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Accept No Substitutes

Last week was student week on Dragons’ Den. Dragons’ Den is a popular CBC television show on which young entrepreneurs try to convince a group of seasoned businesspeople to invest in their products, inventions, or businesses. The presenters last week were all students.

First up was a university student who had invented a cellphone app that can scan textbooks and automatically reduce them to summaries about a fifth the size of the original. He explained that this will reduce the amount of reading that university students will have to do. (For you older readers, it is essentially an electronic version of Coles Notes. For you younger readers, there is no point in explaining what Coles Notes were since you don’t really want to know anyway.)

Second was a student who had developed a drug supplement that would increase alertness and improve cognitive abilities. He said it was a legal alternative to the illegal drugs many university students (up to 29 percent) are now taking to enhance their performance.

The dragons (the seasoned businesspeople) thought the first invention especially was “awesome.” One enthused, “The future of Canada is bright!” All six dragons agreed to invest in the app.

As someone who has earned four degrees without resorting to such methods, I was deeply offended by both pitches. I don’t appreciate people using performance-enhancing drugs and other corner-cutting measures to complete university degrees. These methods are unfair to those who don’t use such methods, and they cheapen university degrees. If you don’t have the intelligence and the work ethic to earn a university degree, you don’t deserve one.

Both inventions are typical of modern attitudes. Too many modern students (like many other people today) don’t want to do the hard work necessary to earn a degree. They are looking for shortcuts, easy answers. They want to do 20 percent of the work and get the same result. They want to spend most of their time partying and then take some pills that will enable them to stay up all night when a report is due or an exam is looming. They want to spend fewer hours working and get the same degree.

But think about the result. Do you really want a doctor or an accountant or an engineer who only studied 20 percent of the required subject matter? Often thorough explanations and fine details are key to really understanding a subject. Do you seriously want to hire someone who has only a partial understanding of his profession? And who knows whether the cellphone app will select the most important information to include in the condensed version? Similarly, do you want to hire someone who puts off doing your work until the last possible moment and then rushes through it while taking drugs?

A few years ago, my daughter was taking a university course. On the first assignment, she received the highest mark in the class, almost 20 percent higher than the second best student.

After the class, another student approached her with an urgent question. The conversation went something like this:

“How did you do it? What’s your secret?” he demanded.

She asked, “What do you mean?”

He said, “What’s your secret for doing so well? For instance, did you attend all the classes?”


“Did you do all the readings?”


“Did you do the supplementary readings?”


“Did you do the practice questions?”


“Did you do the extra, optional study questions?”



There is no secret formula or easy shortcut to success. The road to success requires hard work and a commitment to doing a job completely and thoroughly.

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