Admission to a university like Cambridge is no small feat. It reflects innate intelligence and accomplishment. And isn’t that good enough?
Please be careful how you handle yourselves here in these early weeks: remember that you are NOT at any other uni, where students do drink a lot and do have what they regard as a “good time” – and you are NOT on a course, as some Cambridge courses sadly are, where such a behaviour pattern in possible or acceptable.
Physical Sciences is a VERY hard subject, which will require ALL of your attention and your FULL brain capacity (and for a large fraction of you, even that will not be quite enough). You can ONLY do well (i.e. achieve your potential, which rightly or wrongly several people here assumed you have) I you are completely focused, and learn to enjoy the course. People who just TAKE the course, but enjoy their social life, can easily survive in many subjects — but not in this one.
This came in an email from Prof. Eugene Terentjev to first-year Natural Science students, and all hell broke loose.
Eugene Terentjev draw the fury of students and mental health activists after sending out an email last week to first-year natural sciences undergraduates at the UK’s world-famous Cambridge, telling them the course will be difficult and thus they should refrain from drinking and other social activities if they wish to succeed.
Why would an academic admonishing students to “work hard” draw fury?
The professor’s comments caused an uproar among activists and students, who called his email “extremely damaging” and neither “appropriate nor acceptable,” with one other university vice-chancellor accusing Terentjev of “frightening impressionable undergraduates,” the London Times reported.
A mental health campaign at the university, Student Minds Cambridge, said the message sent by the professor “could be extremely damaging to the mental well-being of the students concerned, and potentially others as well,” the Times reported.
If the connection between “work hard” and outrage still seems elusive, it’s likely due to your insensitivity to the mental well-being of easily frightened, impressionable undergrads. A vice-chancellor calls the notion “scaremongering.”
“The university believes that all first-year students in all disciplines, having undergone the thorough admissions process that Cambridge requires, have the capacity to succeed academically,” a spokesperson for the University told the Times.
And no doubt admitted students have the “capacity to succeed,” although that doesn’t address the question, which one would think would be obvious to anyone in an administrative position at a university as elite as Cambridge. You can do it? Sure, but will you? Being admitted is wonderful, and no doubt student and her parents are thrilled. But that’s just the first step in the process of being educated. The next step is to do the work necessary to be educated. The question isn’t whether they have the capacity, but whether they will, in fact, work hard.
Is “work hard” the next flavor of hate speech? Does this oppress delicate minds by scaring them into believing that if they put in too little effort, they might fail? Guess what, kids?
Resilience is a popular word these days, and one that so many offer to salve the fear of failure. But its use is put to excusing failure and bouncing back, as if by magic. Rather than ponder what you did, or didn’t do, that resulted in your failure, problems are wiped away under the guise of “stercus accidit.”
There is no point to figuring out the problem, since that’s backward looking and we can’t change the past. All that need be done is shrug off failure, learn nothing from one’s poor choices (which aren’t really poor, since you’re entitled to make whatever choices you make) and bravely move forward under the pretense of being a hero for not giving up.
The toughening up of the young is not only an offensive notion, used by old people to oppress them and make them feel literally awful about themselves, just because they’ve failed. Terentjev’s email to his first-year charges sought to pre-emptively address the coming doom of poor choices.
His admonition was an act of love. Tough, but love. I’ve never known a person who hasn’t made a poor choice in his life, and hasn’t suffered consequences as a result. But the fewer poor choices made, the fewer the consequences. And when a poor choice is made, and consequences suffered, the most useful thing one can do is learn from it to avoid repeating the same poor choices and suffering consequences again.
What does not help is to rationalize it away, to shift blame elsewhere, to pretend that the choice wasn’t poor, but that some terrible hand of misfortune dealt you a bad hand and it wasn’t your fault.
It was your fault. My poor choices were my fault. When we fail to work hard, we don’t achieve the success we would have had we chosen to do the work rather than go out for happy hour.
Granted, hard work is a bourgeois value, but then, most of us don’t have trust funds to fall back on and either are, or aspire to be, a member of the bourgeoisie. When the notion of hard work becomes scaremongering, a form of hate speech designed to oppress the young, it becomes clear why there are so many young people incapable of mustering the toughness to overcome adversity.
Despite our best efforts, our hardest work, misfortune will still happen. Bad hands will be dealt, and it will not be your fault. Luck plays an enormous role in success, but the harder you work, the luckier you will be. Don’t add to the hardships over which you have no control but creating hardships through poor choices. And don’t lie to yourself that the consequences of your bad choices couldn’t be helped when they could.
Life is hard enough when you make good choices, when you work hard. But if you want to succeed, hard work will surely improve your chances and enable you to take advantage of the good luck that will also come your way. Rather than condemn a professor like Terentjev for having the concern and maturity to guide his students toward good choices, appreciate that at least one academic won’t sell you into a future of failure for the sake of appeasement.