Response to the “Best Professors” List

I think this list is completly unreliable.  Using has to be the worst idea ever because, usually, people only rate professors if they disliked the class.  Also, classes with more students in them are more likely to get a rating on that site.

The list also seems flawed because it doesn’t account for all asepcts of professorship.  There’s teaching, research, service, adivsing, mentoring, etc. etc. etc.  Those things are all very hard to rate, and I doubt it was taken into consideration that someone might be an amazing professor, but that mentoring takes precednece over teaching in their position.

Finally, I do believe not all schools are equally considered in these ratings.  There’s no way they could be because I think it would be impossible to impartially rank every professor at every college.  It’s even impossible to do it at a state level as I’ve seen average professors get “best professor” awards over people that are just amazing at their jobs.

Why no Science?

I just saw this image showing GDP vs. belief in evoluation.  The authors proclaimed that this was due to lack of scientific education (which, I do think the US is lacking); however, I think there could be other explanations.  For example, science education might be okay, but it’s not enough to overtop trandition and customs.

Anyway, just an interesing comparison.

re: Building a good relationship with research assistants

In an earlier post, a blogger discussed their hesitations with working with assitants in the research setting.  Specifically, they asked how they could, whent he time comes, trust a graduate student that they are adivsing if they already can’t trust their lab assistants.

This post hits pretty close to home to me because I have a tough time with micromanaging.  I’m constantly looking over my assistant’s shoulders, nagging them about the little things, redoing things I had them do, or spending countless hours in the lab because I’m doing things I don’t trust them to do.  It’s a problem.  But, I don’t think that will neccesarily transition into how I advise students that are working on their own projects.

First off, assistants are often only doing the job for the money, and are thus more likely to not take the work seriously.  So, they are going to cut corners and do everytihng that you fear they will do.  And, trust me, I’ve caught my assistants in the act before, which probably only fuels my constant need to micromanage.

I also think that students, especially graduates, when they take on their own project, get a bigger since of responsibility because they know that if things go wrong, it’s totally on them.  On your project, if your assitant messes up, it’s still your fault. But, I think faculty advisors can be a little more relaxed because they can larelgy blame any major problem on their students.

I think the absolute worth thing a research advisor can do is to constantly be involved in their student’s projects.  In my undergraduate institution, it was mandatory that everyone do a research project.  In one department, this was understood that you would get very specific directions from your advisor, do those things, and then come back for more direction.  That’s no research, that’s a lesson in following a recipe that requires no individual thinking.  

Now, my research advisor was a completly different story.  Early on, we thought of the project and talked quite often and at length for several weeks.  But, after that, we talked for about 10 minutes every morning over coffee just to make sure that nothing disasterous was happening.  Once he was satisfied the building wasn’t going to burn down or I wasn’t heading down a path I couldn’t back out from, we parted.  It was perfect because he made himself accessible, but let me know that it was completly up to me what was going to happen and that I was calling the shots.  Good or bad, it was my show. I did a lot of things wrong, and I know he could have prevented them.  But, it was  great learning experience.

So, I guess the only think I can say to follow up on the previous post was that I think it’s completly natural to micromanage assistants and be scared for your life they are messing something up.  But, once you are advising a project, you have to let go and let the student make mistakes. Accessibility is key, because you do have to realize when they are making mistakes. But, let them make them first.  Otherwise, you aren’t really helping anyone.  It might not really be the most productive method, but part of researching is the actual process of doing things wrong and brainstorming again.   

PS: The absolute worst assistant I ever had also just got into grad school.  Maybe something is wrong with the application process?

Piazza response

I remember when we discussed Piazza last year in Shelly’s class.  When it was being presented, I felt that it potentially had some utility, but I have some issues with it. Some of these issues don’t apply in all situations, but I think they are worth exploring (or at least me voicing since I am, by in large, against using most forms of technology in the classroom).

– Many professors that use these technologies start making it mandatory that students participate.  I know that one professor in my deparmtnet creates Flickr sites, etc. and makes students use them.  Many students struggle with this because the tool itself takes awhile to understand, and thus the time investment is pretty high.  Furthermore, they may not learn well from this tool, and so it doesn’t make sense to force them to use it. 

– Using online forums is a terrible replacement for one-on-one contact.  In many disciplines is really hard to explain something online, and so you will want to encourage them to come see you during office hours.  If you start an online tool, then you may invite students to wait until the last minute to ask a question, and then they will not be able to get a satisfactory response because you really need to see that student in person.  Also, I think Piazza invites confusion because it allows both students and the TA/professor to answer questions.  So, a student might answer a question incorreectly at 8am, the entire class study that response, and then the instructor not have a chance to answer the question until much later, perhaps after the class.   Do you really want to create a tool that forces you to be online all the time?

