One of my master students is almost graduating. It took a while, with lots of tears, sweat and blood (on both sides, I believe). I spent yesterday and today a grand total of 5 hours, correcting the last version of their thesis.
Now, is it fair to not want to give this student a high grade because of everything they didn’t learn in the whole process? Or should I reward them for the bit they did manage to pick up in the whole process?
We tend to grade students on three different things: the process they went through, their final presentation and their final thesis. When it comes to the process I’m highly minded to give them barely a pass, the final presentation is still to come, and so is the final thesis. However, considering all the help we’ve given over the past 1,5 year, I would have expected a better penultimate version. Not one where I had to spend another 5 hours correcting. Although, granted, 3,5 hours were correcting on paper and 1,5 hours were making sure they came in a constructive form in Word.

Still, can I detract that effort from their final grade? Or should I let that depend on how well the final version of their thesis is? I find this a difficult position to be in, really. Although,  at least now I’ve been through it, so maybe I’ll be able to handle this better in the future.

If you’re going on vacation, and said vacation happens before we give a new assignment, we CANNOT give you the assignment beforehand.Why do you think we should make an exception in your case?

We don’t think we should make exceptions, except when they’re study related. You know beforehand you’re getting assignments. Plan accordingly, and don’t go on vacation 3 weeks before the semester ends.

No love,

FAW

After reading Prof. Chaos part on the lost generation, it seems fair to assume that a couple of those have ended up in my class as well.
All the necessary information is in the syllabus, which is on the website and you can even get a paper copy from me if and when you manage to find my office. We have classes on monday and discussions on wednesday or thursday, according to what was scheduled by the administration’s office (don’t blame me for having to be there at 8:45, I wasn’t consulted either). Deadlines for essays and such are all on wednesdays and no, you cannot get an assignment before the rest of the people just because you’re going on vacation and didn’t notice discussion are on thursdays for a change.

Also, to the students who were giving comments on my comments: if you insist on doing this in the hallway while my door is open, don’t be surprised that I’m prepared for annoyed faces. Also, don’t tell me that asking for clarifications and definitions has nothing to do with the content of the essay and that there were no comments about the content of the essay itself. They did catch me unprepared for that, since I’m not sure how to explain that if you don’t tell me what a term means (according to you), then I can’t assess whether or not you’ve understood the literature. Also, if a couple of those terms are essential for your argument, why would it not be a good idea to define them?

I understand it’s not that easy to write a clear, concise (i.e. limit of 500 words) essay sometimes, but that’s partially what you’re here to learn for. If you’re not prepared to listen to my comments, don’t ask for feedback (although that might not stop me giving feedback) and only look at your grade. Now, if you’re interested to learn ask how you can improve and we’ll continue to have a constructive discussion. Up until that time, maybe you might stew a little longer and feel like you’ve been treated unfairly. Next time, be prepared to be tested on whether you got breast milk or formula as a baby! Or whether you were dropped on the head…

In the interest of full disclosure: when I was about 3, I managed to fall and drop myself on the head.

When teaching a course that includes students from different years, should one take experience into account? Judging from the article FSP referred to, the students would probably much prefer this. That way, when grading assignments, second years are only compared to second years. However, they could learn more by being compared to third years. Climb up a level they didn’t consider yet… Not to mention that third years can also learn from second years.

Yes, a year of extra experience can help when the main point of the assignment is to write a structured argument, but it is by no means certain that everybody has learned this so far. At least, judging from the handed in assignments, years didn’t make a lot of difference. Paying attention probably counted for a lot more, and rereading the given literature. I don’t know how much effort students put in their assignment, but it is not possible for me to grade them on that anyhow. Of course, it is possible to have put in a lot of effort while not executing the assignment as asked. Is this a lot of effort down the drain? No, learn from it!

Admittedly, none of the students have really complained about being in mixed groups after the course started. Probably it isn’t as difficult as they thought to find time nobody has other commitments, or the topic is interesting enough to keep them coming back for more. At least two students mentioned that so far they find the reading material interesting and fascinating to discuss about so that’s good news for next year. Let’s hope it’s also reflected in the course evaluation, by the way. It would be nice to be able to show 2 positive evaluations from teaching positions.

