ask a scatterbrain: what is adequate?

Feeling grumpy this morning…. a student came to me after the final exam to complain that s/he hadn’t received a B- for his/her work, which was generally pretty poor. Apparently s/he and “a lot of others in the class” were confused by the following language in my syllabus:

Completing these requirements adequately will earn you a B- in the course. Completing them exceptionally well will earn you a B, B+, A-, or A, depending on the quality of work.

The student said s/he had taken the class as an elective and “didn’t need it,” indeed “would have dropped it” if s/he had understood the policy correctly. In fact, s/he went so far as to say “I don’t even understand the concepts of the course. I stayed in it because of the contract,” by which was meant the excerpt above.

We had a conversation about it this morning. Apparently “adequate” was interpreted as “to my ability,” i.e., whatever is turned in should receive no less than a B- since its very presence is prima facie evidence of adequacy. I offered this page in response. Am I just becoming a grumpy old man? Am I one already? Should I rewrite the syllabus language?

films and cartoons in social theory classes

My undergrad social theory class is organized around a modernity => postmodernity schema, with modern social theory merging to postmodern social theory. I like to show a movie or two to demonstrate elements of these themes; in the past I’ve used Star Trek for high modern theory and Blade Runner for postmodernism (pace David Harvey). Warning: some danger of spoilers after the break on Bee Movie and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Continue reading “films and cartoons in social theory classes”

grades: inflation, compression, systematic inequalities

I chair UNC’s Educational Policy Committee, and we are in the process of seeking some new policy initiatives to address grading. A reporter for the Daily Tar Heel asked me a while ago why I am such a grading “hawk”, meaning that I worry about grading problems (more on the identification of these problems below the break). The reason for his question is that I am a relatively humanities-oriented scholar in a department and discipline not exactly known for rigorous grading policies. Below the break I’ll discuss what I see as the problems, possible solutions, UNC’s current status with regard to these solutions, and why I care so much about them. Warning: this is a long and somewhat rambling post. Continue reading “grades: inflation, compression, systematic inequalities”

science as a vocation v2.0

Princeton postdoc Amin Ghaziani writes of his decision to have his undergraduate class, “Queer Theory and Politics,” demonstrate against the National Organization for Marriage and then reflect upon and analyze the demonstration for class. The writeups–in the CBSM Newsletter and in Gay and Lesbian Studies–are thoughtful, informed, and thorough. Together they demonstrate that this exercise was both far more student-led, and far more nuanced, than simply requiring students to participate in a “partisan” demonstration. Ghaziani went far out of his way to insure that each individual student was on board and that the demonstration would be interpreted in terms of class material. Continue reading “science as a vocation v2.0”

summer reading for first-year students

I’m on the committee to select the book UNC will recommend that incoming students read and then discuss during orientation. The selection has been controversial before, and sometimes not, and I enjoyed the committee last time. However, I’m concerned that too often we pick pretty straightforward narrative journalism about some case that doesn’t really challenge the students to think in new ways. To that end, I’d love us to pick a social science, law, or science book that they can read and approach, but that isn’t too easy to digest. I’ve been thinking about Sunstein and about Bishop – any other ideas would be great. What do you wish your first-year students had read before they showed up in your classes?

my grammatical pet peeves

Here are some of the things that annoy me in papers, presentations, etc., and that I’m apt to edit out or mark on manuscripts/papers I’m reviewing/grading:

  1. Comprise vs. compose
  2. Split infinitives
  3. Use of “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun
  4. Use of the second person, just about ever
  5. Use of “natural” or “human nature” as (implicit or explicit) cause of outcomes
  6. Which vs. that

What are your pet peeves?

name that blog

All right, I need y’all’s sage advice. I’m going to have my first-year seminar this fall maintain a blog as part of their course work, and I need a name. The seminar is “Citizenship and Society in the United States,” and it’s focused on political participation, writ broadly, but using the election as a consistent point of consideration.  My current top choice is since it’s sociology 66 and the election of 2008, but I can’t decide if it’s hip and tangential or just geeky. Other ideas?

o, the readerly joy of the spiteful footnote

From Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge:

To analyze this question, let’s start with a simple example inspired by a wonderful poem by Shel Silverstein entitled “Smart.” The poem is fun as well as brilliant, so if you have a computer nearby, we suggest that you type “Smart” and “Shel Silverstein” into Google and read the poem now.*

* Silverstein had personally given Thaler permission to use the poem in an academic paper published in 1985–he said he was tickled to see his work appear in the American Economic Review–but the poem is now controlled by his estate, which, after several desperate nudges (otherwise known as desperate pleas), has denied us permission to reprint the poem here. Since we would have been happy to pay royalties, unlike the Web sites you will find via Google, we can only guess that the managers of the estate (to paraphrase the poem) don’t know that some is more than one.

ask a scatterbrain: managing conflict

From someone who is ABD. This is a very liberal paraphrase (you will note that the language is strongly shakha’s), but still accurate, I believe.

I have two committee members who don’t get along. They pull me in different directions. They’re not really interested in what the other person suggests, and sometimes even seem to pull in the opposite direction simply because the other person has made a suggestion. This makes it sound more dramatic than it is. But it is kinda true. Both have been really important to me in my graduate career. But it’s getting to be too much. Their tensions are negatively influencing me in ways they shouldn’t. So, any advice? Talk to them both about it? I don’t really want to cut one of them out, because they’re both doing it (it’s not obviously one’s fault) and if I cut one it seems like I’m picking sides. I don’t want to pick sides. I’m not on either of their sides. I’m on my side. And I wish they could be too! Neither is my adviser.

dodging bullies

Not that I post often, but I haven’t been posting at all lately. Not that I need to offer an account, but I am about to do just that: I’m being bullied.

I thought that there was something wrong with me if I could be bullied by colleagues and students, but it turns out that I’m not alone. In fact, 424 comments and counting later, it is increasingly obvious that there’s an issue here and while there are a few academics on those 424, I’m looking for more who will share their stories.

I’ll start. Continue reading “dodging bullies”

how do you build a network? ask a scatterbrain*

From grad students, a series of questions that I have compiled into one big mess. Basically: how do you build a network and does it matter what kind you build?

People keep telling me how important it is to “build networks.” I understand why. I just don’t understand how. So, how do you go about “building networks”? If you’re at Berkeley or Wisconsin it’s one thing (big departments, people leave, you have “real” connections outside your department). But what if you’re not? Or if you are and you don’t really have a network other than your adviser and committee members? And what kind of networks are most important? Inside your substantive area? Outside your substantive area? Does it matter? And while we’re on it, would I rather have a few really strong ties, or a bunch of weaker ones? You know, would I rather have a few people who overlap with one another (they know each other) that I know well, or a bunch of people I don’t know well but who aren’t themselves overlapping? I know what Granovetter says. But what about in sociology, the discipline? And finally, are ties that important early on when I’m first getting a job? Or are people just telling me this because it’s important for later (tenure) so I might as well start working on it now?

* I know this is a Wednesday feature. But I’m busy tomorrow. So I’m pushing it forward to today. And I leave on Thursday to go to visit Kieran’s (and my mom’s) people back at the old sod.

what matters? ask a scatterbrain

From a student:

I’m a few years away from the job market. But not THAT far away. What matters? Everyone I talk to alternates between telling me how hard it is to predict the job market while acting surprised that I’m not doing what I “should”. So, what “should” I do? What matters on my CV? What matters that isn’t on my CV?