Category Archives: students
You’d think that once you get to a certain age, you’d grow up, act like a responsible adult and other responsible adults would curtly acknowledge your maturity with a slight nod of their head as you passed them on the street. Yeah, this never happens. You will remain that silly little five-year old FOREVER! Except, unlike when you were five, you now have the leeway to drink, drive, vote and make babies (not necessarily all together – though it could make for interesting voter news footage). You’re probably thinking that my story is going to waddle off on yet another rant about students and student life. You’re wrong. This little tale has to do with those who are in charge of moulding the minds of tomorrow’s
street cleaners MacDonald’ s waiter leaders.
Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that from time to time academics are prone to behave somewhat…err… oddly. I’ve usually been on the receiving end of their antics. Begging for wine money in Ireland comes to mind, as does placarding expletives in foreign languages all over the lecturer’s lounge, but usually it’s all in good fun, and the short burst of immaturity morphs back into absent-minded nodding at strangers. Unfortunately, there are some ‘grown-ups’ who never got the memo.
I am sorry to say, that today, after a number of good laughs were had while attempting to bring to life our own version of Where’s Wally, the ‘grown-up’ surveillance system decided that in an institution of higher learning and students, there is no room for practical jokes, immaturity and silliness. It’s all rather unprofessional, don’t you know. As you can see from the picture of our ‘clients’ alongside, we’re all about serving humourless, mature adults.
No room for joking here!
Instead, our morning has been filled with emails flying backwards and forwards, requesting permission from management 100kms away if we can go pee-pee. Yup, it sure is fun to be a grown-up.
PS The bathroom break was noted and granted.
Nothing can ever prepare you for exam marking. Even after you’ve done it for years. I think it’s like childbirth – you forget the pain and bloody mess involved. But unlike children, who are obliged to love you, exam marking just leaves you empty, hollow and suicidal.
However, before you end up at that stage, exam marking makes you wonder. Wonder if there’s hope for the human race, wonder why people pay so much money to fail, wonder if you missed some of your own lectures because the answers are so incredibly bizarre.
Can anyone tell me what a crippy is? Apparently it lives in your brain. And no, I don’t teach biology, human physiology, neurology or psychology; though I think this student might need a doctor.
But I digress. We were at the stage of wonder. Overall, you just begin to wonder what you spent the last six months doing.
Exams are wonderful examples of understanding what students really take away from your lectures and you realise how little they really know about the outside world. Everything is conflated and music videos end up being performed during World War 1 in rememberance of children who died in the Soweto uprising (the video in question is Zombie by The Cranberries, just in case you were wondering).
And then, every now and then, you find one exam that’s vaguely intelligent, and you pretty much lose your mind.
OH MY GOSH! THIS PERSON IS BRILLIANT! THEY SHOULD WIN A NOBEL PRIZE FOR AWESOMENESS & I SHOULD CLONE THEM FOR THE SAKE OF HUMAN KIND!
Then I dance; well, in my head I dance, in reality I just kind of jump up and down giggling like a rabid tiny human. And then, the world comes crashing down as you realise that it’s not really that good. The student just has the ability to put more than two coherent sentences together. The content is actually crap and you slap on a 65.
BUT THEN! You find ONE. ONE out of seventy that is coherent, intelligent and uses big words correctly. You consider emailing the student and thanking them for being a truly remarkable human being; instead, you write 85% on their work, and move on with a semblance of hope. Hope that the world isn’t doomed, hope that you’ll find more exams in the pile that are worthy, hope that there may be one that’s better.
Like a tired octogenarian, it doesn’t come. It barely dribbles. Sure, you get the solid work. The work that some hard-grafting and dedicated student has memorised for the 24-hour period of their exam. But you know that come Monday, they’ll be possessed by that cripper, and all will be forgotten.
You cry; violently into a pillow. You cry for the trees that gave their lives so that this drivel could be written, you cry for the sake of the country and business, but most of all, you cry for yourself as you realise that you’re broke, the year is over and your students still don’t know the difference between Belfast and Berlin.
