A Rant on Graduate School!
Many times in life, we go into classes not knowing what to expect. Sometimes, after the first class, we learn to expect to master a list of requirements for the course. Those classes either have an engaging professor who can grab our attention… or they don’t. That’s usually the story of most classes.
*Unless* you go into a class, and you find the professor explaining to you WHAT this can do for the REAL WORLD. Many of us expect to have some type of a positive impact on the real world. So, let me ask this, how many of you got really really passionate about something you learned in a course just because of all the amazing applications for it? How often did you ever have classes that you looked forward to? How often did you not have classes you dreaded going to in undergrad? I know this is a rare occurrence and all, but sometimes, there are those rare professors who can get their students to look forward to being there. I think a lot of these people follow Freirean ideology on education. These people encourage their students to relate what they’re learning to the world. These people guide students to leave an amazing foot print. These people scaffold their students into always being curious. Freire was a true believer of pursuing curiously. This video is a wonderful idea of how he encouraged great curiosity.
Many times, graduate students get impatient sometimes because they don’t get the results they want in research. In fact, sometimes, advisers advise in certain directions, and request that work is done a certain way. However, if we set our curiosity free, and share our curious ideas with our advisers, maybe we’ll make great victories.
If I’m interpreting my world in Freire’s view as was in the presentation, risking is the backbone to reading the world in our research and our living. If we risk, try hard, risk, try hard, risk… And Embrace EVERY failure…. We’ll be on to the next Noble Prize. At least that’s how I see it. Just gotta be patient! 🙂
March 22, 2016 @ 12:07 am
I like the example of advisers and students. Many advisers really direct their students to certain ways in research or certain ways of addressing some problems. I think it is a matter of trade-off. Advisers still need to “advise”, however they need to listen to their students. Sometimes, students have better ideas and this could come from the fact that they are less experienced in these topics and so are less saturated with the conventional ideas. Advisers could make best use of their students by giving them more freedom in thinking and trying their ideas.
BTW, engineers might not be able to get any Nobel prize as it is not offered in Engineering, so no need for them to try and risk :).
March 22, 2016 @ 2:37 pm
Thanks for your response, AbdelRahman! That is true… Advisers have to strike the balance between advising and also giving their students freedom… Although I think the freedom is the road to experience. Without an accelerated pace of failures, students won’t learn at a higher level. It’s our biggest failures that make our greatest successes. I think.
About the Noble Prize— Thanks for bring me back to reality! 😀
March 22, 2016 @ 8:57 pm
About the Nobel prize: Engineering or non-engineering, you can still win it. Case in point: Herbert Simon. Engineering student, studied economics later on, contributed to psychology, artificial intelligence, formulated some cognitive theories on problem-solving, and contributed to public administrations, philosophy, and made an immense impact on computer science!
March 23, 2016 @ 3:32 pm
Interesting Aakash! Good to know. Thanks for the insightful comment! I appreciate it.
March 22, 2016 @ 12:34 pm
Reading your post made me reflect on all my years of higher education, and I can’t say that any professor in undergraduate or masters stoked my curiosity in a subject. Honestly, looking back, it was always the subject matter itself that drove me to dive deeper, look wider, and pursue further. Regarding my PhD studies, one class my first semester here has heavily influenced my research and career trajectory. As I try to tease out the influence of the professor (because he is my all-time favorite) and the subject, I have to say the professor falls well behind the subject in influence.
All this to say, for me, if the subject was not of interest, the professor was unable to make it interesting to me. This does not change the role of the professor in successfully purveying the information to the students, but merely to ruminate on the role of student interest above and beyond professor performance.
In regards to graduate student research, I am absolutely in agreement. I have had the opportunity to advise many interns/students during my years working in industry, and my number one piece of advice is to match yourself with an advisor that cultivates you and works with whatever results you receive. They make or break a program.
Thanks for making me think through this a bit more.
March 22, 2016 @ 2:45 pm
Thank you for your comment Cody. I appreciate it. You made me think quite a bit after reading your post… I think we have similar perspectives in a sense… The professor needs to kind of display what the material does for you, and then it all works out… So in a sense, if the material isn’t interesting, then that won’t cause interest to grow. However, at the same time, if the material is abstract…. some ground may need to be laid out for people to know the applications, and imagine it better… I think. But yes, I agree, if the material isn’t interesting to one, then pursuing it greatly just won’t happen regardless to how amazing the professor is.
