Refunds

With a lot of students asking for refunds for the services they can’t use due to COVID-19, I wanted to talk about tuition and other student fees in general.

A big one is the difference in tuition costs between in state and out of state students. Out of state students are overcharged in over to cover the in state students. The fees for things that students aren’t using cover the cost of running those things for the students that are using it (with the exception of right now since nobody is using anything).

People have talked about having the option of paying for only the things you will end up using. The sounds nice, but I think it adds further complications. Please take this with a grain of salt as I don’t actually know if this is how things would work.

Let’ s use the buses for example. If you don’t use the bus system (I walk to campus everyday normally) then you wouldn’t pay for it. This would increase the price for people that do pay for it. Assuming every student who does pay for the busy would pay an equal amount VT would have to know how many people are using the bus system in order to evenly split up the cost. Using the bus might then require your VT ID to actually be swiped to see if you payed for the bus. Or maybe you would get a special marker on your ID or something.

I think a flexible fee system would be better for students (especially those on financial support), but I don’t know how long it would take to implement and how many changes would have to occur for that to happen. There is also then the possibility of prices for certain services changing depending on how many people are using that service. Would there be a situation where someone would no longer want a service because it is too expensive due to too few people using it?

You have 50 minutes to complete this portion of the exam.

If you went to public school like I did in Virginia you probably took an SOL (Standards of Learning) test for one of many different subjects. If you got into grad (which I’m assuming if you’re reading this you did/are), then you probably took the GRE (graduate records examination) or something similar if you are an international student.

I don’t understand why I took one for grad school. The GRE tested my ability to do algebra and geometry and some other high school level math. The tests I’ve taken in grad school have not required me to do some obscure geometry problem or to use the ability that if you add the digits of a number together and they equal 3 (or a multiple of three) then it is divisible by 3 (like 12: 1+2 = 3 or 2691: 2 + 6 + 9 + 1 = 18: 1+8 = 9).

The writing portion was almost a total waste. It prepped me for the experience of having a harsh critic (aka adviser) reading my writing.

Overall though the skills that were tested in the GRE don’t really seem to be the ones tested in grad school. If VT wanted to know how good I was at math why don’t they look at my transcript? I can assure you that multivariable calculus is more intense both in crunching numbers and understanding/applying concepts.

What does the GRE (or a similar standardized test) actually test other than my patience? Do you think it is a good representation of the skills you need for grad (or undergrad for things like SOL) school? Do you think it is a waste?

F*

I’ve been a TA for a few semesters for several different courses. One of them was a lab where you had to turn in lab reports (go figure). I was a TA for that lab class for 2 semesters. The first semester we didn’t use TurnItIn and the other we did.  From what I’ve seen, the undergraduate honor code seems a lot stricter than the graduate one. Or at least it seems to be more enforced than the other.

My assumption is that there is more trust placed in graduate students compared to undergraduates. I don’t know if that is true, but I haven’t encountered TurnItIn in any of my graduate courses (but then again I never had it in my undergraduate) and you don’t have to write the honor code on every assignment you turn.

One of the punishments for violating the honor code is an F* which signifies that the student failed the course because of cheating (or violating the honor code). However, they can have that * removed after taking a course or something. There are of course other sanctions that you can find here.

I’m not sure how I feel about being able to remove the * from the F* because it defeats the purpose of having it on there. I do like how flexible the sanctions are (“a faculty member may recommend more severe or lesser penalties”). I’ve been in a class where copying a figure from the lab manual and using it (even if cited correctly) was plagiarism. While I agree it is plagiarism I feel this offense (especially if the figure is only used as a supporting one) is not as bad as copying paragraphs from other students’ work and should have an appropriate response.

Breadth and Depth

One of the requirements for some engineering degrees is to general education credits (I think they are also called CLE, but don’t quote me) in addition to the engineering courses.

On the surface this is a great idea. People should learn about different things to become more well rounded and learn about the things they are interested in or things that are important to them. However, I have heard some people taking issue with this. The complaint is that it cuts into the amount of engineering courses that students can take.

For my undergraduate degree I had to take 7 of 8 intro engineering courses (I think it got changed to 6). I decided to skip the one that sounded the most boring (which was tough because most of them sounded boring). Two of the most skipped intro engineering course for civil engineering are Intro to Geotechnical Engineering and the mechanics of materials class.

That should seem a little backward since in Civil Engineering 99.99% of all things you build are made out of something (a material if you will) and placed on the ground (the geo if you will). If most students skip these two classes then they don’t have that initial experience of the importance of knowing the properties of what you are building stuff out of and the strengths (and weaknesses) of the ground you are building stuff on.

