Words of Wisdom: Reflection
On Reflection and Facing Challenges
I remember all too well years ago as a student, sitting outside Braun Auditorium after I learned that I had received a C, and a low one at that, in Chem 35 (now Chem 121). But, just sitting there for about an hour led me to reflect. That process is always a great tactic. Should I give up taking a pre-med path? Was I just not good enough? Or, maybe I was not cut out to be a chemist, as I came to reason. I pulled myself back up, got advice from friends and faculty, changed my approach, and persevered with some re-tooling. I think this approach worked, since decades later I am back at Stanford on the faculty at the med school. Patience, perseverance and resilience are skills we all need to build.
—Professor Paul Fisher, Human Biology
On “Talking” It Out: Journal Writings and Conversations with Others
I have worked with thousands of students over more than 20 years. Regularly, students remark on how much better they feel after talking about an issue they have or a problem they are trying to solve. They say something like, “I have been thinking about this over and over and I haven’t gotten anywhere.” We always end up talking about the importance and benefit of communication.
Often, thoughts we hear in our minds are disjointed or incomplete phrases that focus on the negative. We can get stuck, repeating these undeveloped concepts in ways that are not helpful. Both the written and spoken word have a fuller, more complete articulation of ideas and impressions. By writing full sentences, you’ll get a better idea of why you feel a certain way or believe a certain thing.
Continually challenge yourself to more fully define what you’ve written. For the next sentences you write, ask and answer the questions “What do I mean by that?”, “Why do I think that?”, “What should I do about that?”, “How or why should I do that?” Eventually, this will develop into richer and more sophisticated statements about the situations you experience and about yourself.
Then, talk to people about it. By speaking with others—including faculty, advisors, and mentors—you can test those ideas. Refine the ideas by writing about them again. With every cycle, not only do your ideas develop and grow (and sometimes change) but you strengthen your beliefs and principles.
On Reflection and Intellectual Identity
The titles of majors of undergraduate degrees are alone approximations and pointers at a much more nuanced truth and complex narrative description of our acquired educational and intellectual identity. It is our job to decipher when shorthand reminders, such as major titles, are helpful versus when we must share the more detailed explanation based on intentional reflection and integration of what we have learned and experienced. This is the real critical thinking about our education in college. So, when talking to yourself and others about your learning and your brain, don't fall into the trap of letting assumptions about majors and institution names do all the talking. You're bigger and better than that!