Graduate Student Responsibility

In some circles, the philosophy of self-reliance and self-instruction has momentarily resurfaced; the idea is that the actions and attitudes of students are more important than those of their teachers.

My dissertation adviser, Richard E. Wagner, has made a strikingly relevant philosophical note regarding the self-restraint (by instructors) and self-reliance (by students) required for successful graduate student education:

I do not think that it is my task to transfer material from my mind onto your minds, much as someone might seek to transfer software from one computer to another. In my classes I do not go directly over material that has already been written. I assume that you can read whatever has been written. You don�t need me to read it for you, or at least you shouldn�t... [Y]ou may have to spend many hours in reading material so as to gain a good understanding of the material. In any event, I do not directly go over what has already been written, for I assume that you can with effort understand that material, and I see no reason to substitute my effort for yours in this regard.
What then does he teach?
Both in my assignments and in the conduct of my classes, I seek to cultivate an orientation toward the articulation of what has not yet been articulated.
Translation: He wants you to get used to producing new stuff.

As a student of his Macroeconomics and Institutional Economics classes, as well several directed readings, I can tell you that he's not kidding. In his classes, he'll provide you with several maps of the same terrain, and set you up to explore using those maps. He wants you to read, talk, think, and write; this method favors open, eager, dedicated, bold, and confident minds. Students expecting lectures can easily be thrown off course; with this method, you can fail even if you try hard. Many adventures end in not-so-glorious failure.

I can tell you that in his classes, and researching for a dissertation, I spent many hours discovering that I'd best leave the exploration of some many most topics to others who have more interest and endurance.... which is a valuable lesson to learn.


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on January 28, 2005 5:12 PM.

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