The dilemma is then do we drop the general education requirements or add more hours? Or change which classes are required instead of having a pick 7 (or 6) from these 8?

Nickle and Dime

There’s a lot of talk about COVID-19 lately (and with good reason), so I wanted to look at things that aren’t strictly related to that. A few of the things that are sitting on my desk here are textbooks for various classes. I’ll admit the only textbooks I own are the ones that were absolutely mandatory that I couldn’t find online… legally of course.

I don’t know if this is a coincidence but the amount of classes that have had a mandatory requirement for textbooks has dropped dramatically when I entered grad school. I’ve had class where there was no book required or the book was available for free. I would’ve thought this to be the opposite. That more complex subjects would require a comprehensive and “well” written source material.

I guess the point of this post is me wondering how a professor decides what textbook to use (if any). I would assume that they would use material they’ve read or used in the past, probably from courses they’ve taken. Do professors have an obligation to choose a textbook that is cheap or easily accessible for all students?

There is of course the shady side of textbooks. Where you need to buy a new textbook just to get the internet code to connect to the online portal (what a scam). Or new editions that move different sections around and add a tiny amount of new information to keep prices high.

I’ve also heard good and bad stories about classes where the textbook was written by the professor. On the one hand, if the professor owns the book they can make it free for the class. On the other, I’ve had a friend where the professor’s textbook was sold for a high price and updated frequently with minor changes.

Paid in Experience

At the University of Cincinnati, there is a mandatory internship program for all students in the College of Engineering and students in the College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning (there might be more, but these I know for sure).  It initially started in the college of engineering, but then spread to other colleges as they saw the value in having a mandatory internship program. This internship requires students (in engineering) to intern every other semester starting in their second year. This internship can either be working at a firm or conducting research. There is a lot of flexibility in which firms you want to work at, you can work or study abroad, you can work at the same firm each time or at different ones each time.  A relatively minor downside is that this makes the undergraduate degree take another year to complete.

This provides many opportunities for students to experience what having a job in their degree would be like, while still in school. This will allow students to both shape their curriculum to focus on the things they enjoyed in their internships and to build professional connections in the field they want to work in.

I think this should be required for most (if not all) colleges (like engineering, architecture, etc) within a university. I by chance got an international research experience in Australia and that greatly influenced what I wanted to do with my life. However, this was by chance and I took it on a whim. I don’t know what I would be doing or where I would be if I had not taken that overseas study. This is why I think it should be required for mandatory real world experiences for students to see what the job they are studying for actually entails.

[Join with Computer Audio]

With the pandemic that is COVID19, most (if not all) colleges are switching to online only classes (to Zoom for the most part hence the title’s reference). The article here talks about how moving to online classes is impacting both instructors and students. Obviously the dynamic is now very different from what it was before. The article addresses some interesting points about the difficulties of transitioning to online only courses like keeping students engaged and dealing with different time zones.

One instructor mentioned in the article mentions how they thought their first online class went well, until they asked for feedback from students. All of the students replied to something along the lines of it was hard to engage or they didn’t like it. I’ve taken a couple of online courses both over the summer (during high school) and during the spring/fall semester. This was by choice and I hated it both of them. I couldn’t be bothered to really focus during class time and easily distracted myself.

The article brought up an interesting point about attendance. I’ve taken a few classes in undergrad (and maybe some in grad school) where attendance directly impacted your grade. If some synchronous classes are still doing this, what is the impact for students who are in different time zones? They provided a great example for an 8 am class. I’ve grumbled to myself a lot about going to such an early class, but I couldn’t imagine being in a time zone where the class begins at 5 am for me (and maybe only me).  Especially since I didn’t choose to sign up for a 5 am class (who would?).

On the other side, asynchronous classes require students to be more focused on setting and meeting deadlines. If instructors are uploading prerecorded slides or material to read from it can become a tedious task to consume that information alone. I don’t think I’m the only one that would prefer to have material taught by an instructor than simply a textbook or powerpoint slides.

I think the important thing here is that students and instructors must be more open about their expectations and experiences. It is very difficult to read expressions and the “mood” of a classroom if it is through a computer screen. I think there is a lot of nonverbal information lost in transitioning to an online class and as a result both sides must be more verbal.

$19.95 plus shipping and handling

The journal I picked for this blog post is the International Journal of Geo-Engineering.  I found it off of the Springer website. Its editor in chief is Young-Hoon Jung and had 51,850 downloads in 2018 according to Springer. According to their own description,

“The goal of this interdisciplinary journal is to provide a forum to discuss the knowledge and experience of geo-engineering from fundamentals to cutting edge technologies.”

