How do I deal with having to do compulsory core modules for my major that I may not have much interest in? My grades are affected because of my lack of interest in those modules.

A student asked:

I feel that I’ve already identified topics/niches in my major that I want to pursue and these are the topics that I gravitate towards when choosing modules. I tend to do better in them because of my interest as well.

However, because my major has compulsory modules which fall out of this niche, my CAP has dropped and it’s causing me a great deal of anxiety. I try to reassure myself that CAP doesn’t matter and that academic fulfilment in what matters to do should take priority but rather, I still succumb to the pressures of wanting a first class.

How do you suggest I motivate myself in modules I flagrantly have no interest in?

Compulsory modules are compulsory for a reason. Within a major, there are two reasons why they are compulsory: (1) There is an expectation that a full fledge major must know certain things, even if it’s not within their area of specialisation. It can be a very embarrassing to be in if you were to say that you have a First Class Honours in X, and then be in a situation where you know nothing about specific works that are well known in that discipline. It also reflects very badly in the University in that it would seem that they did not give you a proper education. It may not seem to matter to you now, but it’ll matter a lot when you start working and you encounter other intellectuals.

Many of the top minds in the business world and the civil service are incredibly well read in a vast spectrum of matters in the humanities and social sciences even though that was not their major (they could have majored in engineering or the sciences). They do it because they see the value of having a broad knowledge of disciplines, and that’s how they get to where they are today. Now, you will, at some point in your life, have to deal with them. And you don’t want to be in a situation where you embarrass yourself by being more ignorant than they are about your own major.

Years ago, when I worked in another university, I have been in situations where these top minds asked me about very prominent works in my own field of Philosophy, and I had nothing much to say because I never read those works (because it was not my interest). It was a bad move to not know those things because they then question the credibility of your training, and doors of opportunities will close on you because they don’t trust you enough for not knowing what’s expected of your major. (How can you not know X?) And because of this, I took it upon myself to read more about those fields that I have absolutely no interest in.

And (2), these compulsory modules will prepare you for graduate school if you choose to pursue it. NUS FASS is in a very special position where we offer modules in areas that aren’t studied widely in other universities. If your niche is in one of these topics that’s not conventionally offered worldwide, you will be in trouble if you want to do a graduate programme overseas. For starters, as part of the graduate requirement, you will need to take modules that you probably had absolutely no interest in. And it sucks to be in a situation where you are so clueless about that topic at graduate level. So the compulsory requirement ensures you know enough so that if you had to do a related course at graduate level elsewhere, you won’t be so lost.

As for your question about motivation, I think it helps to have an open mind about the topic.

You should talk to your professors and learn from them what you’re not doing right with your essays in those compulsory modules that you didn’t do so well. While passion helps one to do well, it really isn’t a necessary condition to scoring well. It’s about the techniques of expression, justification, and self-critical evaluation. If you don’t know about these techniques and methods, or if you haven’t quite mastered them, then every essay, every assignment is like a game of dice – there’s no method and you can only hope it yields a high value. It’s really leaving things up to chance.

That’s not proper learning. You are in control of your grades, and you can improve if you take the time to analyse the methods used by scholars in their papers, and also learn from the feedback from your profs. It is in these mistakes that we make that we learn the most from them. :)

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.