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Nov 08, 2016 by Kathryn Kleypas
When I first began teaching, I noticed that international students would often not participate in class discussions. I remember discussing this with Junko, an international student from Japan. She came to my office to ask me about her grade, and I observed that while her writing was beautiful and her English was exceptionally good, I was curious as to why she did not participate in class discussions. She explained that in Japan teachers are treated with special reverence and to publicly disagree with a professor was strongly discouraged. It was difficult for Junko to overcome her cultural conditioning.
Actively participating in class discussions is very important in graduate seminars. This is how your professors will know who you are. Their assessments of you will be made early and displaying your strengths as an academic is expected from the very beginning. Class discussions are the place to demonstrate your critical thinking skills. Try this success strategy: Each week as you are reading the books and articles that are assigned for your seminars, prepare questions to ask aloud in class.
Public speaking and speaking aloud in class can be scary for many people, but trust me: You are not alone in this fear. The other students in your class are scared too, even if they don’t show it.
Your professors are eager to hear your original thoughts in your seminar papers as well as in the classroom. It’s very common for graduate students, as they are developing as scholars and finding their own academic ideas, to lean too heavily on the published writing of others. In your writing, try not to include long passages of quotations by experts. Go beyond your comfort level and use your own academic writing voice. Muster the confidence to make arguments and defend them using scholarly sources. Don’t be afraid to take this risk! This is the path to developing into a true scholar.
When I encourage you to find your “voice” as a scholar, I’m drawing on what I’ve discussed in this blog series: to assume confidence in your English language skills and to worry less about correctness as you develop your academic writing and public speaking skills. Writing and speaking are learnable skills and with more practice you will continue to develop these skills.
I also encourage you to identify and cultivate what is unique in yourself as a researcher and a writer and to share it by fully engaging in the intellectual community on your campus. Your university’s mission of creating a “global” educational experience can’t happen without you and your participation in the intellectual conversations on your campus.
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