A conversation between a professor and her student

Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Listen to a conversation between a professor and her student.

Professor: Well, hello, Jason. What are you doing sitting in here all alone?

Jason: Hi, Dr Wescott. Oh, I was just looking for a quiet place to study where there's no distractions.

P: (laughs) Well, you found the perfect spot- my empty classroom. But I guess I'm a distraction now. I left my folder of notes in here last period. Do you mind if I...?

J: Oh! No, no- please go ahead, Professor.

P: Um. Hmm.... Ah- here it is. OK. I leave you to it.

J: Oh, Professor....

P: Yes?

J: Would you have a minute? Could I just ask you about the comment you wrote on my last essay?

P: Yes, I have a few minutes now. What did I write on it?

J: Well, here's the essay- "The Heights of Romanticism"- and you wrote just the word "vague!" at the top beside my grade....

P: Oh yes. It's an interesting topic choice, Jason, but I think that maybe you, uh, bit off more than you could chew. That title covers a lot of very major English poets!

J: Yeah, I guess it does, doesn't it? Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Byron. You know, I felt that way too, actually, after I got started with it. But by then I was kind of trapped.

P: Trapped? What do you mean?

J: Well, I had already started research. I'd picked out some key passages from the Prelude, from Keats's odes, et cetera. I'd already learned a good bit about their personal lives- I was, you know, committed.

P: Well now, listen, Jason: one of the key steps in writing an essay is choosing and defining your topic at the very beginning. If you get a feeling that the theme's too broad or too narrow, or uh, too convoluted or too, um, whatever- then cut your losses right away. Abandon it and find a fresh theme. That's rule number one.

J: Hmm. Yeah, I guess you're right. (sighs)

P: And what happened here is that you were never able to get down to brass tacks. That's why I wrote "vague"- that was my main reaction when I got done reading your paper. You're assigned three-page essays in my class, and you chose a subject fit for a book!

J: (laughs) Well, could I ask you, could you give me an example, of how I could've narrowed this down to a manageable size? Should I have just chosen one poet, do you think?- say, Lord Byron?

P: Yes, that's a simple solution to the problem here. But with only three pages to work with, you could afford to narrow it even more- just look at "Don Juan" as a work, uh, symbolic of the Romantic ideal, you know.

J: And that would be enough?

P: Sure, more than enough! The narrower your topic, the more incisive you can be. You might even come up with an original idea about Byron and the Romantic Movement!

J: Not likely.

P: But see, that's wrong thinking. These essays are not just rote assignments, Jason, something you have to crank out in order to pass my course. The point is to train you to research- "re-search"- "search again"- through our literary history... and add new light on it. This is something you should be eager to do!

J: Yes, of course, Professor- and I am, really! But I guess sometimes they do just, well...turn into assignments. Sometimes I do forget why I' m here.

P: (laughs) Well, you're not the only one, I can tell you that. Actually, this was one of the better essays. At least you didn't wander off topic, or just fill the three pages with polysyllabic gobbledegook. Those are the students I really come down hard on. Look, a "B minus" isn't so bad, is it?

J: No, I guess not. I like "A"s better, though. (laughs) And that's what I'm trying for next time. Our next paper's on the 19th century up to World War One, right?

P: Yes, that's right.

J: I'm interested in the Symbolists, and I've been reading about Rimbaud- he's kind of seminal, isn't he?

P: He certainly is- and in a way Rimbaud is a topic already narrowed down for you. He has a very small opus- he stopped writing when he was 21 and ran off to become a trader in Africa.

J: Yes-- and I can identify! (laughs)

P: (laughs) Oh, no you don't! I expect good things from you- starting with your next essay. Just remember: control your topic, don't let your topic control you. You've only got three pages, so be concise, be pithy.

J: OK, I'll try. Thanks very much for your time, Dr Wescott. I really appreciate it.

P: My pleasure, Jason. See you in class.

J: 'Bye.


Why is the student in the classroom?


What is the student's purpose in initiating this conversation?


What will the student try to do with his next essay?


What kind of essays did the professor say that some of the other students wrote?

Listen again to part of the passage and answer the following question.


Why does the student say this: "Yes-- and I can identify!" (laughs) ?