Rapping Up a Dissertation

Please excuse the terrible pun.

In February, the Chronicle wrote about a student activist a Clemson University defended his dissertation in a rap. The student, now Dr. A.D. Carson, created a 34 track rap album instead of a typical written document. He also created a digital component with lyrics, music videos, and more. Through his work he explored social issues on campus and in the rap community, along with racism and different aspects of black life.

This concept and execution is so unique and relevant in the way in which he uses a medium to address issues and concepts within the same medium. His field of study was in rhetoric, communications, and information design, and he also has been actively involved in the protests at Clemson, which are addressing university’s racial climate and looking for change. This confluence of subjects made the way in which he structured his dissertation distinctly fitting.

While I can’t envision my dissertation committee allowing me to do something quite as inventive (having a research subject of an invasive stink bug can stifle out of the box dissertation presentation ideas), I think it is really innovate of him to address his study subject in this way. It also allows for research, which can often get lost in academia, to become relevant to a wider audience. Seeing someone craft his research into an art form pushes me to think about new ways in which to make my research more relevant to a wider audience.

Chronicle profile: https://www.chronicle.com/article/An-Activist-Defends-His/239335?cid=wcontentgrid

Link to his digital album: http://phd.aydeethegreat.com/

Diversity in Graduate Stem Education

The New York Times recently published an article entitled, “The Disappearing American Graduate Student”. Although the title makes it seem like the article is about graduate education as a whole, it focuses on the low numbers of American students who enroll in graduate education computing and engineering fields.

What was interesting for the article was the highlighting of the shift in demographics of students from undergraduate to graduate with 80% of undergraduate students being US residents and the opposite being true for graduate students. The article stated there is little demand for the American student for these degree programs as many of the jobs in the technology field are already quite good with an undergraduate level of education. The international students which enter into these programs, the article claims, are coming in search of greater opportunity and out of a love for research.

The attraction of these fields to international students is something that I find rather appealing as it provides these departments with a richness of different backgrounds that is not seen as often in other academic areas. This article also mentioned that the current political climate towards Muslim-majority nations may be negatively influencing the number of applicants to these programs citing a 30% decrease in applications at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. This decrease is concerning as these departments should be viewed as a place of academic growth, exploration and opportunity, but their attractiveness may be lost in looming political climate. While the article claimed it is still rather early to decipher if these trends will hold, lawmakers should be taking larger ramifications of their actions towards these countries into account as they negativity impact the students and the university.

Alumni interviews

At the end of this summer, I received an email from my Alma Mata requesting that I provide assistance with the alumni interview process for prospective students. Having never gone through the admissions interview process myself and being in the middle of my field research, I chose not to take them up on the offer.

Last week, the Chronicle reported on an incident in which the Harvard Alumni group in San Diego accidentally emailed out the list of students interviewing along with personal information such as their name, telephone number, and the numerical rank given to the students who already interviewed. The association took a full day to respond with an apology email.

The author goes onto bring up several points on how these interviews may not be worth the time of the interviewers or interviewees. In many instances, the admittance decision is made without taking these interviews into account. The interviewer can be a poor representation of the university as many of the interviewers are white and affluent while the university body may be much more diverse. There are also instances of alumni interviewers making inappropriate comments towards the students interviewing.

The writer did make some concessions about the interview process citing that in some instances the interviews did act as the additional push for the admissions panel to examine an applicants file or provided connections for the student to obtain an internship later.

However, the conclusion of the article stated that the process may be providing more of a service to the alumni relations group at the school rather than anyone else as the interviews create continuing connections to the school after graduation.

I found it all a bit troubling. Thinking back to the amount of pressure I felt when applying for colleges my senior year of high school, it seems wrong to add an unnecessary burden of an interview to these students if it bears little weight on the admission decision. I’m under no pretense that the admission process as a whole is much better. An admissions packet cannot fully represent the full person, but what is the point of adding an interview if it doesn’t serve the purpose it is intended?

The relationship between alumni and incoming students is important providing opportunities to these students in the future and exposing graduates to new ideas and talent. However, making the interview between alumni and prospective student out to be more than it truly is seems fruitless. It would be more useful to provide opportunities for these connections in other settings and take time to rethink how the selection process is set up.

Emotional Support Animals

During the holiday season, one of the many joys for me is returning home and finding my family’s dog, Cyrus, waiting for me. Hanging out with my furry friend made me think about a New York Times article from a couple of years ago which discussed emotional support animals in a college setting.

The article relied heavily on reader response to this given topic, and from the title, “Emotional Support Animals: Readers Tough on Those in Need”, it was clear many of the responses leaned towards the no animal preference. The readers were rather critical of the students which brought these animals with them to school claiming that they were being unnecessarily coddled.

However, the author, who seemed to initially be rather skeptical of the concept warmed to the idea at the end citing that as demands become more stringent on students the stress level of those students also rise. If there was something that could help cope with that stress, shouldn’t it be made available?

I tend to agree with the author. While there are indeed issues that need to be worked around, for instance a student with a phobia of dogs being placed on a floor with a therapy dog, the inconvenience of working around these issues is far outweighed by the responsibility to protect the mental health of these students.


MOOCs sounds like the nickname for a college pal, but it’s actually an acronym for Massively Open Online Courses.

Forbes recently published an article detailing the potential future for this learning approach and its benefits and shortcomings entitled, “The Future of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)” by Deepak Mehta.

I’ve never participated in a MOOC, but this article brought up some of the highlights of this course type. Two of the most attractive notions of these courses are the free availability to the consumer and the self-paced style of learning. As a graduate student, who will enter into the workforce in the next few years, the option of courses with this sort of flexibility is appealing. There will always be areas where I could improve my knowledge, and the option of a free, self-paced environment is extensively appealing.

While the author of this article presented these courses as the future of education, he also brought up shortcomings that would have to be fixed prior to widespread adoption. The one I found most concerning is the lack of the ability to measure students grasp of the material. This inability currently makes the courses have much more value to the motivated consumer than a university or business which assigns the material. There are proposed ways of working around this though quizzes and online peer grading.  However, they have not reached the same sophistication as a human grader at this point.

After reading through the article in its entirety, I am not convinced that MOOCs are the future of our education system, but I am hopeful that as they continue to develop in complexity they will be useful resources for building a greater understanding of a wide array of topics.