Look at that title. To me, it’s an oxymoron.
A professor can’t do a motivational talk.
If he can motivate, then he’s not a professor.
That is what my perception of a professor is, after more than 2 years studying in university, under professors from different countries. While some are exceptional, most fall under the stereotype of “boring”, “long-winded”, “eh, WTH are you teaching!!?!!”.
However, not so after I met up with this professor.
A few weeks back, I received an email from this professor of mine. He is not teaching me any subject, but he is my personal-assigned professor in NTU, one who will take care of you for whatever stuffs you need in school. It’s like your ‘form teacher’ or civics tutor in secondary school or junior college.
So I got an email that he wanna meet up with me and have a chat, just as a way to know each other, and if there’s anything I need help about school stuffs, I can approach him directly. We set a date and I met him in his office that week Thursday.
To make it simple, let’s call him Prof Wu.
When I first met him in his office, I can see that he quite a friendly and cheerful guy. We chatted a while, and he is always smiling, whenever he speaks or when I ask him something. He seems like a nice guy to talk to.
After about 10 minutes of ‘small talk’, he diverted the conversation to my academic grades. Usually, I might be quite surprised. But not this time, as I already expected it to be part of the meet up. As my “personal” professor, he should already have access to my grades, subjects, GPA …etc. So we chatted a while about it.
He told me that he would have expected higher grades, given that I’m from a junior college and also with quite good A level results. If you already know since last time, I didn’t like math as much as I used to in JC, and without much doubt, I also don’t like those professors teaching the math. Anyway, that’s story for another day.
As we continued along about how he would expect higher grades from me, I didn’t really pay attention to what he is saying, ’cause the thing is… I still don’t like Uni Maths. I just let him ramble along. I show him my poker face.
However, as his rambling continued, I realized that I began to pay more attention to his words, and started to give more serious thought of what he tells me. His words also somehow opened my “once-tightly-closed” mind to professors. The conversation lasted for almost another 40 min, and I head out getting motivated to get better grades this time.
And when I left his room, I never realize he could be such motivational. Or rather, his words are motivational – cos his tone and pitch are the same throughout. He is never like the usual motivational speakers you see elsewhere – loud voices, large actions.
So what exactly did he tell me?
That’s is probably what you want to know right now!!
While I couldn’t recount the whole conversation, but I will write all the important points down for easy reading and understanding. (I’ll put my thoughts in brackets). Through it, I hope maybe you might be motivated too. Here it goes.
Me: Prof Wu, let me be honest with you. In NTU, I almost couldn’t understand at all what all the lecturers are talking about. I don’t know what they are teaching, and worse, some I couldn’t even understand what they are saying.
Prof Wu: I know that some of the professors are not that good, as they just came over to teach in Singapore. However, in University, one thing you have to know is that, university is training you two important life skills.
I know many people say that whatever you study in university, like mathematics, engineering, they cannot be used in life. But do you know why you still have to study it?
The two important life skills that you will learn out of university, from all those courses you are studying, are self-learning and critical thinking skills.
Yes, some of the lecturers are not able to explain quite well. But in university, you are expected to do self-learning. It means that even if there are no professors to teach you, you are able to learn all by yourself, do all the questions, then go to exams. And this is what the university is all about.
I know this can be quite different from your high school. But if you want to do well in university, you have to study beforehand, and go into the lecture just to listen it the second time, and to clarify stuffs only. Learning in the lecture itself is too slow.
(At this point, my eyes and mind opened. This is a whole new paradigm shift for me.)
Prof Wu: Do you know how I define smart?
If you go and look at the successful people in the world, you will notice similarities among them. And I can tell you that they are smart people – they have these 2 skills better than others.
They learn faster and think faster than others.
There was once a Japanese Mathematics professor who won some major award in mathematics. This award is more prestigious than the Nobel Prize. While the Nobel Prize is given to a few people every year, this award is given to 2 people every 4 years. (sorry I forget the name of the award). So this Japanese professor got this award.
During his speech, he says that even though he got this award for his achievement in Mathematics, he says that even if he switch from researching Mathematics to building a big business, he will also succeed, because he has developed the 2 skills – self-learning and critical thinking skills. I can learn and think faster than many people. (another eye-opener for me.)
So when you think that studying those mathematics in university is useless, they are actually training you how to learn faster and think faster than others. This is one thing many people don’t know. (so now you know, ‘cos I’ve shared it with you!)
And the next question many students ask is “if it can’t be used in real-life, then why do we have to study hard for it, and get good grades?”
I’m not sure if you want to be a mathematician, or start your own business next time. There’s a good thing about getting good grades from any subjects that you take. It shows that you are someone who is willing to put in the effort to get it done well. So by getting good grades, you are showing the character that you are a hardworking person.
If someone is successful in one area, he will be successful in another area. If he is hardworking in mathematics or any subject, he will be hardworking in doing other things too. (I agree with him on this – How you do anything, is how you do Everything.)
[at this point, I’m somehow sold by his idea that mathematics is good for me, and that I have to get good grades even though it cannot be used in real life. It will even be helpful for me if I were to have my own business next time. What’s next is more surprising…]
Prof Wu: You told me just now that you are also quite interested in politics (yea, I told him that just now). And I can tell you this is the same for politicians, who want to be successful. They have to learn faster and think faster than others to win!
Say for example, Tan Cheng Bock. He’s a very smart man. If you look at how he run his presidential election, you can see that he learn fast, and think faster than his opponents. He has to plan his strategy well against his opponents.
(Here I have a Prof Wu from China who came to NTU only last year, and he knows about Singapore politics and Tan Cheng Bock’s election campaign. And what’s more surprising, he uses Tan Cheng Bock’s example as part of motivating me! I supported TCB during his election as his counting agent, and his example of Tan Cheng Bock resonates with me. But if he uses others, especially T_T, then i wouldn’t have been convinced by him that easily.)
Prof Wu: People who achieved success spend time and effort on what they are doing. As a professor, I would advise student to put in at least 8 hours per week for every subject. 8 hours include self-study and attending all lectures and tutorials. I can guarantee that you will get better grades if you put in the effort.
This is the same as anyone who is successful in their field. Take football for example. The professional football players, the top players spend a lot of time training and playing football. That’s why they are that good. But if they did not spend time training and playing, then they won’t be the top players. This is same even for doing your own business. Successful businessmen also put in a lot of effort to build their company to be a successful one.
(Seems like he knows a lot about me. I definitely did not tell him about Tan Cheng Bock, I did not tell him I like football, I did not tell him I want to build a business! YET he uses examples that encompasses my interests – they get me sold easily!)
So I believe if you put in time and effort in learning and practicing your math, I can guarantee you will do well.
~ end of the motivational notes in our conversation.
Towards the end of the conversation, I felt a strong sense of gratitude towards Prof Wu. Now, I think Prof Wu is more of inspiring than motivational to me. He is able to inspire me to do something which i never like to do for the past 2 years – to put in more effort to study mathematics.
I hope I won’t disappoint him this time round 🙂