I just found this meme-type photo, so I figured I should post it up here. This is pretty interesting, I wonder how much time they spend in school each day? In looking around, I found this interesting site too. It just goes over all of the sort of tenants of the Finnish school system. All of the students are in the same classroom regardless of level, and none of them are tested for ability until the age of six. There was a bunch of interesting stuff in there so I’d recommend checking it out!
Category Archives: PFP12F
Finnish School System
I realized that I should’ve probably talked about this when everyone else was discussing their schooling experiences. Even though this is still in the US, there is a lot about it that is different from the average American childhood schooling.
I attended private school from k-3rd grade, homeschooled from 4-8th grade, went to a public high school in a specialty program for math and science. This drastically changed my opinions on American education. I was homeschooled because my parents were/are more religious, but more than that, my dad is a PhD chemist and my mother has a MPA degree herself. They believed they could teach my brother and I better than paying for in the private school. The public schools in our area were really good, so I still don’t quite understand why they didn’t send us there, but either way, it resulted in us being homeschooled. We had a group of other families who I was homeschooled “with.” I had friends and a normal set of friends, but I was definitely proselytized by this group in a way that I had not expected. When I got to public high school, I had a really hard time assimilating and making friends because they were so different from the homeschooling families. In that environment, my family was considered rebellious because I was allowed to wear skirts above my knee, the music we listened to wasn’t read over word for word by my parents, and a few kids had heard my mom say “damn.” In public school, I’d figured I’d fit in alright, but I was pretty wrong – I had no idea how to react to the new environment. Eventually, I figured it out, but it was difficult and lonely for a long time.
In terms of academics though, homeschooling was what really allowed me to explore how much I liked math. I could do whatever I wanted, I had a teacher and I spent time with my dad on it. I saw that I was excelling at it, and I liked it. The other subjects were all covered too. A lot of people have generalized homeschoolers as really good or really bad. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but it is an environment in which students can get individual attention for whatever the reason.
We’ve been discussing tenure a lot in class, so I decided maybe I should look up a little bit more about the statistics. In a 12/10/12 article, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track dropped from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007 – woah!? That’s a lot, but is a good thing or a bad thing?
The pros of tenure are generally include protection for free intellectual inquiry – the ability to follow truth wherever it may lead. It protects faculty who hold and espouse unpopular opinion from retribution by those who disagree with those opinions. Tenure enables distinguished scholars to continue to teach long after others their age have retired. The cons are that it protects free intellectual inquiry, protects faculty who hold unpopular views from retribution, and enables old guys to work after they should have retired – which is exactly what we talked about today (yes, I’m writing this one in real time).
Some academic researchers have concluded that the work required to obtain tenure drives away talented young people. The data does indicate the percentage of Ph.D. candidates aspiring to become tenure track university faculty declines while these students are in graduate school. A vast literature on this subject exists in the peer reviewed journals. A Google Scholar search on the issue resulted in 245,000 hits. A quick review of few abstracts indicated results all over the map, so I’m not really sure what to believe. I do know that I’m nervous about it though! I plan on doing academia a little later on in life, but still, it’s a daunting task. I see how hard the new professor in my lab works. If academia is where I want to be though, I’ll figure it out, I’m sure.
Tuition hikes the north face…
As tuition rises at universities, one would expect admission or the opportunities to attend for students from the lower socioeconomic classes to be affected. Elite universities in the United States have claimed for many years that is not the case for students who are good enough to attend them. These universities claim that admission is “need-blind”. This means that students are admitted irrespective of their ability to pay the cost of attendance.
Dean Michael D. Smith of Harvard said “need‑blind admissions, supported by generous financial aid, is the bedrock of Harvard’s effort to attract the most talented undergraduates in America and across the globe, regardless of their ability to pay. A student’s economic circumstances should never be a barrier to attending Harvard College.” Stanford says “Students are admitted on a need‑blind basis, and the university ensures that no admitted student is unable to attend.”
The New York Times wrote on 11/30/2012, “some colleges have begun revising their financial aid formulas, raising concerns about how campus diversity — both economic and racial — might be affected.” The NYT noted that Dartmouth, Brown, and Wesleyan have begun to back off need blind admissions and that bodes ill for diversity, the poor, and the otherwise disadvantaged.