But next year… Next year it’ll all change. You know you can get this right. You know you can make a difference. And so the pain and disappointment dissolves and you ready yourself for the next batch.
A couple of weeks ago one of my Honours students remarked how impressive it was that I read books; he then gasped when I said that I often read the same book more than once. His comment was only topped when another Honours darling told me that she hated reading. My honest reaction was, then why are you doing a postgraduate degree if you don’t want to read? But unfortunately, it seems as if less and less students think reading is important and most seem to try avoid it as much as possible. Instead, they seem to prefer taking the easy route when it comes to research and are content at having a quick skim on Wikipedia. The more concise the better. Unfortunately, I’m no cartoonist, but if I were, I’d so draw what I’m about to write next to prove how dangerous such behaviour is.
The world is on the brink of destruction; the nuclear blast that the Americans fired at North Korea killed most and left many more a walking abomination of death and glowing radiation. A few survived, but in this world I’m convinced it’ll only be those of us who know how to live without technology that’ll be able to rescue the human race, kill the zombies and start a new Eden (I’m banking on being supreme ruler and will name the new world Lepus Sylvaticus).
Anyway, picture this: The zombies are attacking, there is no power and the internet has crashed permanently. The only way to defend yourself and acquire the information on how to survive is located in a quaint and archaic building previously known as a library. In order to survive, you are required to search through volumes of text and read the fine detail because not every zombie is the same. Knowing the difference between the bucketheads and coneheads is vital because only one can be defeated by butter, while the other is only susceptible to chainsaws. But here’s the problem, nobody has the ability to find anything in any of the books because they’re too used to having Google find information for them. And worse, after two sentences of reading they are bored, because nobody is used to reading anything in detail, and so they give up, succumbing to a bloody zombie mauling.
In another scenario, you may have survived on pure idiotic luck, but the zombies are fast approaching and not only do you not know how to kill them, because you won’t read more than two sentences, but you also have no clue how many you are going to have to kill because along with no internet, you have no calculators to add up how many are after you. It’s that story sum that you thought was of no use during Math class: You are surrounded by 68 zombies. Tommy has 28 chainsaws while Susie has 11. How many chainsaws do you need to pick up to get out alive? Too slow! And you actually needed butter because they were bucketheads. Your tiny brain is now being devoured. Bye bye!
Now, after this amazingly brilliant insight, I hope you see how important it is not to rely so heavily on technology? You don’t want to survive a nuclear holocaust just to be devoured by zombies, do you? Come on! Read a book! Learn to add, and most importantly, stop asking Google for everything!
Today, I’m going to get a little personal. I apologise to everyone in advance, but I write this post as a way to, hopefully, generate a little discussion about the lives of students. Every so often my department tries to “promote a culture of learning” and invites all their postgrads to a seminar in which either a senior postgrad student, or a staff member, talks for an hour and a half about their research. The problem is that it’s usually only the most junior of postgrads who attend (there are reasons for this, but I’m not at liberty to divulge them), and for me, it appears that most don’t want to be there, and honestly, don’t really seem that interested. I’m not sure how true this is, I’m hoping that some will be brave enough to comment on this post and talk about their feelings (I’m like a cool social media therapist in that way).
Perhaps part of the problem is that most of them have just come from a two hour seminar, but I think there’s more to it than that. Yesterday was one of those days, and while I was listening to people talk after the presentation, certain things struck me as to why most students don’t seem that interested in attending these talks. But before I begin, I want to make one thing clear, yesterday’s presentation was interesting, and if you’d read the piece of work the presenter was talking around, it would have made it easier to follow.
