Real Talk: Harsh Professors, Speaking Anxiety, and Feeling Unwanted

Welcome to Real Talk, Subject’s latest advice column with senior psychology and sociology major Savannah Johnson. Each month, Savannah dives into your burning questions about anything and all, judgment-free and with love. Email your questions to or DM us on Reddit @subjectmediadotorg to be featured in our next column.

There’s a class I really want to take this semester, but the professor is known to be harsh and the workload is a lot. It’s not strictly required for my major, so I don’t necessarily need it. I am very interested in the material, but I’m worried it’ll be very overwhelming and my GPA will suffer. Should I take it anyway? 

As you mentioned, there are a lot of factors to consider here! Since it’s the beginning of the semester, you have a few days to get acquainted with the class before deciding whether to continue with it. Review the syllabus thoroughly – this usually gives me a pretty good idea of what to expect, and if I feel that it’s the right time for me to succeed in a course. The first couple of lectures will also give you an idea of the teaching style and atmosphere of the classroom, and if you’re a good fit. 

If you find that the class isn’t for you after all, that’s totally okay! There are plenty of databases you have access to as a student that can provide you with academic literature about topics that would have been covered in the class, so you’re able to do personal research. It may feel strange to drop a class, but it can be worthwhile if you know it’s not the best for you (I’ve done this a couple times myself!). It’s good to try things out if it means learning about topics you’re interested in! 

This may be controversial, but I personally wouldn’t let concerns about your GPA play a large role in if you should take the class. I’ve been in multiple classes where I don’t do so hot grade wise, but I enjoyed the content, so I found the experience worthwhile. Plus, you have other classes that you can take at the same time to maintain your GPA or boost it. Whatever you choose, I hope that you enjoy the class, or find another option that is just as interesting and productive for you! 

I’m taking two upper-level seminars and I’m nervous. I am terrible at speaking and fear I’m going to sound stupid in front of my class and professor. Even though I think I have worthwhile things to say, I can’t seem to express myself properly and everything just comes out terribly. How to manage?

Public speaking is a skill, and therefore requires practice. Personally, I always struggled with presenting in large groups – if it wasn’t my hands that were shaking while I was up front, it was my voice. However, as I got more opportunities to practice public speaking for class or for work, it became much more natural to me. It sounds like the same situation may apply to you: you just need some practice! 

Granted, there will always be some awkward experiences when you’re learning and refining a new skill. There have been plenty of times in the past where I’ve tripped up or gotten lost (especially when I had to present in a different language for my French classes!), but those experiences allowed me to analyze what I struggled with, and how to improve for next time. Honestly, the first time things go wrong can be awful, but once you get it out of the way, it feels like jumping over a massive hurdle! 

You are absolutely not alone in this situation – there are plenty of students experiencing this fear, and some of them are likely in class with you. Seminars also feel extra intimidating in college, and it can be daunting to speak in front of so many different people around you. 

If you want to contribute a question or comment during class, I’d recommend writing it down first, so that you have an outline for what you want to say. I’ve seen other students do this in the past, and they produce some seriously eloquent talking points as a result! Scripts and outlines don’t have to be limited to just presentations. Keep in mind, too, that the professor is typically an expert in their field and has done a LOT of research on the topics being discussed. If you feel like you’re fumbling through what you want to say, they’ll do their best to guide and work with you to help you get your point across in class. I’ve been in that boat before, where I’m describing my point, but don’t know how to get there – usually, the professor is able to fill in the blanks! Finally, try your best not to be hard on yourself if you stumble with your words in the beginning – it happens, and can happen to anyone. It’s an opportunity for you to grow in your public speaking skills, and it’s okay to struggle! 

I feel like my friends don’t like me, but just simply tolerate me. Sometimes they don’t invite me to things, and when they do include me in stuff, I feel so unwanted. My self-esteem has taken a hit and I feel pretty worthless. Not sure what else to do because I don’t know anyone else here. 

I can’t imagine how isolating this must feel for you – social interactions are so important in our lives, and feeling tolerated rather than wanted can be difficult to experience. 

The first step, as I typically recommend, is to have a conversation with your friends about what you’re experiencing and feeling. They may be oblivious and are subconsciously giving off this vibe – for example, I know that when I have a lot on my mind, I tend to distance myself from people, and that can make it seem like I don’t want them around. I think it’s important that you express how you feel, and what situations and contexts are making you feel this way. 

Your personal well-being and sense of worth are incredibly important – if you feel rejected by your friends, it’s okay to find new ones! However, I completely understand the struggle behind trying to find new people to socialize with. Even though this college is massive, it can be difficult to find your “people.” Our experiences and values make us unique individuals, and finding others that fit with you is an intense process. I’d recommend starting broadly – attending some social events held by the school or some club events to connect with others. Clubs are especially great because they bring you together with others that have common interests. Having conversations with classmates is also an opportunity to socialize with others, even if it’s just talking about the class. 

Finding new connections can be hard and may take time. This is also a chance for you to reflect on what you value/want in a friendship. What made you feel unwanted or tolerated, and why? Thinking about your experiences with your current friend can help you in establishing future friendships. 

Again, I think that having a conversation with your friends is the first step and will allow you to move forward. You may be able to rectify the situation with them, or it may be a sign to move on and pursue connections elsewhere, maybe through clubs or other events. Regardless of the results of the conversation, I hope that you will find closure and understanding as to what is contributing to these thoughts and feelings about being tolerated.