Read Like a Butterfly

Story by

Uttam Gaulee




Higher Ed Admin & Policy



It took me quite some time to figure out the right way of handling reading when I first joined a graduate program at a US university. Due to the academic culture I came from, I was used to reading like a bee rather than a butterfly. And this created a huge challenge.

In the first semester of my academic year in the US, I was simply overwhelmed by the amount of readings assigned. Because English was not my native language, I was only used to doing intensive reading, focusing on each sentence and often stopping to look up meanings of unfamiliar words. It was simply not possible to finish even half of the readings assigned, so I frantically flipped pages as the time to go to class approached. Then in the class, I often had to pretend that I had read everything but in fact in some of the cases I could read only 10% of the assigned reading. I often felt awkward because this acting wouldn’t always be successful.

For the entire first semester, I only contemplated on how to smartly pretend to have read everything by strategically jumping in (participate) when the professor is talking about the portion of readings that I was able to cover and keep silent or look other way when he was talking about other stuff that I didn’t manage to read. I would hope that other colleagues in the class would discuss and I would probably understand what the rest of the reading was. I would definitely catch up something from listening to others but result of this strategy was paltry.

Also, since I knew that I hadn’t completed my work, I felt inferior to my own colleagues, and even worse, I couldn’t concentrate in reading whatever I was reading. I would be worried about what I was going to miss in the reading. Hence, I couldn’t even enjoy the part of the reading that I could comfortably cover. That semester was horrible!

Once the semester ended somehow and I completed all assignments, I decided to utilize my free time before the start of another semester to find a solution to my problem. During that time, I tried to do some research on how to improve my reading skills and speed. Fortunately, I found many resources including texts, presentations, and even videos put up by the university to address such problems. From those videos, the first thing I found most satisfying was that I was not alone! They talked about statistics that showed that a fair number of students suffered from the lack of apt reading techniques and often stumble along the way. So they had prepared such presentations to address these issues. I felt good—I was not alone. Well, what then? Another important lesson that stuck to me from one of those vides was: “be here now!” This meant that I should divide the chunks of reading and plan ahead when to read what. That helped me concentrate on what I was reading at the moment and not worry about missing other things. Also, while reading, there is a lot which we can strategically skim, or just skip. Even more important was having a cursory look at all the readings assigned for the week and then trying to find the connections or relationships between them.

Once the “big picture” of the readings came to mind, it became much easier to decide what to focus on or what to strategically skim or skip. This was immensely helpful. Thus, I quickly began to learn the tricks of dealing with the readings. I started learning exactly what they meant by “read like a butterfly” (i.e. pick and choose, then focus on what is necessary or useful!). I will share my experience of learning to write better in another post.

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  1. Pingback: Write Like a Bee : TRANSLATING SUCCESS

  2. Jamila Andaiye Scott

    Thank your for your transparency!

  3. Jamila Andaiye Scott

    Thank you for your transparency in this narrative!

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