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Karshenboym '12: Being the busiest

My many words of praise for Brown as a tour guide in the past three years have not been false or even exaggerated. When camera-toting parents ask about the sense of community on campus, I always remark that students are collaborative, willing to help each other and not competitive. Truly, Brown students are not competitive in the traditional sense. I have never witnessed backstabbing behavior for the sake of an A. 

Yet competition on campus still exists. It is more subtle, appearing sporadically, often just on the street. For example, an acquaintance walks by. You smile and ask, "How are you?" to which they first sigh and say, "Insane. Crazy week. I had two exams this morning, and I have a 10-page paper due tomorrow, which I haven't started, an eight-page paper due Friday and rehearsal every night. Oh, and my parents are coming up this weekend and expect me to entertain them." You make a concerned face. "You'll get through it," you say, to which they retort, "Bahhhh, I'm so busy." Herein lies the competition: Who is the busiest Brown student?

It's hardly worth saying that Brown students are busy. But some students feel the need to assert their busy schedules publicly, to stop you on the street and count exactly how many hours they've spent in the SciLi basement this week. Facebook statuses detail each assignment and the student's progress. These statuses have 20 likes and 30 comments that read "life sucks" and "I'm in the same boat." Here's my suggestion: Stop talking about your work, and start doing it.

When someone bombards me with their laundry list of assignments and errands, I become frustrated because, guess what, I'm busy, too! We all are! We all have commitments and homework and meetings and strive to do everything on time and well. The frazzled monologue in which students describe each responsibility and its respective imminent deadline - a conversation they not only have with me at that moment but also with many others throughout the day - is not productive. I don't mind giving people a moment to complain. What I do mind is when their words carry a competitive edge.

What reproduces this phenomenon is the fact that students, even while "working," often aren't. I'm not impressed when I hear someone has spent 15 straight hours in the library. If you're spending that many hours in the library, something isn't right. Something needs to change. You don't necessarily need to drop a class. Instead, maybe spend less time on Facebook and Tumblr. Maybe choose not to go to WhisCo this week - it'll still be there next week. On days when there are seven assignments to complete, don't spend an hour chatting with friends in the Blue Room. It happens - I've seen it. And just because it's suddenly warmer out, don't encourage each other to blow off work - or at least put it off - simply to enjoy the sun. Because, wait, aren't we all super, super busy?

This tendency to put off work or to only talk about it signals a larger problem on campus: poor work ethic. Brown students are definitely passionate and smart and diverse and all those other great things, but sometimes, when it comes to work, I wonder if it's all for show. I once heard that 90 percent of Brown seniors write their theses within a week of its due date. Yet this 90 percent begin talking about the thesis well in advance. A month before the deadline, students half-complain, half-brag that they are already behind, then shrug, oh well, and take another sip of their beer. And suddenly it's a week before the deadline, and they've become a nut job, hastily climbing the ranks of the busiest Brown students.

I have seen similar talk with extracurricular activities. I'm proud to see so many student-led organizations on campus. But it's a shame to see students talk about their responsibilities and not see them through. In several groups I've worked with, I've not only seen members consistently miss meetings but even leaders not pull their weight. When I was a freshman, I looked up to these people. When one wouldn't show up, I'd think, "Wow, they're so cool and busy." Now as a senior, I wonder if some like the idea of responsibility rather than the responsibility itself.

I realize I'm certainly guilty of venting from time to time, but there's a problem when more time is spent talking about work than on doing it. We all have to do a ton. Awesome! Now let's just do it.



Sam Karshenboym '12 didn't complain about writing this column. 

He can be reached at



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