keeping track of this column, you know that for the past few weeks I've been talking about ways to "beat the system." This is a highly relevant topic for students at large public institutions where it may often seem easy to slip through the cracks of a system that appears eager to homogenize its students. The responses I've received over the last few weeks support the idea that there are ways to succeed at UT. However, though, strict observance of the guidelines in the little blue advising book are not absolutely necessary, but many ideas on creativity and focus are required for all.
For this next piece of advice, if you read The Daily Beacon, then you are likely at least one step ahead of many of your peers. This week, I suggest going a few steps further. Start reading at least one national newspaper or weekly news magazine regularly. If I had a nickel for every time someone I respect told me to do this, I would be able to purchase a subscription to The Atlantic for every student at Tennessee. That's how valuable this tip is.
Why has this advice been offered so many times? I have a few ideas. In order to "beat the system," it is critical that you do not confine yourself to the system's limits. One of the purposes of our undergraduate education is to prepare us for the world we will encounter after graduation. Of course, this responsibility goes far beyond the dissemination of technical knowledge, and I hope you agree that this responsibility rests on the students as much as on the institution. Reading the news from a variety of sources is one of the easiest things you can do to ensure that you are at least in touch with the world that you are preparing yourself to enter.
Opportunities open up for you when you can speak intelligently about major events and recognize the names and initiatives of foreign and domestic leaders. If you can engage in conversations on topics more substantial than the weather or last weekend's game, you will find your professional mentors or references will be more willing to introduce you to people and to offer you new opportunities. Reading well-written news articles and opinion pieces should instill some level of humility in us as undergraduate students. It is ridiculous to assume that your 200-level economics course has fully prepared you to speak authoritatively about the US tax code over lunch with internship recruiters. It is better to use the applicable knowledge from our courses to understand the analysis offered by experts in major publications, and then to form our own moderate and well-reasoned opinions about contemporary issues. Humility is a virtue that we would all do well to remember. We should use these regular readings of quality new sources to improve our understanding of the complexities of the world around us.
This being said, knowledge of world events should not take precedence over awareness of local events. Furthermore, make sure that you are reading, at least occasionally, selections from the premier journals in your field of study. Reading is the best way to find out what is happening in the world outside of Big Orange Country.
— Julia Ross is studying microbiology and political science. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.