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The perfect finish December 31, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, engineering, feminism, teaching.
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I saw that Breitbart was proposing a cap on women admitted to STEM programs.  My first thought was a very sarcastic, “Well, that shouldn’t be hard.”  I read part of the article aloud to Mike, the part about how women don’t leave STEM because of external pressure.

Mike jumped in, “What ever happened to that one student you had?  The one that the other professor said should switch majors…”

I knew which student he meant.  I had a freshman who, when she went in for advising for spring semester, was told by her advisor that she should switch majors.  The reason he did this was because she was one point too low on the math placement exam to get into calculus, putting her a semester “behind.”  She came to me, almost in tears, because she didn’t know what to do.  She felt like she needed to listen to him but really didn’t want to switch.

I wasn’t very proud of what I did next because I know it was completely unprofessional, but it had to be done: I told her to ignore him and that he was being a jerk.  I don’t like ripping on my colleagues, but this individual had just told my BEST student that she didn’t belong in engineering.

It had been a while since I had talked to her, though the last time we spoke, she told me she had a summer internship at a local engineering firm.  I performed some google-fu and found an article that mentioned her.  It turns out that she graduated earlier this year with a degree in electrical engineering.  Even better, she graduated with honors.

I’ve always felt rather conflicted about how I handled that situation, but at least I can leave this year and begin the next with the thought that I did the right thing.

Have a happy new year!


Ass. Prof. January 31, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, societal commentary.
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I was conversing with my favorite barista today, and she asked me how things were going.  I took this opportunity to complain about someone who has been getting on my nerves.  She looked at me sympathetically and said, “It’s a professor, isn’t it?”

I almost spit out my drink laughing.

She asked me what students thought of this person.  I had no idea, so I whipped out my iPhone and did a search on Ratemyprofessor.  I’d never seen such a low score. Not that I take RMP seriously at all, but I have to admit the descriptions of this person as a teacher were an awful lot like my interactions with hir on a peer level.

I have to wonder, though, why it seems like profs seem to fall to the extremes of personality.  Based on the conversation with the barista, it’s obviously not a secret.  I realize that being intelligent and creative can create a sense of superiority, especially if you don’t often have the opportunity to hang out with people who have the same level of intellectual facility or background knowledge.  On the other hand, if you take the stance that you’re always smarter than the other person, how do you ever find out if someone else has a good idea or a different approach?  (Or is it fear that they will have a good idea and you won’t?  I’m not sure.)

There are also a few who manage to make it through without becoming asses.  Somehow they manage to feel confident enough in their abilities to put their egos aside and give other people a chance. Believe me, I really appreciate them.

The worst professor April 18, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, grad school.
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Between the fact that last Friday was the deadline for acceptances to grad school to decline or accept their offers and this post at Academic Jungle, I’ve been contemplating good and bad professors.  I’ll get to why grad school acceptances are relevant in a moment, but in the Academic Jungle post (or rather, the comments that follow), GMP and GEARS go back and forth about how common bad profs are.  GMP says most profs are not bad, and GEARS indicates that he thinks most are.

My experience is very mixed on this, but I’d like to share a bit about one of the worst of the bad profs I had to deal with.  He was actually a very nice person, and I worked for him for a year.  However, despite his being nice and being a good person to work with, he did two things that, had they not turned out well, could have seriously disrupted my career.

The summer before I finished my MS, I decided to apply to three doctoral programs.  As this person had been a supervisor of a research project, I felt he was the perfect person to write a recommendation on my behalf.  I gave him the forms a good six months before they were due as I was myself turning in my apps before the school year started.  As the summer came to a close, in late August, I checked the one school which had online information.  They had received two of my recommendations, but not the other one.  I stopped by the prof’s office.  He was planning to get them out at the end of the week he said.  I checked once or twice more through the semester, but his letter still hadn’t shown up.  After the holidays, about two weeks before the forms were due, I checked with him again.  Oh yeah, on their way out the door.  Two days before apps were due, one of the schools called and said it hadn’t come in.  I called him.  He was composing them, he said.  The applications came due.  Nothing.

I was fortunate that two of the schools not only considered the application without this prof’s recommendation but that they even went as far as to make me offers, one of which I accepted.  The other school called a year later, asking if I was still thinking about attending.  I have to admit that my was barely able to contain my laughter when I told them I was already attending another (much better rated) school.

I do realize now that I should’ve been wary when he still hadn’t submitted the letters two weeks beforehand.  I should’ve been hunting down another prof for the third recommendation, but I believed him when he said he had every intention of doing them.  And I’m sure he did…but he had no follow-through.

Unfortunately, this is not the worst thing that happened to me.  It turned out that this professor was on my MS committee.  On the day of my defense, he didn’t show up.  We waited for him for 20 minutes before my advisor got a hold of him via telephone.  The prof claimed that he thought the defense was on another day.  Fortunately, I had a larger committee than necessary for graduation, so we were able to proceed without him.  Had I not had an extra committee member, however, I probably wouldn’t have been able to graduate.

A couple weeks later, I was finishing up the final edits to turn into the grad school near one of the coffee shops on campus.  A couple of profs sat at a table near me, and they started talking about this particular professor/committee member of mine.  It sounds as if these sorts of behaviors I witnessed were not simply confined to me: apparently several people have had similar problems with him.

It helped knowing that this behavior was not exclusive to me, and I tried to console myself that most professors don’t behave this way.

While I still believe most don’t, I have unfortunately watched similar things play out with friends.  One friend, who is a brilliant researcher, decided not to get his PhD because his advisor would do absolutely NOTHING to help him or, for a while, acknowledge his existence.  It made me a little sick to see this person claiming credit for his student’s research (which won awards!) when he couldn’t be bothered to even have a meeting with him or read his thesis prior to his defense.  He left with a MS, but he was very angry about all of it.  And since then, I have seen more examples.

While this is not intended to claim that all professors are bad and careless, it is unfortunate that there do seem to be a good number of them.  I realize that professors like to see things from their colleagues perspective, and probably can better than any grad or undergrad student.  However, just as there are students who really care and those who don’t, there are also professors who fall various places along the continuum of professional behavior, and one shouldn’t be so quick to assume that because these stories come from students, they aren’t valid.

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