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Undergrads often uninterested in academia

Joe Trombello | Tuesday, November 4, 2003

A combination of parental expectations, career choice and conversations with faculty members outside of the classroom that do not focus on the world of academia may explain why Notre Dame students said that there is a general stigma about entering into higher education, some undergraduates said.

Although many students said faculty members are often willing to meet with them during office hours, they also said that conversation topics are often about class-related matters and not about academia in general.

As a result, and by choice, students know little about entering into the field of academia. Many said that because of parental sacrifices and a deeply-instilled work ethic, they think that students are uninterested in becoming professors

Zach Goodrich, a biology major, said that his experiences with Notre Dame faculty during office hours have been very positive.

“Professors here are willing to try to help you out. They want to see you succeed,” he said.

Like Goodrich, Elizabeth Webster, a sophomore psychology major, said her professors are usually very accessible and willing to meet with her. She said that she attends office hours “all the time.”

However, some students said they have felt uncomfortable attending office hours because they think faculty are too busy to meet with them.

“I feel intimidated,” said senior biology major Jessica Campbell, “because [professors] are so busy. I just feel they don’t have time. Notre Dame is such a big research university, I’ve gotten the impression that teaching is not what they want to be there for. I would just rather not bother them,” she said.

Students also said they usually attend office hours for a specific purpose – with a question about a test or a lecture – rather than simply to talk to professors about issues unrelated to class.

“I am goal-oriented, and if I’m going to meet with a teacher, information that I expect to get is going to be on the test,” Webster said.

Students also said their parents instilled in them a strong work ethic, and they recognize that their parents often make financial sacrifices for them to attend Notre Dame. Because of these factors, students said they do not often consider entering academia and becoming professors, as they feel obligated to graduate with a “firm” career path in mind.

“We are heavily weighted toward the corporate world and the career world here,” Eric Wooldridge said.

Some also said that perceptions of academia and a general lack of knowledge about what professors actually do might cause an unfair stigma towards becoming one.

“Maybe a lot of students don’t know what it [academia] entails and hear, ‘You’ll be in the lab all day’ – which can maybe cause a stigma,” Campbell said.

Robert Gibbs, a finance/psychology major, said that parental influence may also lead students to choose a major that satisfies their parents and may lead to a financially successful career. However, he said this perception probably extends to the general college population as opposed simply to Notre Dame.

“I think there might be pressure felt to choose a major based on what [would give] a comfortable living because … your parents have sacrificed to put you through college,” he said. “I think a lot of people chose majors based on that – they feel like they owe it to their parents.”