Faculty or Industry? The Battle that PhD Students Shall Ever Face

Faculty or Industry, that’s the dilemma of most of Ph.D. students when finishing their degree. Although the main goal when pursuing a Ph.D. is to be a faculty, the idea of working in the industry is always there, especially, for students with no industry experience.

I believe that having experience outside the academia will enhance our performance as professors. Everything, in theory, looks so great but it is only when we apply the concepts in the real world that we really learn. We are asking for a change in higher education. We are asking for a more active learning environment where students should deal with real-world problems. However, if we lack of experience in the field, we cannot enrich the learning process of students. Does it make sense to you?

Even if we want to go the industry to get some experience, we do have the problem that most of the companies, at least in the construction industry, look for master students instead of PhDs. If we are lucky and we get a job, the salary would be the same as a person with a master degree. For sure, the life would be a little bit less stressful than if you work in the academy. Now, if you work in the industry for some years and then you want to go come back to the academy, your chances to get a position are really low. Why?  You have not been active in research.

I had no idea how much competition I will have to face in this academic environment. It is crazy! In the first years, an assistant professor would be racing against the clock to become a tenure. Even as a Ph.D. student I have seen how students want to be always in the first place. Is it worth?  They want to receive all the awards and scholarships and they feel disappointed if they do not get it. I do not compare myself to anyone. I am my own competition. I prefer to enjoy the process rather than being in a race during my entire life. I am doing my Ph.D. because

1) I want to be an expert in my research area,

2) I love teaching and service and,

3) I enjoy research.

Wouldn’t be possible to combine the industry and the academy?  Why the academy has to be a race, a competition? If I follow that path I would definitively not enjoy my job and I would lose my purpose.

Posted in GRAD 5104 | 2 Comments

Do We Follow the Same Book?

Do they follow the same book?

That was the question that my friend asked the class when she was wondering why undergrad students in the United States lack of basic knowledge when they start college. To be honest, I did not understand why she was asking that. I was thinking, what’s the matter with the books? I am saying this because, in Colombia, the books that we follow in high school depend on the professor. Sometimes, in public schools’ students are not required to buy books because these are expensive. Even, each private high school uses different books. My face expression was the same than that of most of the American students in that room. What are you talking about? Of course, “we do not follow the same book during high school”. That was the answer that she got from the room.

Interesting! that was what I heard from her. It turns out that in Iran all high school students follow the same book. When I am saying “all students”, I am referring to the entire country. Can you believe that? I am still in shock! I just never imagine that something like that could ever happen. In that way, all students including those who live in rural areas have the same opportunities to be admitted to college than those who live in urban areas, even students from public and private schools. According to her, the education system is very unfair if we do not follow the same book. I have never taught that following the same books could make a difference. That makes total sense to me.  I always thought that only the difference in the level of education provided by private and public high schools could affect students’ performance.

It is very predictable that each professor will teach in a different way. However, just the fact that all students will learn the same contents makes the competition a little bit fair. At that point, it will depend on student’s motivation to master that knowledge. They would do not have to start from scratch as sometimes happen when you do not learn a specific topic in high school.

Do you think that by following the same books during high school we are making the competition fairer? Would you like to have something like in today’s education system?


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Active Learning Should Be Around the Corner in Higher Education

Don’t you feel that even if you are interested in learning you cannot keep up that excitement until the end of the class? Instead, you feel bored, tired, or sleepy. So,

Are we preparing the students for the real world? or Are we just transmitting them things that they never are going to apply in their careers?

Long lectures should be avoided since the average span attention of a person is around 15 minutes. If we continue doing that, we are not only wasting our time but also failing in our mission of teaching.

You maybe be excited hearing that active learning is around the corner in Higher Education. Unfortunately, we are far away to have such approach, on a daily basis in a classroom, especially in the engineering field. Nowadays, we need to find new and innovative ways to teach the new “digital generation”1. As professors, the challenge that we face is to figure it out how to spend the time in the classroom1. Lectures are becoming an old-fashion and ineffective approach to teach.

Active learning is a need in the classroom. We have to engage students so they enjoy the learning process. At present, it seems to be difficult to move forward from the traditional educational approach in which most of the engineering courses have been taught for decades. Why? Changes require a lot of work!

