It’s okay to skip lecture…sometimes

Posted on 22 February 2011

Charles Darwin was never a hardworking student. But he did one thing right: he pursued his passion.

By Chua Yini

Charles Darwin (left) as a child. He wasn't a good student in school, but followed his passions to discover about the natural world. Today, he is among the most celebrated pioneers in science.

LAST Saturday, the world celebrated Charles Darwin’s birthday, even in Singapore.

The man was 202 years old and lived about 11,000 kilometres away from us. He never took a plane, or played Guitar Heroes. Mention ‘Butter Factory’ to him and he would probably picture a place which manufactures slippery slabs of yellow fat.

But he lived a life so congruent to ours – university students in a corner of the globe, struggling to find the meaning of our existence, falling asleep in lectures and wondering if we’re even in the right course in the first place.

As a medical student, Darwin found his lectures dull and surgery distressing. He often neglected his studies for play – collecting beetles, riding and shooting. This drove his father to the end of his tether, withdrawing Darwin from medical school and enrolling him into Cambridge University for a Bachelor of Arts degree, hoping to hone him into a parson.

But his father’s well intentioned, if not unhealthy, attempt on Darwin’s life did not work out. While studying for his Arts degree, Darwin fell in love with natural history and grabbed an opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to journey on the HMS Beagle (below) as a naturalist.

It was the watershed event for the 22-year-old’s life. Through a five-year extensive study of life and fossils worldwide, Darwin learnt that natural selection drove the evolutionary process, changing the nature of life into its fascinating, complex form we see today.

The rest is history.

While the world celebrates his contribution to science every year, what should be applauded as well is Darwin’s zest for learning the truth.

This is an attitude that students here would do well to emulate – learning for learning’s sake, not for the sake of their grades or future high-paying jobs.

Thus, they enroll into courses with good prospects, and worship their GPA, all in preparation for a future of rolling around in cash.

However, what’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander. It is time students take ownership of their lives and stop choosing courses based on how high their salaries would be in the future.

I have always felt that if given the luxury to choose, people should select their future professions based on passion and interest, not salary.

While the bulk of a bulging wallet feels comforting in the pocket of your jeans, it does not compensate for the dullness of a mundane life.

A friend from National Institute of Education (NIE), studying to be a physical education (PE) teacher, shared her thoughts on teaching with me recently.

“I have always loved sports. That’s why I finding teaching very rewarding because it allows me to do what I like, and I can share that with other people,” she said.

The thought of trying to rein in ‘nethanderal’ secondary school kids at PE lessons every day filled me with a sense of horror, but to each his own, right? I respected my friend’s decision to become a teacher because it was something that she dreamed of, not because it is an “iron-rice bowl” profession in a meandering economy.

So, evolutionary theory aside, the lesson we really should learn from Darwin is: carve out your own niche in life, and you will be happy and successful in doing whatever you do.

Darwin did not have a degree or formal education, but he latched onto his true passion and carved out a niche for himself. A learning spirit and questioning mind, along with the courage to take a step in the right direction, will take us far in life, regardless of our degrees.

Maybe if someone invented courses like SHOP 101 or ZOUK 101 people would pursue their interests more enthusiastically.

Happy Darwin Day!

This article was first published on The Enquirer, an online newspaper based in Nanyang Technological University.

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  • Anonymous Coward

    I approve of this. Learn for the knowledge, not the papers. This article rings a bell with me, maybe because that’s exactly what I did.

    • Fiona

      So do I. People should be free to do what they love, if it helps humanity in general.

      • Striped Panther

        This is the same for autistics too. I will elaborate this another time.

        • Fiona

          What does autism got to do with interests? I am curious.

          • Striped Panther

            I will elaborate on my reply to your questions. ^^

            Btw it was suspected that Darwin himself is autistic in a way.

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  • Kai
    • Uncle

      Eh…? Really ah Darwin got Asperger’s Syndrome also?

  • http://nil Mango

    Skipping lectures is okay…as long as you meet the exam requirements and you are not barred from graduating. You must also know what was covered in the lectures you skipped (borrow notes from more studious students).
    I skipped some lectures which were boring …MIT lecturer could not communicate..just verbalise everything from text book…I passed his lectures with good grades.