I had a college professor who always talked about originality. Before every quiz and exam he would tell us that he was looking for a synthesis of new ideas. He told us not to regurgitate his lectures.
“I know the material I’m lecturing about,” he would say. “I want to hear your spin on it.”
I was generally an “A” student, but I got B’s and C’s on most of his tests. I couldn’t understand why. The material wasn’t that difficult. (I won’t say what subject it was, but suffice to say it wasn’t biochemistry. It was a fairly basic class for a humanities major.) Frustrated with my low grades, I went to the prof’s office hours. He was nice enough, but he told me to be more original. This advice didn’t work, and I continued getting mediocre marks.
I bitched about the class to one of guys in my dorm. He had taken the same class a semester before, so I thought he might have some advice.
“I didn’t get anything out of the lectures,” he told me. “I would have failed that class if it weren’t for the recitations. It really helped having a TA to translate all his rantings into plain English.”
“I don’t have a TA. I’m in the honors recitation. Professor ____ teaches it himself.”
“That’s rough, man. Well, if it’s any help, his TA told us to regurgitate whatever he says.”
“Really? He told me to be original.”
“Right. The thing is, he thinks of himself as original. For Professor _____, originality is whatever he says.”
I took my friend’s advice, and on the next exam, I just quoted whatever he said in lecture and recitation. To my surprise, I got an A+. Not only that, but the professor complimented me on my original ideas. That was when I realized that originality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.