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Spencer-Salmon '14: Swimming in the flood

Brown's celebrated open curriculum affords us great power in directing our own education, but as we have all been told in some way or another many times, with great power comes great responsibility. Luckily, the University recognizes that higher education is serious business and therefore assigns each incoming student an academic adviser along with a student peer adviser to help them adjust. Sounds straightforward enough. But is it really?

If you need help, Brown is like Geoff's Superlative Sandwiches if choosing a sandwich could possibly have long-term effects on your life choices and Brown advising made great use of puns. To illustrate — there is first-year advising, advising for international students, Randall advisers and Matched Advising Program for Sophomores, advising for your eventual ­— and hopefully stable — choice of concentration, dean's open hours, Meiklejohn peer advising, minority advising, pre-law advising and health career advising — pretty much everything but white guy guilt advising.

If that is not enough for you, CareerLAB has a handy collection of tip sheets on everything from writing a resume ("What have I actually done with my time here?") to negotiating job offers ("Wait, there are situations in which people would pay me? To perform some skill that I have somehow acquired?"). And Morning Mail is always full of informarion sessions you will probably miss because you have class or would rather sleep than further complicate your schedule by taking on another activity or you do not have time to read Morning Mail. Or anything that is not for class.

How do we navigate these waters?

The way I see it, advising at Brown is kind of like cable television: There are tons of options to choose from, but you end up only really paying attention to one or two of them. If your assigned advisers do not do much more than okay your classes, and you are the sort of person who will have a crisis without external input, you are fortunate enough to have access to a surfeit of alternative ways of arming yourself with advice. Realistically, though, you will develop a dynamic with only one or two of these advising sources.

The problem then is actually going forward and seeking out the right kind of help for you in particular, which is a spotty process on its own. For instance, my experience with the Meiklejohn program was that I did not have much experience with it — or with my assigned peer adviser — but plenty of former first-years feel that their Meiklejohn helped them figure Brown out at a time when it seemed overwhelming.

For some, like me, it is a carefully matched mentor (through such initiatives as the New Scientist Program) who finally seems to understand their greatest obstacles in adjusting to college life and helps them to figure out study habits, class balances and general survival mechanisms that help prevent their heads from exploding. Part of the trickiness of this process has to do with the variability of advice-providing individuals who not only have the knowledge you are looking for but also care enough to help you figure out what this knowledge is.

My point is that the responsibility for doing more with your time than surviving day-to-day life is almost entirely up to you – which might come as a surprise for some. The resources are there, but not laid out linearly enough to not require some trial and error. Effective use of the collective knowledge that comes from other people having faced similar challenges will make it possible to do more than scrape by. If you do happen to forget the almost absurd abundance of resources available to you, your email inbox likely fills up on a regular basis with messages from all ends of the University suggesting that you complete the other 10 percent of life activities — i.e., everything that does not involve just showing up.

You can in fact learn to be engaged at 9 a.m., form genuine relationships with professors and perhaps eventually find yourself in a position to negotiate an offer for real, adult-person employment, all while navigating the social challenges of living in a transient population of similarly confused people. But, to roughly paraphrase many adventure games, "Take this. You never know what you may need on your journey."

Camille Spencer-Salmon '14 is not qualified to advise anyone but gleefully does so anyway. She can be reached at


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