The benefit of an open access journal is of course that people don’t have to pay to read the articles. In the case of the journal I picked, you also don’t have to pay a publishing cost thanks to the Korean Geotechnical Society.

The idea behind information/research being freely traded is nice, especially if someone who doesn’t work at a university or doesn’t have the money to buy some of these articles wants to read up on research. I don’t know how many people that aren’t in research have the desire to read research articles (I’ll be honest, I don’t want to read research papers in general).

So why publish in a paywall protected journal, maybe it’s because the impact factor is (generally) better in non-open access journals? The impact factor is 1.26 (https://www.resurchify.com/all_ranking_details_2.php?id=10669) or 0.25 (https://www.researchgate.net/journal/2198-2783_International_Journal_of_Geo-Engineering) depending on where you look. However, if you go to

Scientific Excellence at Scale: Open Access journals have a clear citation advantage over subscription journals

You’ll find that the Frontiers journal has some high impact factor values and that open access journals have somewhat decent impact factors compared to pay per view journals. What’s the benefit of publishing in a paywall protected journal then? I have no idea, all I know is whatever funding I get pays for the costs and not me.

You are weighed in the balances, and are found wanting.

The idea behind the scientific method and science in general is not about being right or, to some extent, finding the truth. It is more about offering an explanation in the hopes that it will be refuted by another more accurate explanation support by evidence and logic. This would/should imply that being wrong is not a bad thing, like that 1 2 3 ta-da thing we did last class. Following that idea, discovering that your thesis is wrong because of the data you got from an experiment is as good as discovering that your thesis is correct (in an ideal world).

Unfortunately, the first two updates on the ORI website are for research misconducted (when I wrote this). Both by falsifying data to support a desired conclusion (https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-neumeister-alexander and https://ori.hhs.gov/content/case-summary-tataroglu-ozgur).

Of course the first question you might ask is why falsify data? If all any scientist is after is confirming/rejecting an idea, why make fake data to support a specific idea?

Perhaps the root of this evil (i.e., falsifying data) is from the love of money (to stay on theme with the title of this post). If somebody wants tenure at a particular university or funding to perform experiments, they need results. Generally, you would want results that support your thesis. I would assume that something like the NSF would continue to offer grants to a researcher that continued to disprove their ideas.

This creates a scenario where somebody might be more inclined to create results that support them because they need/want money, in the form of tenure or funding to do experiments or buy equipment. It is also possible that somebody just wants to be right and look good in front of other researchers or the public eye.  Both of these reasons for falsifying data ruins the relationship between the public and researchers, within the researcher community, and within the public (an obvious example is the anti-vax movement).

Maybe one day this need of money and materialistic things will vanish a la Star Trek and we can explore the stars with bad acting and bad special effects free from bad science. I’m doubtful that this will happen, but hopeful that it could.

Boilerplate

Virginia Tech’s Mission Statement:

“Inspired by our land-grant identity and guided by our motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech is an inclusive community of knowledge, discovery, and creativity dedicated to improving the quality of life and the human condition within the Commonwealth of Virginia and throughout the world.”

Location/Country: Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

Type of University (according to wikipedia): public, land-grant, sea-grant, space-grant, senior military college

Technical University of Denmark’s Mission Statement:

“The raison d’être behind DTU’s mission is founded on the polytechnic idea as conceived in the first half of the nineteenth century, since when it has distinguished—and continues to distinguish—all aspects of DTU’s activities and development. This development is characterized by the University continuing to interact closely with society at both national and international levels so as to generate value. This interaction leads to mutually fruitful partnerships with industry, the service sector, and the public sector which are the foundation for DTU’s value creation.”

Location/Country: Kongens Lyngby, Copenhagen, Denmark

Type of University (according to wikipedia): public, technical

I think what initially stood out to me about the two mission statements were the length of them. Virginia Tech’s mission statement is one sentence (albeit a long one) and DTU’s mission statement is three sentences. The terseness of either statement makes them extremely vague. Both universities want to improve the quality of life, but neither state how they will do that.

As I read these a few times through, they seem little more than fluff. The statements are designed to make the university seem great (to future students, employees, investors, etc), but there isn’t much substance to them.  They don’t tell me much about the university itself or how they differ from another university’s mission statement. I think if I were to boil down both of these mission statements, they would be indistinguishable from either.  The only time I’ve read a mission statement is for an assignment like this one. The statement didn’t do anything for me when I was looking at different universities to apply for undergrad, it didn’t sway me one way or another as a future grad student, I don’t think it will do anything for me if I eventually seek a faculty position.