The most fun part of this course is to see the students grow in experience, knowledge and self-confidence. It’s good to know that I can realise that!

A couple of days ago saw me quaking in my shoes somewhat because I had a meeting with UniversitySupervisor but didn’t feel particularly prepared. However, she was very enthousiastic about the results obtained, and managed to cheer me up  completely.

It’s lovely when UniversitySupervisor does this to me, since it gives me some much-needed confidence again that my research is worthwhile and useful. While on average I think so too, sometimes it feels like I should do research that is maybe more life-saving.

Also, the current students are so much better to work with. S2 lately felt himself drowning in the theory, but hopefully after our conversation he’s feeling better and more able to support his head to breath while swimming the literature/theory river.

s1, who was off to a different continent for three months, has shown up again. Because of other bullshit he pulled in the past, I insisted that UniversitySupervisor also be present. We had a nice, brief (mercifully!) conversation, in which we cleared up that he should look at the data of his experiment, get them clear in his head and then come to us and talk about them. We’ll see whether he manages to do. Right now, my hopes aren’t very high though, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to surpass them.

Or what to do when you co-supervise? I’m used to my students being co-supervised by somebody from the university, but not that somebody from Vague Company is actually sitting in on the meetings and tries to push through their own agenda.

Really, what we planned to do was to discuss this beforehand. Obviously, both of us miserably failed to remember this, which may have resulted in a confused student. Maybe the confusion was good for his soul, but it didn’t really convince me.

We’ve now hashed out which is who’s responsabilities and who should say something when, but bringing this to the meeting table might require more practice than a 20 minute discussion. I understand my co-worker wants to be closely involved, the student is working for his project after all. On the other hand, if I have to stop him from starting to write out my student’s problem statement something hasn’t been communicated well. Indications for important on content, yes. Brainstorming for topics, yes. Actual writing out? No, that’s the student’s responsability as far as I am concerned. How will you learn to take your own notes from a meeting when you can assume somebody else will do that and actually email you the results? Students should learn to bring their own external memory.

Likewise, my co-worker has a number of side-deliverables he wants to see – but how crucial they are and how feasable is entirely unclear right now. I’d rather the student planned for the main focus first, and then take a look at how / whether to achieve those other deliverables. I wonder what other people’s take on student responsability and co-supervision are?

Recently, while sitting at the airport with two friends who’ve already obtained their PhD, we were discussing current research plans and opportunities for the future. While announcing that I officialy had gotten a co-lecture position for a course on cognition, one of them looked at me and said “You volunteered to teach?! But that’s the last thing a self-respecting academic should do!” Half-joking, half-serious, that remark, I could tell, but still serious enough to make me want to stand still and reflect.

Yes, I volunteered to teach (not just TA), because teaching makes up quite a big chunk of life in academia. If trying teaching now gives me chance to find out whether I like it or not, why shouldn’t I do so? So far, supervising MS students is the other experience, and that has also proved to be invaluable. Mostly, with regard to the selection and management process (I really detest micromanagement!), but also with regards to insight into the kind of questions really interested students ask.

So, spring semester of 2008 I helped out in a course on cognition, gave 3 lectures myself, came up with exam questions for said lectures, graded the exams, helped with coordinating discussions and graded posters. The only thing it did was make me hungry for more, give me ideas on how to reorganize, which other books to use, find more articles for examples to make the students as curious about the world of cognition and psychology as I am.

As a result, the lecturer in charge asked me to cooperate again with him this semester, and gave me responsibility for a group-based actions of the students. He won’t claim responsibility for it either, and I get my share of the evaluations. I think, if I survive this semester, it will have given me a good grounding in how to prepare a syllabus (how to write one up to) and hopefully I’ll still love teaching. Also, this might very well steer my decisions about post-docs. Ideally, my first post-doc would give me a couple of years experience abroad and let me test my hands more fully in the waters of academia: i.e. not only research and publications, but how to share the research with students, be the undergrad or graduate ones.