Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Insight from the Presidential Debate: Preparation vs. Inspiration

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Insight from the Presidential Debate: Preparation vs. Inspiration

 Hello on this lovely, though overcast, fall Saturday in New York City!
       So, with this October's gorgeous weather, post-season baseball, football Sundays, spooky haunted houses and Halloween candy in the grocery store aisles also comes a month of………Presidential Debates! 
Photo from
        Of course, I had a lot to say about Wednesday night’s debate, and I experienced a lot of emotions while watching it -- but one of the non-political aspects I thought might be valuable to discuss about the debate was the general sense that Obama's preparation wasn't up to snuff. In the days since the debate, it seems that it is universally accepted that Romney “out-prepared” Obama for the debate. At first, it was irritating to me that preparation, and, in turn, a lack-thereof, could become such a factor in the debate when it should be, idealistically, that these two men actually stand for real policies backed by ideas that they believe in and understand, and, therefore, should not so much as stumble when presented with an argument against those policies and ideas.
        But then I thought about it more, from the perspective of my own career as an academic professor and graduate student, and I began to change my mind.
        Every time Obama wasn’t looking up and meeting Romney’s eyes, or the camera’s lens, I could almost feel through the TV that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I usually get when I know I am unprepared. It is the same emotion that fuels those naked-at-school nightmares.
        My husband always says that preparation outweighs knowledge, skill, talent, charisma, and intellect. Wednesday night’s debate serves as evidence for this claim.
        As I watched the debate, and then watched the commentary from the pundits, I thought about my experience with being prepared versus being unprepared. Yes…as a graduate student, I’ve learned the hard way that preparation is essential for success, and that it is especially crucial for oral performances. But I actually don’t want to write a blog on how to prepare for an oral debate, exam, or presentation. I do, however, think Obama’s performance in the debate provides us with an opportunity to discuss how important preparation is for success in almost anything you do -- in graduate school, and in life.
        I began to think about the fact that, no matter how well I know my own material, and believe in my argument in my dissertation, it will come across as a senseless disaster if I don’t rehearse my argument and practice fielding questions about it -- questions that may come in forms and from directions I hadn’t anticipated. And I will say to myself, man, I KNOW this stuff, backwards and forwards! Why am I goofing it up? But preparation for defending it means that I know it from more ways than backwards and forwards – it means you are prepared from any direction.
        The same thing happens with teaching. Do experienced, gifted, talented, charismatic teachers need to prepare for class for it to go well? You may at first say, no probably not. But the truth is that preparation makes anyone better, period. Can these individuals sometimes wing it? Can grad students sometimes wing it in class, or in a reading group meeting, without being prepared? Sure.
But it all changes when the stakes are higher.
       Your body actually reacts differently when there is more at stake. "Winging it" for orals exams, for a teaching observation, for a job-talk or an interview, is unthinkable, because preparation puts you not only at a mental advantage but also a physical advantage. Proper preparation relaxes your body and brain in a way that promotes a better performance. So after preparing properly, not only do you know your stuff well, but also your body KNOWS you know your stuff well, and it lets you do your thing of being your amazing, talented self.
     So that is my ultimate conclusion and insight – that there is something physiological that happens to promote success when you prepare yourself well enough.  What do you all think? Let me know, and keep tuning in to Grad.Life for more thoughts on what we can learn from the Presidential debates!
Don’t forget to “Like” our Facebook page!!! Until next time, Liza 

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