Anyway, I think a lot of the problem has to do with the delivery of the whole thing because there’s a definite sense of them and us. Everyone seems oblivious to the fact that most of the people attending these workshops are still starting out in their academic careers and are still learning how all of this works. And that they’re still apprehensive about seeing and talking to their lecturers as people. Some would argue, tough they must grow up, and that this process isn’t meant for them, but to give staff members a chance to understand each other’s research and work. Well then, if that’s the case, why not just set aside a time to do this privately (again, I have theories, but I value my life)? We do this because the little ones must be given a chance to see where research goes, they tell me. But then why does it seem that everyone is incapable of talking about things in a simple manner, and making it and themselves more accessible? Maybe, it’s just the academic way, but for me (and this is where it gets personal) it appears that most people are just trying to sound smart rather than having the ability to generate real discussion around an issue. I’m sure that if people were less concerned with using four-syllable words and academic jargon (usually incorrectly), they would get more people joining in on a discussion.
It’s no wonder that the ‘real-world’ view academics as living in ivory towers coming up with ideal ideas about things that have no bearing on the realities of the outside world. The sad irony of it all is that there is a lot of value in the research that is done at universities, but because of the way it’s delivered, the general population are excluded from engaging with it. One of my students recently wrote a post complaining about the way that academic articles are written, and I see her point. So for the next seminar, which I have the misfortune of having to present, I’m going to try something different. Keeping it as simple as possible. It may work, it may fall flat on its pimply pre-pubescent posterior, but I’m going to try. So, no more pedagogical endeavours masquerading as entertainment, mine’s about chilling, chatting, laughing and having fun. Oh, and there will be wine because the best discussions always have wine.
Anybody who told you that getting a PhD was about hard grafting, reading vast volumes of work and writing up your findings in a couple hundred pages was lying. Getting a PhD goes far beyond that. I’ve promised that one day I’ll write an entire book detailing the things that I’ve had to endure while being a grad student. Today, however, is not that day; instead, it’s the best advice I can give anybody who thinks that becoming a grad student is a good idea, and how to get out as quickly as you can.
1. Assing Around
It may sound absurd, but hear me out. Being a grad student generally involves taking some time to work as a grad assistant, or grad ass, as I like to say (with the emphasis on ass). You’re at the bottom of the food chain in the academic environment, which means that you are responsible for the ass-end of things, and the general mopping up of any shit that goes down. And I mean that quite literally. I’ve actually been made to dispose of scat left by the building’s feline colony (I have my suspicions that it’s actually students leaving a warning to various lecturers about their teaching styles, but I try not to rock the boat and keep my mouth shut). Anyway, you should prepare to be treated like an ass. You’re a necessary evil to make people’s lives easier, but something that most don’t like to deal with. The quicker you learn that, the faster you can impress your supervisor who will speed up the process of reading your work to irrigate the department, so to speak.
2. Learn how to reference
This might seem like an obvious tip, but I don’t mean learn how to reference for your thesis. I mean, learn how to reference using every style that you can lay your hands on. Why? Because referencing is a time-consuming banality of academics. The chances are when your wise and supremely talented superior submits an article for publication they are far too busy contemplating existentialism and the meaning of life to worry about such menial chores, so you, as the ass, will be entrusted to put their reference lists together. And God help you if the article is rejected because of bad referencing. You will spend an extra six months waiting for your draft to come back because you cocked up, and your supreme leader has to take time away from your thesis to fix your incompetence.
3. Learn how to use Google
Again, this many seem obvious, but when you are putting together that reference list the chances are, that in their ultimate wisdom, your supreme ruler will have forgotten to include one or two references, page numbers, journal details or the like to test your abilities. It’s up to you, like a super smooth 1920s detective, to work out where the information came from and fill in the blanks. Being able to find missing references is an art, especially when you are looking for a page number of a quote from a book that’s been out of print for the last 50 years. Being able to do this fast, and correctly, will prove to your supervisor that you are worthy of a few extra minutes of their time. Remember, every minute you save your supervisor, is an extra minute they can dedicate to your thesis.
