When students at the University of Florida ask the question, “What is the Good Life?” they get two responses. Preview staffers tell incoming freshmen about a wonderful class you will simply love (I think they’re paid to say that), while other UF students call it a total joke. But what’s the truth? How do you survive a course that talks about everything from Greek myths to Aboriginal art? We interviewed professors and Teaching Assistants to discover what the Good Life is really about and how to survive it.
IUF 1000 Breakdown
- Two lecture periods and one discussion period per week
- Five quizzes, one midterm, one final exam
- One essay, one group project (shudder) and a participation grade
- Some smaller assignments
Actually Do the Readings
Every week you’re “required” to read a number of articles and will sometimes get quizzed on key terms from said articles. And yes, Smokin’ Notes provides all of the definitions and summaries. And yes, the TAs know you don’t want to read. “Much of the reading seems rather random and it is often difficult for students (or faculty) to find any common theme for the course,” said graduate student Matthew Koval.
As a TA for the course three times, Koval knows how few students do the reading. “In later, busy parts of the semester, I suspect hardly anyone reads the material well. One class period I asked if anyone had read the material and only one or two hands went up.” But truthfully, Smokin’ Notes cards provide less than the bare minimum and simply skimming the readings leads to misinterpretation of key terms. Grit your teeth and read the material. Who knows? You may actually enjoy an article or two.
Listen to the Lecture
When Dr. Dallery taught the class for the first time in fall 2015, he quickly observed the most common pitfall students face. “The biggest mistake is to disengage,” said Dallery. In a lecture hall with over 200 students, it can be all too easy to hide your phone and be endlessly distracted by your laptop. But who does this really benefit? No one. When you pay attention to your professor, they may actually give you some helpful tips that you’d miss if you were on Pinterest.
Dr. Andrew Nichols, for example, focuses on adding new information in the lecture instead of summarizing the readings. “I try to give a lot of background information on not only the reading but the author as well. When one sees the environment in which a work was written and the events that may have influenced it, one can more easily understand the underlying message of the work,” said Nichols. So put your phone away, power down your laptop and hear what your qualified instructor has to say.
Drag Yourself to Discussions
My introverted-self hates any form of class participation whatsoever. But your TA grades you on participation, so suck it up. Luckily, your classmates don’t want to be there anymore than you do, so use your shared torture time to make a friend or two and hear from other walks of life. “In discussion students can listen to other viewpoints and see things from a different perspective that forces them to think about the readings on a deeper level,” said Nichols.
While the readings definitely make up an important component of this class, discussion provides a much more valuable tool that helps you determine what part of the reading actually matters to YOU. Believe it or not, some readings offer better relationship advice than anything in Cosmopolitan and the novel Siddhartha may inspire you to start a spiritual journey. “Discussion section is a great place to try out ideas, ask questions and figure out what is important to ‘take home’ from class,” said Koval.
Keep Your Essays Close but Your TA’s Closer
Your high school bullshitting skills aren’t up to par when it comes to the Good Life essays, and students’ grades tend to suffer the most here. Both exams have an essay portion and you’ll slave over a 1000-word paper for a week at one point. TA’s agree that summarizing the material rather than explaining or analyzing it makes up one of the biggest weaknesses in student papers. Four-time TA Alec Dinnin argues that the most utilitarian take-away from the course is the ability to write persuasive essays. “This is an important skill and one which I find lacking in students who are just beginning their undergraduate coursework.”
So what can you do to side step this pitfall and prepare yourself for future undergraduate essays? “Talk to your TA! Some will offer to look over drafts, but even those who do not advertise this service will be glad to help out in office hours. Please visit us!” said Koval. Your TA grades all of your work and can tell you exactly what will earn you that A in the class, making them the most underutilized resources in all of Good Life.
Don’t Knock It Until You Try It
Most students tend to focus on the negatives of this course before even giving it a fair shot. Good Life only made its academic debut a few years ago, so they’re still working out some kinks. With that said, every professor and TA does their best to make the course exciting and enlightening. “I try to encourage the students to put aside they’re preconceived biases for the course and see what they can get out of it, rather than just harboring a grudge,” said Nichols.
Your professor really does make a difference. The most boring material in the world becomes interesting when taught by a brilliant and enthusiastic teacher. Don’t glare at the messenger while they try to help you in every way possible. “Students must know that TAs and faculty all see the course’s shortcoming, but believe it is a project worth doing,” said Koval. Bottom line: you get out what you put in. I promise you won’t get hurt if you just put in a little effort. Maybe the class will surprise you by doing exactly what it was designed to do: teach you the secret of living a good life. And in the end, that’s what we all want, right?