It’s Midterm season. The time of the semester when stresses spike and schedules get busier and Red Bull records record profits. As a grad student, this is not a favorite season. In fact, given the option, I would skip it altogether. But, my efforts to convince the world that tests are not the true measure of a student have gone unnoticed, so I show up with the rest and wrack my brain trying to prove that I know what I am talking about.
Yesterday, I failed. Now, the actual grade may not be an “F”, but I know that I totally blew one problem. I know exactly the idiotic mistake I made and spent most of the afternoon kicking myself for it. I hate making stupid mistakes. I am an engineer, dammit, and have been for a lot of years. I should be above such things. I should have the material so ingrained by now that it is automatic. But, no, in the test environment, though I had it right, I second-guessed myself and changed my train of thought into a more flawed path. And in so doing, I totally blew the problem. It will cost me a lot, grade-wise, as a similar total brain fart did in my first semester here.
Yet… the mistake I made over a year ago is one that I will never make again. It is still a sore spot, as it cost me a perfectly good grade in the course. I have a feeling that the one I made yesterday I will never make again, though I don’t know its ultimate cost yet. In every failure, we have the opportunity to learn. We can channel these negative consequences into a lesson that will always be remembered.
As a professor, I will be in the position to decide the consequence of my students making mistakes. Were I to comfort them and tell them it won’t hurt them, I would be doing them a disservice. Were I to make them pay a high price for a momentary lapse in engineering judgement, they certainly would learn more in the long run. But as I feel my own kicking, can I come to grips with knowing that my own students will be doing the same in their scholastic careers? It is tough to think about right now. But, in the end, I stand by my basic mantra: Failure is Good.