4. Be able to define a ‘thingie’
If you’ve ever watch The Devil Wears Prada, you might remember the scene where Miranda tells Andy to book that restaurant that she likes with the guy whose name was on the piece of paper that she had in her hand last week (or something to that effect at least). Now combine this vagueness with the more stereotypical vagueness of an academic and you come out with the following conversation:
Supervisor: What did I do with that thingie from two days ago.
Me: It’s on your desk under the book on phenomenology.
Supervisor: No that’s the other thingie. I’m talking about the one with the thing that has the thing on the thing with a thing.
Me: Oh that! Here you go.
I’m that good. And sometimes, if I’ve been really good, I even get a thank you and a whole two minutes to discuss my latest theoretical idea.
5. Be observant
Always pay attention. You will be asked to find lost books, envelopes, passports and of course, thingies. Like a wild game hunter, you need to know your surroundings and be able to notice when something’s amiss. That’s the difference between an average grad ass and a super grade A ass. Your ability to notice and remember where you see things can make it seem like you’re super-human, with awesome psychic powers or x-ray vision, and nobody wants to mess with a superhero. If you are able to locate random missplaced essentials with seemingly no effort, your supervisor will speed up the process. Either because they fear what you may do with your super powers if you turn to the dark side, or because there are only so many times that their egos can be upstaged by a know-it-all grad student. Either way, you’ll get out fast.
And if all else fails, threaten to write a book 🙂
We’re always faced with a multitude of what ifs in our lives. What if I’d never gone overseas, what if I’d never had that one night stand, what if I’d stopped at that red light. But I think the question that plagues me day in and day out as I ponder my existentialism is what if I’d stopped after my undergrad and got a real job. You see, that was always my plan. I never meant to carry on to do Honours, let alone anything more. But as life happened and things unfolded, Honours ended up being the way to go. Once I got in, the powers that be thought it was a good idea to give me my own first year minions. They hung on my every word and celebrated my amazing intellect (not really, but I like to pretend they did). But more importantly, they did what I said (not that they had a choice… It was either that or fail).
From then I realised that being a postgrad meant you had power. Not as much as the old wrinkly lecturers, but enough to allow illusions of grandeur to permeate my psyche. Looking back now I realise how misguided and naive I was as a baby postgrad. There wasn’t any power, just a lot of first years who liked being able to say that they’d seen someone who taught them stuff drunk. The higher you go there’s less fun and people start to believe that you are intellectually capable and should take on more responsibility. Ugh! True, it was fun as a baby postgrad, but I’m now convinced that’s how they trap you. They give that false belief that you are awesome, then once you’re in, they make you wish you were dead. Research, writing, suicidal students, menopausal lecturers, oh, and a thesis or two. You have to deal with it all.
Why couldn’t I have just left when I had the chance? I could’ve been someone… Or I could still be unemployed whining about the fact that I should’ve done Honours. I guess that’s how it is. You never know. To be honest, I enjoy most of what I do, but it would be interesting to see where I’d been if things were different.
We all know that the government wants to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21; one of my students even wrote about it, but his post and many other comments that have been chucked around have left me a little uneasy. As S (my student :P) pointed out, raising the age limit isn’t going to stop those who are under-age from acquiring alcohol, nor is it going to stop those who already sell to under-18s (just ask the Americans!), but I think the thing that irritates me most is that all this talk presumes one thing: it’s only the youth who abuse alcohol. Seriously?! What kind of stupid logic is that? Go to any pub, bar, club in the country, and you’ll find plenty of middle-aged hipsters stumbling, slurring, and generally behaving badly. The problem that we have in South Africa, and in most of the Western world, is not an age problem (though I will come back to this), it’s that we are generally lackadaisical in our approach to responsibility and alcohol. Perhaps I’m passing the buck here a little, but I don’t think it’s anything that is entirely our fault. Overall, our consideration toward alcohol and drinking is driven by years of learned social behaviour: it’s fun to go out drinking with your friends, it’s ok to get a little drunk and giggly to let loose, and only losers can’t handle more than one glass.
