Lesson 1: Orientation
"Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself'' (Chinese proverb).

Home page

Course Info  
Course index


Module 1

1: Orientation  
2: Goals   

Module 2

  3: Euthyphro  
     4: The Library
 5: The Apology   
    6: Citation   
    7: Crito
    8: Phaedo  
    9: Exam Prep   
10: Plato Exam

Module 3

11: Research Project 
12: Research 101   
13: Books   
14: the Librarian   
15: the Web   
16: conferences  
17: Joy of Research 
18: Reasoning 

Module 4

19: Outlines 
20: Review the Plan:
21: Language 
22: Dr E's Grammar
23: Peer Review  
24: Hit Parade 

Module 5

25: About the Exam
26: Mock Final 
27: Exam Prep
28: Graduation 

Instructions for Lesson 1

1. Read the course info page to learn about the course goals, schedule, grades and other policies. After Lesson 1, students are assumed to know the published course information.
2. Read this page.
3. Take the quiz for lesson 1 at SLN.
4. Write and submit the writing sample at SLN.
5. Get copies of the course textbooks.


1. Welcome!

The philosopher Socrates.Welcome to Academic Writing with Dr. Gary Gutchess at SUNY Tompkins-Cortland Community College (TC3). To the right, that's an image of the instructor, as he appears in his dreams. Socrates is the superhero of the Academy, the place where academic writing occurs.

You can introduce your dreams in your writing sample, shortly. 


Academic life began in a school in ancient Athens, Plato's Academy (founded c. 387 BCE). Plato promoted this school by writing dialogues about his teacher, the provocative Socrates.


2. Is This Course Right For You


The course is WRONG for you if, at this very moment, you are thinking

1. I can't read.

2. I can read, but I don't. Seriously, folks, there is a lot of reading in this course. Take a classroom course if reading always spoils your fun.

3. My internet access sucks. Technical requirements are described in the course info document titled

4. I'm too busy. To pass this course, students on average need to devote about three hours per Lesson. A few Lessons may require up to five hours to complete. That's 6-8 hours per week. This estimate assumes average reading speed, average writing speed, and undivided attention.

5. I can always cheat. And take the course again, too?

This course is RIGHT for you if you actually want to learn the basics of academic writing. If you complete this course successfully, you will be very well prepared for future college and university writing tasks. This is Dr. G's unconditional written guarantee.***


Left: while Socrates lectures, his student Alciabiades ponders last night's wild oats. A scene from Raphael's The School of Athens.





Offer does not apply to love letters, rap lyrics, petitions for bail, or appeals for forgiveness of debts. Offer may not be valid in New York and other states. Results may include disorientation, dizziness, headache, heartache, impotence, frivolity, rage, sleepiness and depression in some cases. Men who drink beer while studying this course may develop hiccups. Consult your doctor or analyst for further advice.


3. Lecture:
Dr G's Pep Talk

Three Steps for Success:
 Believe, Act, Grow

Some skeptics don't believe that TC3 is a magical place, but I believe because I have seen thousands of students transformed into new people at TC3, as if they entered a storybook about their imagined, future selves. They may not have turned into princesses and princes, but they became, more or less, what they wanted to be. That's the magic.

Each of us can believe. We often doubt what other people say, but we generally believe what we tell ourselves. To believe in TC3, or anything else, simply tell yourself that you believe in it. Tell yourself regularly, at least several times per day. Repeat it again and again. Chant it to the sun and moon. Positive thinking about college is the first, most essential step toward succeeding at it. Negative thinking is every student's first and foremost enemy. You take serious risks if you tell yourself: "I don't think that I can pass" or "I don't need to know this stuff" or "my prof does not care whether I pass or flunk." Think instead: "I can ace college, and I will." And suppose that your instructors want to help you to succeed. They do, I believe.

Belief is very powerful, but don't settle for mere fantasy. It takes effort as well as imagination to become someone that you are not. To dream about being a rocket scientist is very nice, but nobody becomes a real rocket scientist only by watching sci-fi films. Obviously, there's a second step to success, beyond the initial step of positive thinking. It's only by learning the right things that we can understand our imagined future selves. Pursue your dream by dedicating yourself to it. Work at it every day, if you want it to happen. Work at it every day, and it will happen

Beyond strong belief and hard work, there lies only one more step. Transforming our old selves into new ones is disorienting. Some students stumble simply because they are uncomfortable with personal change. Many don't foresee that college will differ from high school. (Controlled studies repeatedly have shown that high schools in the USA are among the worst in the developed world, and U.S. colleges and universities are among the best. Obviously, the two are different!) Whoever you have been until now, college will require you to change.