– I also think things like Piazza are not usually manned by major instructors, but instead are pawned off on TAs as something they need to keep active.  Again, it makes it so that TAs have to constantly be at the computers, and are likely to get poor ratings unless they are explain everything in text and very quickly.  I don’t like my odds if that’s the case.

– Again, what’s wrong with face-to-face communication?  Sure, a student might not be comfortable with that, but what are they going to do in the real world if they can’t confront a boss about something they don’t understand?  Those, too, are skills students are supposed to pick up in college.


response to Jessica re: improv

I definitly see Jessica’s point regarding group activity and being abel to open up to people you are around. First of all, I think you do get better at reading expression and being able to tell whether someone is really engaged in what you’re saiyng or just completly lost. Furthermore, you get to know that person, and know what level of detail is appropriate when discussing something with them.

However, I will say there is a certain amount of practice that comes with being able to communicate science effectivly. I remember when I gave my first scientific presentation. I was nervous, stiff, no animation, lack of good explanations, etc. It was terrible. Fast forward to today, and presentations come pretty natural.

Obviously, what I just explained is really about developing presentation skills. But, isn’t that what you are doing when you are communicating science? To be a good presenter you have to feed off the audience, explain things clearly, answer questions appropriately, and use relevant figures and tables. Isn’t that what communicating science is all about?

Politics of higher ed

Now, I’m not much for political debate and, in fact, am probably the worst excuse for an American voter than you can get.  But, I found this article pretty interesting.

It’s interesting to see how political affiliation and voter support is so closely connected to higher education. For example:

“Jump to 2008. Even though those with college degrees made up 27.9 percent of the population that year, they cast 45 percent of the presidential vote. These voters register and go to the polls in substantially higher numbers than the less well educated.”

“The gains the Democrats made were concentrated in one major segment of the well-educated: professionals — salaried employees in schools and colleges, social workers, the arts, the natural and social sciences, knowledge/information workers, “symbol analysts,” “creatives” and so forth.”


So, should more presidential candidates be parading on college campuses?  I hope not, because I really do enjoy parking at least somewhat near campus.

Does school name mean something?

I remember applying for college and thinking that I really, really wanted to go to a school that had a great reputation. Thought I got into a few, I ended up settling on a college that is barely known within a 100-mile radius fo the campus, let alone nationally.

Reading this article brought back some of those memories.  The acceptance rate of ivy leauge school is lower than ever, and it can be attributed to more and more people want to go to a place that carries a lot of clout.  However, the article argues that the name of the intitution doesn’t matter, and that society need to get over its name recognition.

However, is that really true?  I think we can all attest to the fact that any school can be an excellet school, and it truly is what you make of it.  However, that’s not always way employers see.  If there were two applicants for a position, one Harvard the other po-dunk liberal arts, I’m pretty confident when I say the Harvard alum is going to get the position (or at least be considered more quicky).  

Is it possible to overturn that “stigma” of graduating from a unrecognizable school?

Technology in the classroom

I’ve been reading more and more articles about inserting technology into the classroom.  The majority of these pieces concern the use of gadgets and gizmos in K-12 education, and how these devices help students becomes engaged in the material and learn better. But, is it just me, or is anyone else tired of seeing kids glued to gameboys constantly?  Shouldn’t we be trying to naturally engage students about learning, and have them learn for learning sake?  Not because spelling something correctly advances Mario to the next level?

Anyway, that’s more of a tangent because the real topic is how technology is starting to dictate how higher education is also run.  It’s not secret that many classes are now online, and that distance learning is now a selling feature of many schools.  But, do we really want to push that?  We keep saying how teachers needs to have a close bond with their students, but is that possible over the internet?  Furthermore, is the learning proses tarnished if students don’t have to attend class, take tradiational tests, etc. I have a feeling it does, yet we (society) keep pushing people into taking these classes.

Cost of college

I was reading this article when I got to thinking about the cost of college.  Now, I’m not sure that my blog post directly relates to that post but…..

I have a theory that one of the reasons people complain too much about the cost of college is because they are getting nothing out of college. I went to a school were education costs were around 30K a year and, with some financial support, I paid it all.  Does college cost a lot?  Yes.  Is it worth the money? Yes, but only if you are going to a school that truly values undergraduate education and helps students grow as individuals.

So, when I hear someone say that the cost of college isn’t worth it, I argue that the cost of the school you went to might not be worth it.  Not college as a whole.