I remember sitting in the dining hall as an undergraduate, participating in conversations that would go something like this:
“Man, I woke up at 7:45 for my 8 AM class. I didn’t even get dressed. I just left in my pajamas.”
“That’s nothing. I had a paper due last week. It was assigned on the first day of class, but I didn’t start it until the night it was due. I made the deadline by 3 minutes and I still got an A.”
“Nice! I only showed up for bio twice this semester and I got a 93 on the midterm.”
There was a sense of pride we felt in proving wrong the high school teachers’ admonitions that we couldn’t get away with this attitude in college. Even when we were only skating by (not getting A’s, but passing), there was a tendency to brag about how little we were doing and how we were defeating the system. This trend doesn’t seem to be unique to my social circle either; I’ve spoken to peers at my library school and many remember this same bonding ritual from their undergrad days.
Many of these same students, myself included, are now in graduate school, struggling to stay sane while dedicating the bulk of their lives to school. We miss binge-watching DVDs in the dorms (Netflix was less ubiquitous back then), reading for pleasure, and really just the luxury of procrastination. But what do I know? Maybe you’re the rare exception that has transitioned seamlessly into library school without sacrificing your leisure time. Maybe you can finish a midterm paper in one epic all-nighter and still pull off an A.
But why would you want to?
There’s a department head at my university who welcomes all of her new graduate students with the same statement: “Today is the first day of your career.” We’re no longer bogged down by general education courses. Our studies and research are, at least in part, guided by our own goals and interests. If our programs are doing their jobs, everything we study will make us better library professionals. Library school shouldn’t be about getting the degree and getting out; it should be about thoroughly preparing ourselves to be the best professionals we can be. So I’ll ask again, what do we gain by doing the bare minimum to graduate?
The topic of motivation is on my mind because, like many of you, I am currently in the midst of midterms. With twelve credit hours, an assistantship, and two student organizations, I’m forced to admit I may have taken on too much. (Too bad I didn’t read Liz McGlynn’s or Kara MacKeil-Pepin’s articles before registration.) I’m performing academic triage, frantically scanning syllabuses to determine which assignment is worth a higher percentage of my grade and sacrificing the quality of whichever homework carries less weight. I find I’m learning less, even if my grades aren’t taking the hit. It’s become tempting to succumb to that undergraduate mentality, to game the system as best I can and be proud that I did the bare minimum to get my degree.
Then I reflect on the words of that department head, and I remember that this attitude is not one in which I should take pride. It should embarrass me. Do we want the careers we have started to be defined by the bare minimum? Do we want an education or a degree? We all have different reasons for getting our Masters in Library and Information Science, but we all have the same responsibility to our patrons and employers to uphold the ideals of this profession, as well as the ideals that led us to this profession, to the best of our abilities. By entering library school, we have started our careers. Shouldn’t we start them off right?