And actually, I agree with all of it (yes, you are a loser if you’re drunk after one glass). I’m not advocating anything here. I can’t judge. I’ve had fabulous evenings talking to rose bushes and fish ponds after
a bottle of tequila a couple of drinks, and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with it. But I do think it’s wrong to point fingers at an age group for something that isn’t confined them. You’re assuming that drinking and getting drunk are the activities of immature children. Pah! The stories I, and I’m sure you, could tell about people in their 40s, 50s, 80s and too many whiskies would put every teeny-bopper to shame.
The problem comes in when you’re no longer safe, and perhaps that’s where it does become a youth issue. Now I’m only talking from personal experience here, so it could just be my perception, but I’ve seen far too many students watch their ‘friends’ get completely smashed and then put them into a cab on their own, leave them on the bathroom floor in a club, or worse, send them off into the middle of town to buy food. Usually this happens, it seems, because they don’t want to leave the party, and looking after their friend will detract from the fun they’re having. That’s where the maturity comes in, I think. Most people I know (and most are pretty old) look out for each other. If I decide that I need to go off on some world-altering mission into the depths of an African street (tequila makes me think I’m invincible) then there’s usually someone who either acts as my side-kick until I get bored, or
ties me to a chair puts me to bed. I do the same for them, but, the crunch is that unless I know I have that support, I don’t go out. I don’t feel the need to be at every party and my FOMO’s decreased as I got older. Then again, that’s just me and the people I know. Maybe being a narcissistic douche doesn’t disappear with age, but I sure hope to hell it does, otherwise we have more problems than just our drinking.
Evaluations. I hate them. Especially when they come back from quality control and you get a sense of how much a class either liked you or loathed you. Most experienced lecturers will tell you to just ignore the nasty comments because those are usually written by the most difficult students, but if you’re having a marginally bad day, the remarks can make you near-suicidal. Luckily, I haven’t had anything too awful written about me yet; though once an evaluation had clear death-threat connotations attached to it, and another said that I shouldn’t get a salary because I suck. But while perusing the bitchiness and constant nit-picking about whether or not I’m old enough to lecture, or if I’m nice enough to talk to, I began thinking, why don’t we get to write evaluations on students. I know we mark their work, but that’s an assessment on how well they’ve applied themselves to a given task. What would happen if their final mark was assessed by their overall approachability, organisation and conduct during class.
Luckily, I have a blog, so here are a few things that I would like to comment on in my evaluation of individual students over the years:
For in-class behaviour
1. Student hasn’t brought any writing implements with them throughout semester. Concerned that they never learnt to write. Perhaps they should learn, come back next year, and try again.
2. Student on cellphone throughout class, with headphones in. I do like the sound of my own voice A LOT, but I can talk to myself at home… in bed… with coffee. So, if you don’t want to listen, please stay away.
3. Student conducts private lecture at the back of the class. I would really like a break so I suggest that you take the whole lecture (on a side note – wait until someone starts giggling for no reason and see how confident you feel).
1. Student cannot form a complete sentence. Please go away and don’t come back until you learn to write.
2. Student writes gibberish. When I ask what they meant, they look confused and reply ‘I don’t know’. Please go away and don’t come back until you realise that I don’t speak idiot.
3. Student wrote beautiful essay on the public sphere. Pity they were required to write on postmodernism. I assume their reading level is up to Twi-hard. Just walk away…
1. Student smells. Disturbing other students. I advise deodorant, or more preferably a bath.
…….. Wait, hang on…..
I’ve always threatened to put up a shame board of ridiculous student answers and antics. That could be a way of getting back at the mean ones (you think we don’t know your handwriting and those evaluations are all anonymous… Ah, bless).
