During today’s class, I will present a final lecture titled, “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni.” There’s a lot of things that I wish I had known when I was an undergraduate at Tech. On reflection and through experience, I gained insights that I wanted to make available to my current Georgia Tech students. I am making the PowerPoint file and my notes available below.
Download the lecture’s PowerPoint presentation here: ellis-jason-final-lecture2.
Notes to accompany “The Concluding Lecture: Advice from a Georgia Tech Alum to Future Alumni” follow below:
During today’s lecture, I wanted to talk about one big idea that’s been implicit in the readings and discussions that we’ve shared regarding the brain. That idea is: “Who you are today is not who you will be tomorrow.” What I mean by that is our biology, experiences, thoughts, and choices shape who we are and who we become each moment of our lives. Sometimes these changes can be small and sometimes these changes can be large.
Another way to think about this is that we are like patterns. Our lives, thoughts, and memories are patterns that form, reform, and change based on a number of variables. Some of those variables, like cats, are outside of our control. These things include our genes, disabilities, economic situation, and past. While there’s a lot about our lives and pattern that we cannot control, there’s also a lot of things about our pattern that we can control. These are the conscious choices and decisions that we make in life.
In this lecture, I would like to talk about those choices that I think are particularly important to Georgia Tech undergraduates but that are often pushed aside, ignored, or forgotten in the forward rush to a degree. Choosing to focus on these important things will lead, I believe, to a more robust, meaningful, and enriched undergraduate experience that will prepare you for success in the next stage of your life.
Learn: Feed your curiosity. Gain as much knowledge in your field and others as possible. Form connections between the many things that you learn. Be interdisciplinary in your thinking and learning. Pass on what you have learned to others–in doing so, you will gain a deeper mastery of what you have learned.
Connect: Form connections with faculty at Tech. Seek out mentors to guide you in your progress. Your advisors and mentors will become your colleagues one day when you enter the field as a graduate of Tech and professional. Learn from your mentors and advisors.
Explore: Explore the spaces you inhabit and work. Explore your major and connected disciplines. Explore how you can connect your major to other disciplines. Open doors and find out what’s going on (as long as you won’t be breaking laws or entering a dangerous space). Exploration is another kind of learning.
Travel: Visiting other places is a special kind of exploration and learning. However, it is also a kind of education that you cannot receive in the normal classroom setting. You will learn new perspectives from those you live around. You will gain new insights from the history, economy, and politics of the places you live. My strongest regret was not taking advantage of the study abroad programs at Georgia Tech. There are many, many study abroad programs here–find out about them and take advantage of them.
Meet: Go out and meet people! Meet famous people. Meet smart people. Meet people in your community. Meet other students at Tech. Meet people in the Atlanta area. Superficial connections are not what you want. The important thing is to expand your network of friends and colleagues and form meaningful relationships with those people. Talk with people. Learn from others.
Help: Make the effort to help others. Help your classmates. Help people in your communities. Help your family and friends. If you contribute to building stronger communities through outreach and doing good deeds, you will build a stronger community that will in turn help you in the long term.
Make: Create things. They can be digital, physical, or abstract. The important thing is to never rest. You should always be engaged making things–professionally or for personal enjoyment. The things that you make will in turn make you through the experience of creating.
Do Good Work: Make things that you are proud of. Put the time and effort into making things that you can stand behind. This is hard to do sometimes in classes, but you should think about how to turn assignments to meet your needs as well as the needs of the class’ outcomes. This means think about how you can create things that will earn the grade you want while also serving your uses outside of the class–such as adding a new document to your professional portfolio or using an assignment as an excuse to learn a new skill or software.
Reflect: Above all else, reflect on your life, on the things you do, and on your successes and failures. Learn from the choices that you’ve made before so that you can make better and stronger and more effective decisions in the future. Reflect on all aspects of your life–not just on your writing or major-specific work. Reflect in writing–public or private–for the maximum effect on your thinking and brain wiring. Make your reflections a part of your daily practices. It takes time and energy, but the results over time to improving your likelihood for success is tremendous!
Graduate: Certainly, keep your eye on the prize. It might take you four years, five years, or even longer. No matter how long it might take you or how winding your path might be to graduation, be tenacious in your progress to completion. In the words of Commander Taggart from Galaxy Quest (1999), “never give up–never surrender.” If you find that you need to take time away from school, there’s no reason not to return later. I did that and I believe that I am the better for it. The experience that I gained during those years away from Tech were tremendously useful to me. Anyways, if I can do it, I know that you can, too.