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The art of bullshitting

Published November 18, 2008

REGISTERING FOR CLASSES
—Look for discussion-based classes where you can just talk about yourself. Often in American culture classes, so many people will talk about how their grandparents were immigrants that the professor won’t have a chance to get to the readings.

—For every distribution requirement, there is a bullshitty way to satisfy it. For foreign language, take Ojibwa. For natural science, stack up the minicourses.

—Don’t take Ratemyprofessor.com rankings at face value. Read the comments thoroughly. It could be that a professor’s “easy” ranking came from students who took his freshman class, while the few commenters who took his 400-level course you’re looking at thought he was a hard ass.

—If you can’t find a professor on RateMyProfessor.com, it could mean she’s a visiting professor or a graduate student instructor — and that’s a good thing. These people only teach for a semester or two to pay the bills and forward their personal research. What they often lack in delivering coherent and engaging lectures, they make up for with lax attendance policies and lenient grading.

—Read the class description closely — figure out the book list and how many graded assignments would be due. Then take the rules in the next section and apply them to the course description. Can the full text of all the books be found online? How well does Wikipedia cover the subject?

GOING UNPREPARED TO SECTION

—Stay true to your class discussion identity. Some students speak up every seven minutes, others make occasional comments between diligently taking notes and the rest of the class just stares or sleeps. To safeguard your participation grade and win your GSI’s favor, don’t be the latter. But being one of the most talkative means that it will be conspicuous if don’t say a word one class. Amateur bullshitters might be better suited to the middle group. Take notes. Make eye contact. Smile. Nod. Stay alert.

—Remember the rule of old comment plus an older comment equals insightful new comment (OC + OC2 = INC). It’s a common trick to piggyback off of what another student said. Master bullshitters make their point sound original by applying another student’s comment and to something discussed in a previous class. “Katie makes a good point. It reminds me of what we saw in chapter 23 with...” It doesn’t matter if you didn’t read chapter 23 — if you’re quick, you can recall a similar point made about earlier material. Now you’re doing a “multi-text reading.”

—To most lecturers, comprehensive questions are just as good as comprehensive answers. If it’s asking too much to draft an argument out of thin air, take the last tip and put it in question form. “Katie makes a good point, but I wonder how that idea might be applied to chapter 23?”

—Every 20-page article can be understood in three pages. Read the introduction until you get to a thesis. Skip the author’s self-serving exposition. Skim the first and last paragraphs of every new section. Read the last few pages until the conclusion. For bonus points, make sure to get a handle on one big quote or important source in the article to bring up in class. Something toward the end will tell your GSI you read the entire piece. Remember, the key to good bullshit is a good detail.

CRAMMING FOR FINALS

—Call your GSI’s bluff. Your GSI has a good idea of what is going to be on the exam. He’s not going to tell you, but he’s not not going to tell you. It’s like poker, so go to office hours with your poker face on — earnest, hard working, but dumb — and prepare to ask “do we need to know this” many times. By monitoring your GSI’s irises and tone of voice you can discern what the main focus of the exam will be. Or if you act dumb and desperate enough, he might just tell you.

—Praise Google. Again. Google is in the process of uploading every volume in the University’s library system. The best part of the Google Books search, though, is that these free, online-accessible, full-text copies include internal term search. Writing a paper on a secondary character? Get a list of every page she appears on. Forgot to take notes on a crucial section of your textbook? Type in the few words you remember.

—Go ahead, ask for an extension. Most professors have few qualms about granting extensions for papers. You might run into trouble with some young bucks who still take their syllabi seriously, but seasoned professors have made so many exceptions over the years that your case needs little pleading. If you want to e-mail with a specific excuse, blame some extracurricular activity or say you came down with the gruesome flu that’s going around. Really, you could say a dog ate your research and it wouldn’t matter.


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