Tuesday, May 09, 2006

D! D! D! De-fense!

Yesterday was my first ever grad student defense for my own student, a masters student that I have really enjoyed working with. It went really well, and after it was over and he gave me a big hug I almost cried because I am a complete softy and so proud of him.

And today, my other masters student sent me a file with some weird data, saying that there was some sort of problem that she absolutely could not find, and I took one look at the data and saw the problem right away . . . I sent her an email saying, "Here is the problem. I'm a little concerned that you had not noticed this yourself," and then she sent me a really apologetic, self-deprecating response and I almost cried because I am completely confused about how to help her figure out how to figure these things out herself. She needs to go on the offense on her data, rather than being wholly reactionary.

The relationship between advisor and grad student is a weird one. Collegial, parental, friendly . . . different for every student, too. Does it get easier? Or like everything else in this job, does it stay the same or get harder but I just get less anxious about it?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Final exams.

Have I mentioned that I pretty much hate written exams? Another prof in my department did some surveying of his students regarding exams, and the responses indicated that the majority of the studying was in the form night-before cramming. This is not a surprise, of course, but it makes me hate the exams even more, because I am not trying to gauge how well the students can cram the night before. It was partly this uncertainty about what I was really measuring with a written exam that led me to try the oral exams (which I repeated this semester also), and one of the pieces of feedback that I've gotten from the students is that one thing they don't like about the orals is that "they take too long to study for." This is another indicator to me that the students are generally studying for the writtens the wrong way. The oral questions I use, which I give to the students in advance (and then when they arrive for the oral, one question is selected at random), cover the fundamental material - how well do they understand and can they explain the basic relationships between different elements of the system, how well do they understand and can they explain the basic causes and effects in the system, etc. In my mind, knowing that stuff cold would be part and parcel to studying for ANY exam in the class. That the students do not study that way already indicates that they do not have the same mindset that I do about how and when and what to study for a written exam. (I am not saying oral exams are an antidote to poor study habits, just pointing out what I have observed.)

Also, this semester has been really brutal, for some reason. A lot of funding surprisingly came through, which makes me feel better overall than the times when a lot of funding does NOT come through, but of course it's more work. And the sorts of assignments I've been giving have taken a lot of work to grade, partly because I purposely make the problems open-ended and partly because I am rubricly challenged and have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to grade the submissions. Plus my class was recently converted (at my request) from two credits to three, so all the assignments are new, because the class now has a "lab" component. You know, and then there are just lots of other things going on professionally and personally.

So I don't like written exams and I'm tired and busy.

About a month ago, I proposed to the students that I don't feel like giving a final. I don't feel like writing it, I don't feel like grading it, and I'm not convinced that any of us would actually learn anything from it so I just don't want to do it. But because I think of the syllabus as a contract, we had to come to some kind of unanimous agreement about how to reallocate percentages, etc., so we did. And no final.

Who is the sucker? The students think I am being a softy, and I feel like I have tricked them into working harder at the end, because of the way we distributed the points. I guess everyone's a winner.