Seminar classes promote ideas

Nathan James

Next week when registering for classes, you may see one of your required courses is a seminar. You may be excited for the easy A, or nervous about being asked to speak in front of your peers. Or, conversely, you may not even know what a seminar is. But whatever you do, don’t let that class go to waste. Discussion classes may not be a favorite, but they’re one of the greatest hidden treasures in college.

Unlike regular courses, seminars don’t just teach material. They give the opportunity to test the ideas that will become crucial to a career after graduation. Think you have your field figured out? Take a seminar and present your beliefs (when it’s contextually appropriate, of course). Hear what your classmates have to say. And if you’re very lucky, you may get into an argument about your field.

If that doesn’t sound like fun, you probably haven’t tried it. Seminars are one of the few times you can have an honest exchange of contrasting academic viewpoints, where everyone around you is a partner in your field of study. You may get angry, and you may make someone else angry, but at the end of the day you will have your ideas tested in ways that will make them stronger.

There’s a side benefit to all this, which is public speaking experience. Some may not enjoy public speaking, and may even avoid seminars to get out of it, but I’m begging you: give it a chance. Seminars are one of the lowest-risk opportunities for you to hone speaking skills. Someday soon, you will have to talk to a group of people. It is unavoidable; it is fate. And having had at least a little bit of experience in that area will make the whole ordeal 
immeasurably easier.

The final benefit of seminars is they can help you figure out what really matters to you. Reading a book about a subject is one thing. Taking a test on a subject is one thing. You can convince yourself that you’re really into one aspect of your field or another, but you won’t really know what you care about, on an intellectual level, until you start to think about it in a more meaningful way. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by finding out what you like to talk to other people about.

If you’re in a seminar, and you find that you don’t really have anything to say about topic A, that’s a sign. Conversely, if you find that you can’t shut up about topic B, that’s also a sign. If someone expresses opinion X about controversy Y and it reduces you to a state of rage, that’s a sign too.

So please think about signing up for a seminar. And once you’re in it, don’t let it go to waste. Speak up; think hard about what’s being said; do the reading; and pay attention. Figure out what makes you tick. You might use it for the rest of your life.

Nathan James is a senior majoring in psychology. His column runs weekly.