March 22, 2016 @ 2:25 pm
Rant away! This post was wonderful! Yes I had an undergrad professor who was so passionate about the subject, I really looked forward to her class. The subject was of interest to me, but her being so revved up about things made it more exciting. It is difficult as a student to become so fully invested and alive for a course if the instructor does not help bring something in to keep that spark fed. As an instructor, I’m sure it is also just as difficult to remain passionate about your subject with students who are only there to check the box for a requirement. Hopefully there are enough passionate people on both sides to keep things interesting.
March 22, 2016 @ 2:47 pm
Thank you Karen! That’s a very good point. Students and professors, alike need to be passionate about material. That definitely is make or break in many senses. In addition, I conquer with the fact that professors increase a preset interest in an area, through their teaching… And that’s why 100% of all students can’t love any given class. Thanks so much!
March 22, 2016 @ 8:59 pm
How do you suggest we trigger curiosity in the students?
March 23, 2016 @ 3:34 pm
Thanks for your post Aakash. I think oftentimes curiosity is triggered by showing real-world applications, things that are beneficial to mankind, and the cool parts of an area… All this is pivotal while engaging the students in what’s going on in class.. and grabbing their attention. Shall that be done, students will be interesting to accomplish certain things through the subject matter.
March 23, 2016 @ 9:02 am
This is my biggest pet peeve of education–the lack of application to the real world. I have realized that application from theory to practice is the best way that I learn, otherwise things are too abstract and in the clouds for me. I also look at failure differently. As I often say to my clients, if you started to learn to play the piano, would you expect to be a virtuoso immediately? Sure there are rare cases of people who can pick something up immediately, but most of us need to practice and learn. That’s not failure, it’s learning and I think we as a society should consider that.
March 23, 2016 @ 1:49 pm
Oddly, I’ve run into somewhat of the opposite problem in Materials Engineering (specifically metallurgy)–we have so much focus on applications that we lose sight of some of the theory. We learn in metallurgy class that this list of elements has effect A on steel, while this other list has effect B. This can be useful in practice, but it’s just as important to know /why/ those elements do what they do, instead of simply memorizing their effects. As with many things in education (and life), there is a balance to be found.
March 23, 2016 @ 3:40 pm
That sounds interesting. I didn’t know that happens… The middle ground is always good. Theory and application go hand-in hand together. Thanks so much.
March 23, 2016 @ 3:39 pm
I agree with you Renu, that’s true… Applying what one learns causes mastery. Hopefully education will be more encompassing and inclusive of application. Thanks for your post!
March 23, 2016 @ 4:07 pm
The part of your post that really resonated me was when you discussed how applications of a course can strike curiosity. For me, the ideal conditions are interesting subject matter, USEFUL subject matter, and great professor. I find that I lose interest very quickly when I start thinking “What is the point of this?” So yes, for me, one of the most important things a professor can do is make the subject matter seem not only interesting but also important.
March 30, 2016 @ 1:01 pm
I completely agree that some of my most stimulating, curiosity-invoking courses have been taught by professors who presented real-world applications of their course material. During my freshman year as an undergrad, I took a plant materials course with one such professor. That following summer, after the course was over, I worked at a retail nursery, and I remember sitting in my car before work, reviewing my course notes. I know this sounds geeky, but I was truly excited to put what I learned in that course into practice, knowing that this newfound knowledge increased my value as an employee.
Since then, I have had few course with such a direct applicability. However, I’ve also had few professors who have done such a great job at exemplifying the relevance of the course material. So, I guess to summarize, being given real world applications has been crucial for my learning experience, and I think real world applicability should be given greater emphasis in the classroom (at least in my field).
March 30, 2016 @ 3:55 pm
Great post! I appreciate the rant, especially your suggestion about sharing ideas with your advisor. I know there are probably as many advising styles out there as there are advisors, some that micromanage and some that are hands-off and the rest that are somewhere in-between. However, I think applying Freire’s viewpoint, from my understanding, it would be best for advisors to act more like students themselves than teachers, in order to learn with their graduate students. Graduate students should in no way be ‘containers’ in which advisors ‘deposit’ information. As you said, the creativity this would inspire may well lead them both to a Nobel prize! Thanks for sharing!
May 4, 2016 @ 4:25 pm
This is an inspiring post! One of the most important lessons, not just in graduate school, but in life, is to never be afraid to fail. Failure is how we learn. You aren’t going to figure it all out the first time. That’s why we stress revision in my field, because it is a way to examine and correct your mistakes. Leonardo Da Vinci said “Art is never done, only abandoned.”