For once in my life I was organised for everything. I’d made the hand-outs, copied the hand-outs, organised the computer lab, and access, for all the journ students. The universe however, was having none of it and decided that today was the day to test my speed, patience and self-control. I woke up with waves of nausea, and now know that it takes approximately 6 seconds for last night’s chicken to make its way from my small intestine back up my dietary tract; about the same time it takes to get out my office, down the stairs, and to the bathroom. After that wonderful test of endurance, I then had to go and teach the little darlings, who are the journalism students for 2013. And guess what?! The lab wasn’t ready. In fact, we only had two computers that worked, and the Uni’s internet was down (AGAIN!). So no venue, no equipment, and an unpredictable intestinal storm. And to make matters worse, once we’d found a venue to use, one of the little darlings decided that the chairs were so super awesome that he had to spend the whole hour spinning around and around in my peripheral vision. Obviously, this was exactly what my nauseous stomach needed, and I had to control the impulse to run back downstairs again. Luckily, my amazing stamina and self-control prevailed until the end of Nikolai’s spin cycle, and the end of class. Pity that nothing else seemed to go my way. Conclusion: the universe disapproves of anal preparedness and will try to kill you with your own stomach acid if you think otherwise.
After opening my email this evening, I was struck with a thought. What makes a person stupid? Actually, my first thought was that it’s illegal to strangle stupid people; then I thought what makes a person stupid. I’m not talking about intelligence here. That’s determined by a number of factors. Just because I can read and write (haltingly), or play the piano (I can’t), or add and subtract vast arrays of incomprehensible algebraic functions (I can’t do that either), doesn’t make me smart, but it does allude to the idea that I have some level of intellect that has allowed me to learn such things. So then why is it that so many people that I come into contact with on a day-to-day basis act like such incompetent, moronic imbeciles? Is it their complete lack of logic, a deprived childhood without fluffy toys, or just an inane desire to annoy me?
Let’s take this lovely email. My students (now, now, don’t judge, they’re people too you know?) have to do group projects which will culminate into a class presentation this Friday. Three weeks ago they were told that they would be put into groups, and to email their choice of topics before the next class so that I could sort them. Some (the good ones) did exactly as they were asked, others (the ummm… bad ones) did not, so I had to randomly place them into groups so that we could move on with the project. Last week, they assembled in class, were given their group listings and were required to continue on their merry way doing the group assignment. One teeny, tiny, little problem – my class is filled with ghosts (aka the umm… bad ones).
And that’s where my email comes in. One of the wandering spirits has emerged, with a message: Choice 1 – Group xyz; Choice 2 – abc; Choice 3: pqr. Sorry, to tell you this Casper, but you’re already part of a group; a group that has already met, decided what they’re doing, and came up with a plan to work around your vaporised presence. And before I hear complaining and whining and oh, oh, oh, oh, that’s so unfair and you need an extension and, and, and, try this – come to class. If you’d bothered to be there in the first place you’d know what was going on. Actually, if you’d bothered to read the material placed online, or your course material, or your emails, you’d know what was expected of you. So, in reply to your plea for an extension: NOT MY PROBLEM!
In reply to your group’s plea to deal with you: IT’S NOT THEIR PROBLEM – CARRY ON AS IF YOU WEREN’T THERE!
Reading this back to myself, I realise I sound incredibly nasty and fed up. But truth be told, I am. And this was just the icing on the cake. When you are constantly forced to deal with lazy and incompetent people (not students!) it does drive you a little crazy. For example, in reply to an email which someone I know sent, they asked where an administrative meeting was to be held, along with a number of other questions relating to administration. The reply from the receiver was: if the student is in Durban send them there, if they are in PMB send them to PMB. Huh? I thought the question was about where a meeting was being held and admin, not where to send students? But at least I’m not alone in dealing with the brainless undead, other people around me have to deal with it too………… HANG ON! Brainless undead?! People aren’t becoming stupid, it’s the rise of the freaking zombie apocalypse! Screw strangling them, bring me my chainsaw!