Additional blog 5: How do we match employers needs with students skills?

This was part of the topics we discussed during the last lecture of the “Preparing the Future Professoriate” Class that I took this spring. From our discussions that day, it seems that the answers to that topic constitute a grey area. In other words, we concluded it’s somewhat difficult for schools to teach students the whole set of skills employers want. However, schools do a really good job preparing students for the job market by teaching them the technical skills they need. For example, students majoring in computer science are trained to work at companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, as well as other IT companies. At the same time, many of these students find themselves jobless after graduation. To increase students job market success after graduation, it then becomes crucial that schools and employers work together. In an article titled “What’s Really Behind Employers’ Interest in Education?”, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Goldie Blumenstyk, employers were asked the one thing they should do to ensure that new hires and existing staff members get the skills they need to be successful. Most of the employers surveyed stated that encouraging their employees to want to train themselves and learn more skills is very key in their success. I found those answers very interesting, but it still does not completely address students who are getting on the job market for the first time. I think more research should be conducted in this area.

Additional blog 4: Are students evaluation really considered ?

Top universities are characterized not only by the research they carry out, but also and more importantly by the good quality of the courses that they teach. End of semester course evaluations are one way to help improve course quality. These evaluations ensure that teachers pass on the best possible knowledge onto students, as well as a continuous self-assessment so as to improve their class content or teaching methods. Nevertheless, it could be argued that these evaluations are only considered when there are really bad evaluations or misconduct. This should not be the case. I truly believe that constructive students comments should be accounted for. Otherwise, students evaluations would become a formality that they have to fulfill that the end of each semester. I remember I took a class for which, I (and most of my colleagues who took the class with me) found the workload to be very heavy. We all found the class was very instructive and well taught, but stated in our evaluation that the workload for the class should be reduced to make it even more attractive. The students from the following year complained about the same thing. That is an isolated case, but I have heard similar stories from many of my colleagues. It’s also imperative to note that some teachers adjust their class contents and teaching methods based on evaluations.

Additional blog 3: What is the best way for students to make their voices heard?

There are many ways to make one’s voice heard when we don’t agree with a situation.  For students, protests are the most common way to make our voices heard about situations that we deem unfair. In the history of U.S. (and international) higher education, students have been granted many requests due to protests. At the same time, many students have been either arrested, injured or have even lost their lives in protests for which they have not received satisfaction. This raises a simple question: what is the most effective way for students to make universities administration grant their requests? One of my colleagues who also attends a U.S. school once told me about a protest students had in his school. They decided to protest against the recent increase in the cost per credit hours. Protests lasted for about three days but the university would not budge. In the meantime, many students were arrested during the protests, which at some point became a little violent due to confrontations between students and the Police. These arrested students now have a criminal record, which could be a huge impediment for them in the future to secure a job. That is one reason why many people (including students) don’t like protests, especially those that could lead to violence.

Additional blog 2: What are we doing to prevent PhDs from damaging their health?

There have been many studies that show that a Ph.D. takes a toll on students’ health. Many students finish their Ph.D. weaker and sicker than they started. Some even cannot complete their Ph.D. because they suffer from depression during their Ph.D. The question one is tempted to ask is what has such a negative impact on some Ph.D. students’ health. From where I stand, there are  2 potential causes. The first and obvious one is that the Ph.D. is a very tense process, and to be successful in their classes and research, students have to work extremely hard. Second, Ph.D. students’ advisors are the most important factor in their Ph.D. If you have the right work ethics, and a supportive advisor, your chances of completing your degree on time. One thing that has a significant negative effect on Ph.D. students health is the time of completion. I have heard a story of a girl who ended her own life because her advisor didn’t want to let her graduate after five years and kept her for almost 8 years.

The scariest thing is that it seems as if everyone knows exactly how the Ph.D. takes a toll on students health, but nobody really wants to do anything about it. Some people will say you need to go through those experiences so you earn your Ph.D. I somewhat disagree and think something needs to be done to help Ph.D. students graduate on time and healthy.

Additional blog 1: GRE fails to identify successful Ph.D. students

This was the title of an article that came out on the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) news. The article addressed an important topic in U.S. higher education, that I feel we are all avoiding to discuss. Using the results from a study conducted by RIT researchers, the article showed that GRE doesn’t predict students success as effectively as expected. The study used a pool of Ph.D. students from RIT’s physics department, and a factor such as undergraduate GPA was found to be the most robust predictor of Ph.D. completion. The study also found significant gender and race-based differences. In other words, using the GRE as main factor for Ph.D. admission discriminates against women and minorities. This raises an important issue when it comes to assessing Ph.D. applications. I was victim of that myself. When I applied to Ph.D. programs after my masters, one school clearly rejected me by stating that my level background reflected through my GRE score was not enough to be admitted in their program. I knew that was a wrong assessment of my math’s level because I have a strong math background (from high school and undergrad) and that does not necessarily show in my GRE scores. Experience has shown that performing well in GRE is positively related with test taking abilities. In addition, having taken the GRE a couple times now, I know the content covered has nothing to do with the math skills required in the Ph.D. in Economics for instance. In sum, Ph.D. programs in the U.S. need to go a better job in identifying other factors that can be equally important in assessing Ph.D. applications.

Stop denigrating non-STEM scholars

One thing that I believe should change in higher education is the way some scholars denigrate or look down on certain fields of study. I was having a casual discussion with a friend a few years ago and he made a comment that I found a little inappropriate. He was saying that only people who are lazy and can’t do well in Maths run away from STEM fields. I vehemently opposed to his opinion and stated that it’s a stereotype. He even added that I should just look at the highest paid jobs in academia and other fields. Those are jobs from STEM fields.

Unfortunately, many other people in academia think like him and I genuinely think they are wrong. I am in Economics, which is not part of the STEM fields, but ECON is known to be one of the most difficult fields. Similarly, there are many other non-STEM fields that are very challenging and still contribute to humanity’s evolution. This notion that the “smartest” people in Academia are only in STEM needs to change.