I’m a freshman in an upper-level seminar that is taught by a preeminent professor and full of confident upperclassmen. I do all the work and am very interested in the material, but I’m often too intimidated by my classmates and my professor to participate. Four classes have already passed, and I still haven’t said a word! How can I stop feeling threatened by my peers and get my opinion out there?
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Your problem is one that plagues Yale students of every age. Fortunately, there are several easy fixes. If you want your point of view to be respected in a class that contains a lot of seasoned, self-assured seminar-takers, it’s important to make your presence known. With your classmates cowed into silence, you will gain the confidence necessary to make your voice heard.
To this end, I recommend some tips for intimidating your peers so that you have room to air your beliefs. First, decide beforehand what you are going to say in class the next day. Practice your beloved comment whenever you get a chance — in line at the dining hall, in the bathroom in LC, even during the awkward silences in Physics section. By the time you arrive at the seminar, you will astound your classmates when you utter with aplomb, “I thought the part about his past was really interesting.”
Second, after you’ve dropped your perfectly rehearsed comment, you have to make sure no one disagrees. If a classmate you particularly dislike makes an inane rebuttal, interrupt her by picking up your phone and announcing that the author (dead or alive) is on the line and completely disagrees with what she just said. If she seems dubious, offer to hand her the phone but then explain that the author has hung up because he can’t bear to come in contact with her idiocy.
Finally, if these strategies don’t seem to be working, bring in as many obscure translations of the book as possible. Tear out enough pages from each version so it will be clear they are missing. When people point out their absence, tell them that you ate the missing pages so you could better absorb the material.
These fast tricks should quickly earn you the awed silence you deserve, Frightened. Be careful not to throw up all that paper — but get ready to spew brilliance!