Scholarly Essay

For the scholarly essay for our future professoriate course, I decided to investigate the relationship between epistemology and the evaluation of research integrity. It led me to the following section which functions as an intro and abstract for the essay.


“Publish or perish” goes the saying in academia. Developing and maintaining a strong research program appears to have overtaken other roles to define what it is to be a faculty member. Of course this is all relative to the institution, but at a research University faculty members are expected to do a significant amount of research in order to advance and eventually become tenured.

Without addressing the ethical implications of a relatively self-centered definition of the professoriate (with teaching and service roles as other-centered activities), it is important to address how we come to judge the value of research. While many judgments are sure to be discipline-specific, there are overarching epistemological claims about the reliability and validity of research.

From these foundational claims come an understanding of how research integrity is sacrificed in order to perpetuate scholarly existence or more simply–not perishing. I am particularly interested in how epistemologically-based claims of research integrity address the work in various disciplines (below I use my own discipline–communication–and the discipline of a close family member–geology–as examples for this inquiry across the university).

Beyond this inquiry, I hope to address how epistemological beliefs address the claims not only of scholars, but of those outside academia with strongly held beliefs about truth (often influenced by religious beliefs, conspiracy theories, etc.).

Of particular interest to me is why those who criticize and expose the threats to research integrity by other scholars make concessions for these groups outside of academia and tolerate scientifically unsupported claims.


If you are interested in reading more, email me at and I’ll be happy to send along the full manuscript.

Subjective grading

In my department and my TA position, the common advice is to go with your gut. Is this an A speech? Is this a B+ speech? Subjectivity is everywhere, but we must be consistent and fair among all students.

I teach public speaking, and am often confronted with challenges from students on the grades I assess. The best thing I can do to inoculate my methods from these attacks is to be very thorough and clear about my grading practices, and to apply those practices fairly across students. It is a problem I believe most instructors in the humanities face in their teaching, but as a younger GTA I find myself to be an easy target for students who understand the challenges of grading a course like this.

My brother teaches geology in his assistantship at an institution similar to Virginia Tech. He was discussing with me a grading dispute with a student the other day. The student argued that they had put much effort into the task, but my brother was resilient. He held to the facts–the student’s work did not ring true with fact, the literal rock-hard truth.

What constitutes a good speech is not so clearly defined, and that is a burden that those in my discipline will bear while those in the sciences can easily escape.

An antiquated system

As we are nearing the final month of our semester here at Virginia Tech, I’ve been thinking about the semester system which separates the year into fall and spring semesters. It seems a fair assumption to make that most Universities in the south east (if not the entire U.s.) operate on this system. At schools like VT, that means for students to be considered full time they must enroll in 12 hours (many times satisfied by four 3-credit-hour courses).

I take no issue with how the semester system treats late August through November. It allows for a diverse schedule–a student could take one course in literature and another in biochemistry–and affords instructors the time often needed to ease students into course topics. For many courses I would imagine the semester model to be very beneficial, allowing for course material to “sink in.”

I also believe that in many cases instructors aptly prepare students for final work with tasks throughout the semester that end up constituting the foundation for penultimate submissions. However, during my time as an undergraduate and now graduate student, I have witnessed much the opposite with most of my instructors.

Many instructors, practicing poor time-management themselves, often put off major deadlines until the end of the course and don’t allow time for necessary student feedback throughout the semester. In addition it is much easier for instructors to grade students’ final work as a significant portion of the final course score.

This system–which I’ve argued espouses procrastination–also seems to be causing scheduling concerns outside of the classroom. Administrative tasks and other faculty meetings containing issues are often pushed off until the end of the semester, at which in their critical point must be addressed and resolved before the break. Inter-institutional associations are often also affected by the system.

Although it may not allow such diverse schedules, trimester and quarter systems may allow students and instructors with a schedule that provides a bit more focus and a more balanced work load during finals terms. While I’ll be the first to note how good it feels to finish finals work and head home on break, these models seem more appropriate in providing students of modern higher education a more balanced experience.

Student evaluations and their role in higher education

This past week, students in my COMM 2004- Public Speaking course completed a midterm evaluation of the course. Although they were first wary of the phrase “midterm,” they soon discovered that this assignment was similar to the SPOT evaluations they are asked to complete when the course has nearly concluded.

I told the students, in the spirit of J. Mayer, to say what they need to say but also understand that the Scholar “test” would allow me to see who makes what comments. Unlike the anonymous final evaluations, these are often not rude or blunt (like one comment I received last summer that simply stated: “this class sucks”), but contain alot of praise for my teaching and helpful suggestions for the course design. While these provide an ego boost and some info that helps when tweaking the course layout, the idea of course evaluations gives students some power over faculty members, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants like me.

The almighty tenure process among other evaluations of teaching effectiveness make use of these student evaluations I understand. In this way, consistent negative student evaluations may harm the future of teachers and professors. While this may at first appear a good check to make sure that students are satisfied with the instruction that they pay high tuition rates for, this business metaphor will eventually harm universities. For example, I have experienced two types of negative comments: those that criticize an instructor’s effectiveness and those that criticize the difficulty and standards of the course. If we are to think of an institution as selling degrees to these customers, the importance of this second type will be magnified. Why would students attend Virginia Tech for an engineering degree when they could receive one from another accredited school for less money?

The thesis of this blog is this- student evaluations should always be taken with a grain of salt. There will always be students who like the course and those who don’t like the course. For some I would even imagine they are responding with a similar negative attitude to many of their courses, especially those required by their degree like public speaking.



This past week I fulfilled my TA duties by running the scantrons for a large introductory course exam.

I thought this would be no big deal. In past years, I had just dropped off the exam at Innovation Space and received it back through intercampus mail. Unfortunately, this was not my experience.

Most of my Friday was spent preparing the exams, running the scantrons, and subsequently downloading various software programs to analyze and then print the data. This is grunt work, and worse, I was struggling alongside a VT professor who could be spending his time better serving the university.

Blogs, which I’ve heard can be cathartic, are I know not in existence purely for the purposes of ranting. However, I believe that something should be said about budgetary effects that harm rather than enhance the lives and work of faculty members. Luckily the professor I serve as a TA was spared this experience, but I know many others may not be so fortunate.

This seems to be another cut to services, while student fees keep on rising…