This is concerning given what we’d talked about earlier in the class regarding the benefits of diversity in different schools. I also recently found this video that talks about why higher education is so expensive. There are a lot of problems associated with increased debt for students and their families. Though I’m not sure that I know enough about subsidies and how all of this works to trust all of what is in this video, I’d need to do some of my own research. However, I do hope that de-stigmatizing other forms of less expensive education catches on soon so that people do not have to pay as much, but still receive a well-paying job with benefits – at least something that puts the individual at a living wage without being under the weight of thousands in debt.
The other day in class, we were talking about what we’d change about higher education. My comment was that I would want there to be more sort of undefined credit hours you could take. As I was talking, I realized, duh! That’s just undergraduate research! So, shortly after starting school, most undergraduate students become aware of the existence of undergraduate research. What is undergraduate research all about? It’s an opportunity for a student to find out more about a subject in which he/she is interested, as well as to learn more about him or herself. Undergraduate research opportunities arise throughout the university, but many of the opportunities are in the sciences/engineering.
At UVA, there was this program interested in the Chesapeake Bay preservation. If you’re a biology or chemistry major, this research project might allow you to explore water quality problems in select areas of the Bay watershed or the population density of an endangered species present in that watershed. The research experience will likely allow you to determine whether you would be a good candidate for a graduate degree or if that topic really interested you. It can also help you find an area to focus your research in further. Undergraduate research in the area of alternative energy helped me decide to do power for graduate school. It’s not exactly alternative energy, but without my work, alternative energy can’t be introduced the grid viably.
Shocking! The real purpose of your life!
I happened to see this video last Monday before class. I’m a sucker for anything involving South Park (or just Trey Parker and Matt Stone) so of course I watched it. It just so happens that it went unbelievable well with some of the discussion from today and the video about motivation. I think that this carrot and stick approach is pervasive through society because it assumes that people are unmotivated and will be lazy when left to their own devices. To get them to perform as desired, they are incentivized. Rather than looking towards each milestone, each carrot you get, it is more meaningful to see the progression of your work as long term process that doesn’t end similar to the musical progression described in the video. That sounds easy I guess when you like your job and feel rewarded in your work. Perhaps people would find more rewarding positions and jobs perhaps if they were not forced into some sort of mold, but rather allowed to follow what they believed to be interesting – to dance and sing their own song. After all, in my opinion at least, all we have is this time that we are here, may as well enjoy the journey.
I’ll note now, that I have done this sort of half blog this during the semester. I’ll find something interesting, save it, write a few lines about it, but not wrap it up into a full post. So, I’m about to post a bunch of blogs, but I swear, I didn’t just find all of them in the last 24 hours.
Filed under PFP12F
Being comfortable as a TA
This is kind of going back to the communicating science idea. It came to be a little bit after my last blog post. I was talking to a friend at an internship I’d done last year in Austria. He worked in technical support, so he had people calling him in English and in German asking for help on how to use the equipment. I said that I thought I couldn’t do that because it’s difficult for me to talk to people (much less communicating to people in a language that was not native to me). He commented that he felt the same way about a lot conversation, but that talking about the technical details was easy for him – even if it was in english a lot of the time. It made me realize that as a TA, I felt the same way about talking to my students. I can communicate with them in technical language – and occasionally, I can joke around with them, but still it’s much more professional and it doesn’t make me particularly nervous. This is probably in some part because I do not have to defend my work, but they have to explain themselves to me to get their grade. I think it’s interesting that although communicating to my students about technical work doesn’t seem to bother me, it hasn’t really translated into other parts of my life. I still feel like I stutter when encountering new people – even at conferences where we’re all speaking the same language of sorts. Hopefully, I’d assume that this will get easier – there was a time when I was a bit more nervous even as a TA.
I think that it’s really interesting how people really look for so much purpose in everything that they participate in. I understand, our time is valuable, we’re grad students, the university (and our advisors) kind of owns us until we graduate. We have to do things all the time to keep up with all of our obligations, so why would we want to waste time?
I think that this warrants a little exploration of what I’d consider wasting time. I do think that more than 5-10 minutes on facebook at any given time is a waste. Why not the 5-10 minutes though? Well, it’s a pretty negligible amount of time, and sometimes doing something different is really good for refocusing yourself. I think that sleeping in after spending late nights hanging out with friends isn’t a waste – it builds relationships, it pushes you to open up to people, and it takes a lot of time. That isn’t a waste to me, even though it takes time away from sleep and from work that could get done.
