Student: “Please guide me to all of knowledge”

In a recent post, I spoke about my intention this semester to mandate an office hour visit from all of my students. We are now in Week 3 of the semester, and I am pleased to say that students are fulfilling this requirement already – and even coming back for more conversations. However, a recurring theme is emerging, which I thought I’d seek input for amongst this community. My students are anxious that they don’t know enough. And they want to point me to the magical Google Doc folder we all share as professors, where we store all necessary knowledge about the world and life.

Image: Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Credit: The Daily Beast)

I teach two sections of an introductory course on international relations. Students in these classes are mostly freshmen who are now in their second semester of college. A lot of them have never taken classes in IR, heard of IR, nor engaged with more theoretical and philosophical concepts. This is fine, given that I was hired to rectify that.

And yet, and I don’t know if this anxiety, fear of failing, or something else, but there is a genuine resistance packaged in these types of questions regarding “how they can catch up on knowing all the things” to just embrace that learning something new is a process.

There is the obvious content knowledge that they will take away from our semester readings, activities, and assignments. But when they look at me in “awe” spitting out information, authors, anecdotes about world events, they seem to forget that I have been at this whole IR thing for a bit longer than they have. This is not me trying to pad my own shoulder, but that is just how time and consistency works.

So far, I validate their anxiety and concerns, acknowledging the newness of these topics in theory, philosophical thinking, and historical events. But I also try to take the edge off (especially considering that we are only in Week 3), using (1) the metaphor of a muscle that needs to be trained regularly in order to get stronger. And (2), I also remind them that there is no one person that knows all the things about all things. That is impossible. Even professors, with academic titles, publications, and books, are subject matter experts. Not experts on life.

This type of anxiety and the request for guidance towards all knowledge is new to me. Has anybody else encountered this issue with students? How have you dealt with it?