This is an easy piece of advice: go. Go as often and as attentively as possible. Your campus will offer lectures from visiting scholars; academic conferences; book launches; student-led events and speakers; political talks and rallies; and so much more. Never again are you likely to be surrounded by so much action, and for so little cost in anything but your time. Go to the student plays and concerts if that’s your thing. Or even if it’s not. Try to attend a majority of the speaking events and on-campus conferences associated with your department. And also explore topics and disciplines you’re only peripherally interested in. Find out what’s happening across campus, and go.
Most campus events are free, or darn close to free. Few require tickets or a commitment ahead of time. But if you pay attention to the full spectrum of what’s available on your campus, you’ll be reminded again that your coursework is only one tiny part of what you can learn and experience while at your university.
- It’s there and available, so it only makes sense to take advantage.
- You might learn about something you never knew would interest you.
- You could discover some new aspect of your field to pursue in research or professionally.
- You might meet people—students, faculty, and community members—you otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths with. And who knows what could come of that?
- You learn how to speak, how to organize an event, and how to defend an academic argument.
- After you graduate, these opportunities are far less frequent, and you will miss them.
It's valuable to be exposed to a maximum possible number of ideas and academic disciplines while in college. And while you might not be prepared to sign up for a full semester of volcanology or 18th Century Spanish poetry, you could probably commit to two hours of a panel event or a visiting scholar’s book discussion. In fact, the odds are decent there will even be free food and coffee for your troubles.
I was incredibly lucky in that my best friends in college were from a variety of backgrounds and studied a broad spectrum of majors. We didn’t have any repeats, actually. The eight of us were studying art history, archaeology, biology, chemistry, comparative literature, family and human services, international studies, Japanese, Spanish, and sociology (we had a couple of double majors thrown into the mix). So we had the perfect place to start when looking for interesting campus events: we all brought a different mix of interests to the group. We also went to student plays, a cappella concerts, drag shows, film screenings, readings at the local library, speeches by activists, and more. Going to these events together was so much fun, and is part of what college should truly be about.
I’ll write more in the future about other and targeted ways you can benefit from campus events. It’s a great place to network with the people who are the “movers and shakers” at your university. It’s an opportunity to put yourself forward to volunteer in an interesting way that could really benefit you down the line. If you’re interested in an academic career particularly there’s a lot to learn; if you plan to attend academic conferences you want to start learning how things work early; and if you will be undertaking a thesis as part of your undergraduate requirements—particularly if there’s a presentation/thesis defense involved--it is absolutely crucial that you witness academic speaking events as early and as often as possible. It’s also a way to show the depth of your interest and engagement with your campus, which is good for your future letters of recommendation and valuable if you are interested in campus jobs or scholarships.
All of that on top of the general self-improvement opportunities of pursuing your interests through attending awesome (and probably free) events.
In the end, the biggest and most powerful reason to get to these events has got to be WHY NOT?
So get out there! Check for posters around campus. Find out what’s going on in the creative writing department, and the campus theater, and through the various offices promoting student life and engagement. Sign up for email lists publicizing topics you’re excited about. Ask the office staff in your department. Tell your professors you’re interested and ask them to let you know if there’s anything of particular note to look out for. Ask your friends. Ask in any clubs or organizations you’re part of. Go alone and meet people. Just get going! There is so much available to you.
What are some of your favorite campus events? Do you have any examples of particularly “out there” speakers or events you’ve attended? Have you benefited in any way you’d like to share? Please share your experiences here!