Would you be willing to spend a lot of weeks re-thinking and re-designing your traditional classes?

Although is a lot of work and not an easy task because we have to very creative, it is time to make the academic learning relevant. Don’t you think so?




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Why Are You Here?

Why are you here? That’s the question that we may ask students or ask ourselves as students. Why? If we are in class because we are interested in learning a specific topic, I believe that the probability of paying attention to the class may be higher than if we are there just to meet a requirement. Don’t you think so? Won’t you be more engaged in the class?

I believe that laptops when are not “truly needed”, are a very distractive tool in the classroom. Especially, when you are not interested or bored in the class. I speak for myself, I have used my laptop during classes to answer emails, check facebook, read the news, shopping, and so on. This happens when I lose the attention of the class.

Two of the reasons for students using laptops during classes are to 1) take notes and 2) to follow the class material. However, for me, it turns very difficult to take notes with my laptop. During my undergrad and master studies, I always wrote by hand everything. Thus, when I was studying for the exams I remembered that I have written something about the specific doubt in my notebook.

According to Darren Rosenblum,

“Students process information better when they take notes — they don’t just transcribe, as they do with laptops, but they think and record those thoughts”.

Now, the question is, are you a multitasking person?  Undoubtedly, if you want to listen, to understand what the professor is saying and to take notes at the same time, you need multitasking skills.

I used to be very good at multitasking activities when I was in Colombia. However, since I started to take classes here in the United States, this became a challenge for me. I can not do it. I mean, I can write something but I forget what the professor says very quickly. Meanwhile, I am taking notes, I am listening but all my attention is not there. So, at the end, I am very lost. Essential activities such as listening, reading, thinking, and writing, when combined are challenging by nature but these are even more challenging when you have to do it at the same time in your non-native language.

By coincidence, I took a multitask test this week to help my friend collecting data for a class. The first exercise consisted of memorizing numbers of 6 digits that appeared one at a time for 3 seconds on the computer screen. Then, I had to select the respective number between two options that were very similar. I had to say left or right depending on the location of the answer. At the same time, I had to play Tetris and try to score the highest score. In the second exercise, instead of memorizing the numbers, I had to hear numbers in a recording and then I had to subtract 1 to each number and to report the result. Again, I was playing Tetris at the same time. Guess what? I did so bad with the Tetris (look at my score, that’s very embarrassing!). I could not do both tasks at the time successfully. So, my question is, how can we improve our multitasking skills? Are we relying so much on Google?


Posted in GRAD 5114 | 5 Comments

Teaching with Twitter

The average human being’s attention span between ages 18 – 35 is close to 15 minutes. Hence, it seems obvious why for students is very difficult to keep their attention after having been seated for more than an hour in a classroom by listening to a professor and looking at a lot of slides.

Taken from https://elearninginfographics.com/active-learning-and-student-performance-infographic/

To overcome the challenge of keeping students’ attention and retention, active learning becomes an indispensable approach in the classroom. Active learning engages students in group discussions, teamwork, group problem-solving, and so on. It promotes a critical thinking and a practicing environment where technology/internet/social media can play an important role.

At present, “Networked Learning is an approach where technology/internet is used to help students connect with others or with valued learning resources1. So, the question is not why to use technology in class? Instead, the question is how to use it? As professors, we have to guarantee that students will gain the knowledge and skills that they will need as future professionals. Sometimes, it seems easier to incorporate technology or social media for teaching specific sciences rather than for teaching in engineering. Don’t you think so?

Despite social media is everywhere I am not quite familiar with most of the available apps. So, I decided to get some ideas about how to use Twitter for teaching. Maybe, it brings my attention and I start to use it. The following infographic gave some ideas. What do you think? Is it applicable to an engineering class?

Taken from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/504614333232541029/

I really liked the idea of analyzing the statistics of a viral tweet. This is very creative and I am pretty sure that it will engage students a lot. The idea of sharing the statements so students can receive feedback from other students can be also applied in a research class. In my case, I would like to use the hashtags so in each class we can have 10-minutes discussion about the questions and/or opinions posted on Twitter regarding a trendy topic related to my field. I believe that this kind of activity will help students to develop their critical thinking.

1 https://www.igi-global.com/dictionary/networked-learning/20217



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