We adapt in surprising ways when we are exposed to new environments. Preparing for a vacation or business trip to an unfamiliar place, for example, we may not foresee that the experience actually will transform us. Yet, our travels in fact make impressions on us, and we return with brains that are not quite the same as they were before we left. Our new memories show that something has happened to us internally, that our brain networking has been altered.

Dr G as a wild animal.

We are social creatures, and the adaptable complexes of neurons in our brains are shaped and reshaped by communications that we receive from other human beings. Minds in frequent contact with one another tend to develop networks of shared ideas and emotions--common pathways popularly known as cultures. (Alternately, a mind isolated from all other minds tends to grow "crazy" or disorganized by lack of communal contact. For example, the poor creature that we call Tarzan, if he really existed, would not act like a movie star. He would not know his name. He would not know that people have names or that he was a person. These results have occurred in actual cases in which children have grown up in isolation from other people.) Changing our contacts changes how and what we think.

I'm saying that orientation is a biological thing. Entering the academic world, or any unfamiliar culture, our old mental networks begin to be superseded by something that at first seems foreign and strange. In between our old and new selves, we may feel awkward and wonder who we are. The build-out of the new network can take a year or even more to establish basic functionality. Eventually, for those who persevere, the brain is rewired, disorientation goes away, and the magic begins to work.

Receptive and impressionable, we are all in-formed by our surroundings. When Israelis and Palestinians don't go to school together, don't trade or do business with each other, don't eat together, don't worship together, don't live together in the same community, don't speak the same language, there is no network between them for shared thinking. However, when people of Israeli and Palestinian ancestry shop at the same stores, work in the same buildings, read common newspapers, and root for the same home team, shared experience promotes mutual understanding.

Different environments grow different brains, so we choose our future brain when we decide where to plant it. Suppose that I decide to in-form myself by watching sitcoms on TV every day. Who will I become in Sitcom School? If I'm receptive, the programs will teach me to laugh at everything or maybe, if I really study, to become funny. Intentionally funny, I mean. And yet, in spite of all of the credit card debt that I amass, and all the hours I work to pay it down, I'll never be as handsome, well dressed, well rested, well companioned, full of smiles, strong, healthy or wealthy-looking as the average model that I see in the commercials.

"A lie told often enough becomes the truth," Lenin said. Advertisers and other propagandists know that tireless repetition makes any message true, no matter how absurd or harmful the message itself may be. Commercial TV networks are not "free." No environment is free. Each one takes in payment a part of our brain, a portion of our most precious living cell tissue, some of the intellect with which we understand the world.

So beware, my young friends!  Speak positively to yourselves, and be careful where you park your brains!






































Left: before college Dr. G was just a  jungle dog.










You already have a brain, strawman.When teachers introduce you to the academic world, you may feel unsettled or ambivalent, if you have had little or no contact with college before. But the transition is not as hard as it may seem to be at first. Give yourself time. The more time that you spend in this place, the more at home you are likely to feel. I hope that in time you will enjoy it, as I do, and that you will use it to grow the neurons of your dreams.

With the thoughts that I'd be thinkin'
I could be another Lincoln
If I only had a brain. . .

Strawman, you already have a brain. You have to leave the cornfield to see yourself as anything other than a scarecrow!

LESSON ACRONYM "BAG"-- Believe (think positively); Act (study the right things); Grow (accept personal change). 

Student Exercise for Lesson 1:
Your Writing Sample

Do all of the following:

1. Describe your career goals and/or major life plans in one written paragraph (let's say 3-5 sentences). Be specific, if possible.

2. Below the paragraph that you have just drafted, add a second written paragraph that describes your educational goals. Again, be as specific as possible.

3. Below the two paragraphs that you now have drafted, write a third paragraph that describes your hopes or possible goals for this course in academic writing. Do you think the course may be able to help you in some way? Why or why not?

4. Now look over the three draft paragraphs several times to be sure that they are truthful and clearly stated. Revise (or rewrite) your original paragraphs as necessary.

5. These three paragraphs are your initial writing sample for this course. They will convey a first impression about you to both your classmates and your writing instructor.  (Yes, we will share them with each other in Lesson 2 of the course.) Make whatever final revisions to the paragraphs that you think are necessary.

6. Submit your writing sample to Dr. G at SUNY Leaning Network. 





Gary. Gutchess@sln.suny.edu                    Academic writing home page  
Gary Gutchess 2003, 2008