TITLE: Setting a Good Example AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 18, 2009 8:01 AM DESC: ----- BODY: David Patterson wrote a Viewpoint column for the March 2009 issue of Communications on advising graduate students, paired with a column by Jeffrey Ullman. One piece of Patterson's advice applies to more than advising grad students: "You're a role model; act like one.":
I am struck from parenting two now-grown sons that it's not what you say but what you do that has lasting impact. I bet this lesson applies to your academic progeny. Hence, I am conscious that students are always watching what I do, and try to act in ways that I'd like them to emulate later. For example, my joy of being a professor is obvious to everyone I interact with, whereas I hear that some colleagues at competing universities complain to their students how hectic their lives are.
I often worry about the message I send students in this regard. My life is more hectic and less fun with computer science since I became department head, and I imagine that most of the negative vibe I may give off is more about administration than academia. One time that I am especially careful about the image I project is when I meet with high school students who are prospective CS majors and their parents. Most of those encounters are scheduled in advance, and I can treat them almost like performances. But my interactions with current students on a daily basis? I'm probably hit-and-miss. The idea that people will infer more from your deeds than your words is not new and does apply widely, to advisors, teachers, decision makers -- everyone, really. Anyone who has been a parent knows what Patterson means about having raised his sons. Long ago I marked this passage from Matthew Kelly's Building Better Families:
If you ask parents if they want their children to grow up to live passionate and purposeful lives they will say, "Absolutely!" But how many parents are living passionate and purposeful lives? Not so many.
Our example can set a negative tone or a positive tone. The best way to give children a zest for life is to live with zest and share your zest with them. This applies to our students in class and in the research lab, too. My favorite passage in this regard comes not from Patterson's viewpoint but from The Wednesday Wars, which I quoted once before:
It's got to be hard to be a teacher all the time and not jump into a pool of clear water and come up laughing and snorting with water up your nose.
Through all my years in school, my best teachers jumped into the pool all the time and came up laughing and snorting with water up their noses. They wrote prose and code. They read about new ideas and wanted to try them out in the lab. Their excitement was palpable. Fun was part of the life, and that's what I wanted. I hope I can embody a little of that excitement and fun as a faculty member to our students, as a father to my daughters. But some days, that is more of a challenge than others. -----