12 Lessons Students Can Learn From the Food Network

Cooking shows can offer some lessons that are relevant to college life.

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You might have thought that a college student glued to the TV watching cooking shows is wasting his or her time. Au contraire. There's lots of good advice for college to be gleaned from Bobby Flay and Paula Deen, if you only know where to look. Here are a dozen of the most important tips:

1. Be careful not to burn yourself. While the oven is a constant danger for cooks, there are also college courses that are too hot to handle. Be sure that you don't take a course that is too hard for your level of skill and knowledge of the field.

2. Always plan your meals. A multicourse meal needs planning just like a full schedule of courses—each with its own papers, tests, homework, and projects—needs to be coordinated. Be sure to have a calendar and have all the key events penciled (or loaded) in, so you can coordinate all your activities and be ready to serve up your assignments when your professor is ordering them.

3. Don't leave out any key ingredients. As we learned the hard way when we took confectioners sugar for flour, leaving out the flour when you're making cookies is a recipe for culinary disaster. Similar things happen if you don't do a key task assigned for a paper—or don't answer half of the question on an essay test: You're going to have a less-than-stellar outcome for your academic project.

4. Remember to preheat your oven. Before taking a test, it's so important to practice by taking a sample test under tests conditions, either one you construct or (if you're lucky) one your professor gives you. This is the absolutely best way to warm up for an exam.

5. Read the whole recipe before you start. Don't plunge into your paper or exam assignment without reading it through carefully. It's never fun to discover additional instructions, which reveal that you've messed up starting with step No. 2.

6. Don't throw together a stew when a multicourse meal is expected. Many students see writing a paper as just throwing everything into one pot in no particular order. But professors see papers as carefully crafted, multicourse meals that move from an introduction to a statement of the thesis, thorough support for the thesis, and to a conclusion. That's much like a fancy meal with hors d'oeuvres, salad, a main course, and dessert. Just because it's all going to wind up in the same place is no reason to write a paper with all the points jumbled together.

Extra Pointer. Students often come to the professor asking, "Should I put such-and-such point into my paper?" Asking this question is like asking if you should serve asparagus as part of your meal. You can't answer unless you know what else is being served: If broccoli— or cream of asparagus soup—is already on the menu, why would you serve asparagus? (On the other hand, if no other vegetable is being planned, asparagus might be a good idea.)

7. Allow your dough enough time to rise. Like bread, college papers and projects require time to rise (that is, develop and grow on an intellectual level). When you cram your work into the last minute, the likelihood is that you'll be presenting your professor with matza crackers, rather than leavened bread. And your professor will know the difference.

8. Use fresh ingredients. When doing a research paper, it is important that you consult up-to-date sources, as there is nothing less tasty than a paper based on stale—and now discredited—older publications.

9. Adjust your spices before you serve. Be sure to proofread your papers before you submit them, checking not only for problems with spelling and grammar, but also problems with homonyms (no one wants to read about a queen sitting on a thrown) and little typos, like writing "of" instead of "on." And don't forget to avoid the its/it's confusion; this one drives some professors (us included) crazy.

10. Don't Over- or Undercook. The page limits on papers, or the time limits on presentations, should be observed very carefully. You may not see it, but just like your cooking can go up in smoke when you leave it in the oven too long, your grade may disintegrate in smoke when you ramble on long past the paper limit or can't begin to fill the minimum recommended length.

11. Some days, despite your best efforts, your soufflé will fall. Even the best cooks experience cooking disasters and this can happen to good college students, too. When trouble strikes, do not despair. Figure out what went wrong, and then take positive steps to correct it. No need to abandon the kitchen, or your plans for a college degree.

12. Let the judges judge. Just like you'll know your pie's a winner when it comes in first at the Betty Crocker bakeoff, so too you'll know your paper is a success when it gets an A. And though students sometimes think that grading papers and essays is completely subjective, it's really no more subjective than the judge's verdict that someone's pie has caved in, another is burnt at the edges, and a third is just too tart. Yes, it's sometimes hard to decide in borderline cases. But a paper that deserves an A goes down just as smooth and delicious as the perfectly baked pie. And there's never any doubt about that.

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