My point of this is that you can get things out of activities that can get labeled as a waste of time. Sometimes, I think it is very worthwhile just to let yourself be with what you’re doing – i.e. there doesn’t need to be a direct “I’m getting __________ (fill in the blank) out of what I’m doing right this second.” I got a fun and interesting evening which, to me, was enough to make me think that the exercises were worth class time. When being a bit more thoughtful about the experience, I got a lot out of these exercises because it got me out of my box, it made me feel uncomfortable. No one likes feeling uncomfortable, especially not an introverted electrical engineer. In thinking about how it made me feel about communicating my work with people who are not my peers, it was good because that isn’t that easy. When something is not easy, you can get choked up, not tell your story/information linearly. It showed that you should think of your work as sort of a story – one that you know very well, as if it had been a part of your childhood. I say we know it well, because at this point, we should. You’re getting a Ph.D, be the expert you’re supposed to be!
Anyway, to wrap this up, I’m just trying to point out that I think that sometimes, we need to step back and appreciate an experience as an experience and not immediately jump into what it did for us.
Filed under PFP12F
My last post was in China. Since then, I’ve been running around like crazy – or at least I feel like that. It’s not intentional procrastination, but somehow, I’ve found it difficult to get myself together after getting back. It is in striking contrast to how focused I was when I was there. I had to focus there, we went into the office at 9 and left at 5 everyday. It was expected of us – and obviously, we wanted to make them happy – like they’d spent their money well by inviting us. There was a sort of energy and focus there that I found to be really motivating and helpful. The students were attentive during our presentations and asked lots of questions. I wanted to bring this energy back here, and go with it. Maybe it was just jetlag that kind of threw me off, I don’t know, but I’m getting that back. So where am I going with this – what does it have to do with this class. It has to do with the discrepancy in motivation between the Chinese students and the American ones. I could use to learn a lot from their focus and drive. I’m still not really sure how they get it. They are forced to sit for four 2 hour long classes a day in undergrad, but in high school, I had a long classes with few breaks. I still didn’t focus that well? I think the fear of failure is greater than what has been instilled in my generation – or my generation as an upper middle class suburban kid.
I had just met a Chinese woman who has her phd, when she asked me “why are you doing this, do you hate yourself?” While she was a friend of a friend, I still thought this was a brazen sort of question for someone you’d just met. Taken aback, I said “no, I just decided grad school was right for me because I still wanted to learn more formally.” Then, I asked her why she had gotten her phd. She replied because she felt like she had to. I was surprised. I didn’t know it was expected of her or anyone. I had figured it was encouraged and maybe pushed more, but definitely not required. Expectations are just different – and they’ve been instilled in them. When I was there, I got some of that instilled in me, and now it’s time to put it to work. Hopefully, my adviser is pleased that my work output speed increases.
beijing or bust
So, right now, I’m in China with my colleague at a university – specifically, North China Electric Power University in Beijing. I’m surprised at both the similarities and differences to an American university. It’s full of students and professors just going about their day – like they would in any university anywhere in the world. I feel like I’ve been very overwhelmed by the number of people, but then I have to remember that I do feel the same way at VT sometimes if I forget to plan my traveling at times when classes are not changing. Sadly, we aren’t able (or rather, wouldn’t want) to attend classes because they are all in Chinese. The classes are 2 hours long though, just the normal classes for undergrads, not special later ones like PFP. That’s an awfully long time, but I think that they are just expected to pay attention.
For graduate students, we are expected to be in the office from 9-5. In the US, lots of graduate students are required to do this, but for me, my advisor doesn’t really ever know where I am – nor does he care. We meet weekly and he can always tell if I’ve gotten enough work done for the week. The fear of letting him down also motivates me. The respect and admiration I have for my advisor seems somewhat more unique in the US. Many students feel more indifferent (or don’t like) to their adviser, but I actively enjoy seeing mine. I get the impression that the students here also revere their advisers more in the way that I do. That being said, I don’t think they work as interactively with them as I do. I have seen small groups of grad students get together and discuss research which seems interesting and productive – I think it would benefit us to do something similar. We have larger lab meetings, but I don’t know that it as beneficial as smaller groups.
What is slightly different is that all of the students must live in the dorms. There are 3-6 people per dorm room – which is incredibly cramped. I guess that’s just expected though. There are dining halls and sports fields just like in the US – though for the quantity of students, the athletic areas seem small. Also, it’s worth noting that there is a security guard if you are trying to drive onto the campus area. You must present a badge on your car to pass through.
These are just some observations for now…I’m sure as I continue here over the next week, there will be more.