Words of Wisdom: Post-undergraduate Considerations
On Preparing for What Comes Next
Many people will tell you that "grades aren't everything". But at the end of the day, we often lack another meaningful yardstick for what we're learning and how we're developing. I want to share an example of one of the most successful student's I've met, and whose grades had little to do with the pursuit of her intellectual passion. The student I'm thinking of was honestly not all that motivated in classroom settings, and her ~2.3 GPA showed it. She didn't connect with material presented in a lecture format, and some early struggles led her to shy away from other kinds of experiences (seminars, for example) that might have suited her better. She had long been interested in issues of environmental justice, in part because of her circumstances prior to coming to Stanford, but she had trouble picturing that interest in the context of the big majors that she recognized. I mentioned to her that there were actually many ways to approach a topic like "environmental justice", and that there were faculty at Stanford in a wide range of disciplines who shared that interest.
She started dedicating a little time to reading about what some of these professors studied, and with a little coaching from an advisor she reached out to one of these professors. Once that relationship clicked, you would never have known that she started out unsure about her path. She eventually got funding for her own research project on the impacts of mining pollution on Native American tribal lands. After Stanford she ended up pursuing her Ph.D. at an Ivy League program. I guarantee you she was admitted to graduate school despite her grades, not because of them. Before you leave Stanford, you will start encountering people and opportunities that care less about what's on your transcript, and more about what you've done with your time here.
—Stanford staff and alum (Ph.D. ’02)
A colloquialism at Stanford for undergrads is that courses outside what they perceive as their interest or major are “random.” Quite the opposite is true, and looking back I celebrate the wide range of courses that exposed me to interests I did not know I had or even to those areas in which I might excel. I suggest, “Celebrate serendipity!" Don’t pre-program your education into what you think others want you to be or somehow you have come to think you must be. I came precisely to this point in my career as an academic physician by going off a planned path and following serendipity and curiosity. Looking back, I value most the wide range of classes at Stanford that prepared me for a good life.
—Professor Paul Fisher, Human Biology