Wednesday, April 20, 2011


The ceiling of my office here is much nicer than that of my old Ivy League office. Sometimes when "all this" is too much, I'll lay down on the floor of my office, listen to some music, and think about my nice neutral ceiling tiles. My current office has carpet and new ceiling tiles. My old Ivy League office had an unforgiving, institutional floor, over which I had to spread my yoga mat just to get comfortable enough to contemplate those water-stained ceiling tiles. The story is much the same. My students are pissing away grant dollars, not publishing, and not listening to my direction. Even if I go into the lab and show them how to do it, they can't even copy my actions. If I give them a paper, they can't reproduce the results. It takes two students to do one project, but grants generally fund one student. I'm not at a top ten place, and I don't get top ten students. It is what it is. Usual stuff, right? We've all got the same deal even if we're in a different department or discipline.

Today, I was sent over the edge by a student in my class. With all the stress of my lab, the last thing I want is my class weighing me down. This student told me that they would like to take the exam on some other day because they weren't ready for our exam tonight. Dumbfounded, I asked if they were serious. Oh yes, they were serious. The end of the story is that they agreed to take the exam tonight. But the whole interaction left me so bitter. I love teaching, but this ruins the experience for me. The bottom 5% of the class takes up 95% of my time. They are whining, complaining, and doing everything to weasel out of assignments and exams. They sure as hell aren't studying.

The rewarding days are so few and far between. I'll just lay down, and wait for the semester to end.


GMP said...

I'm sorry. I know how you feel (I am at a top 15 place, so students are not uniformly fabulous, but it only takes one or two really good ones to make your program really take off... Just be patient!)

Regarding teaching: one rule I whole-heartedly endorse is not to bend over backwards to accommodate unreasonable student requests. The bottom 5% of the class will give you bad evals no matter what, even worse if they perceive you as a pushover. My evals actually went up, and my sanity came back, when I stopped being Prof Available Whenever as well as Prof Pushover Accommodating (I did it sometime in year 2 or 3 on the TT).

Anonymous said...

I'm with GMP. My evals went up when I became less available. I send a couple of students away when they come to my office outside of office hours. I am nice and make an appointment with them, for another time, after asking them if they could come during office hours. It usually happens a couple of times at the beginning of term, then ends as word travels.

There are no make-up midterms. If they have a medical excuse, then their midterm score gets redistributed over other midterms and final, according to their choices. Re finals, I just embrace the university policy which basically says no excuse unless you're home dead and the doctor gave you a letter to that effect. If they don't show up and they have a medical excuse, then they can apply for a deferred exam. I decide on a date for that, after a brief consultation with them. Works great for evals, sanity and research time - and, I am sure, for their understanding of responsibilty.

Grads, well, I'm with you here.

JaneB said...

Awww, I'm sorry. And I empathise, a lot. People are just so much harder than science sometimes!

Anonymous said...

Are your grad students really that lazy and uncaring or are they just learning? I was a student not so long ago - the things that seem easy now were definitely not so easy as a student. Writing a paper was definitely not easy - I didn't even know where to start. It was most helpful when my my adviser expressed excitement with getting my research going and written up, asked how I was doing, and offered necessary support (editing first drafts in particular). Weekly meetings are helpful too - not so you can question how much the student has done this week, but see where they're struggling and a tiny push will make a big difference. Then enjoy their progress knowing you've made a difference in their learning (not just getting credit for a student who is smart and independent and just needs a name on their adviser list). Having a grant not cover sufficient student research time seems normal to me - students are expected to TA while doing research.

As for the undergrad - sounds like you handled it just right. Expect them to respect you and your time, and respect theirs as necessary (e.g. in exceptional cases of three exams on the same day or true family emergencies).