the blind leading the blind

Tonight I participated in one of our residence hall’s “dinner in a dorm” events. This is actually my second time, but it was different because I was invited by one of my lovely students. Previously, when I — along with other new faculty — attended a similar event, I was paired with a hall official. Such arrangements are referred to as “blind dates” by the students.

The premise behind the event is that faculty get to see the students “other side” by touring their dorm, learning about the traditions, and talking outside of the classroom. Inevitably, I learn a lot more than just this. Most of all I learn just how little students know about the “other side” of faculty’s lives. Until occasions like this, they often don’t realize that we have children and partners or that we actually live in this city year-round ( believe it or not!) and (gasp!) work during school breaks. Those little TCE’s (and yeah, that’s what the year-end course evaluations that look a little like standardized tests are called) should not incite maniacal laughter as students think about how they used one to really “stick it to that jerk.” In fact, they aren’t at all funny to us and, at least as the local lore suggest, actually matter. The students don’t know what tenure is, why we want it, or what we have to do to get it. They are adamantly opposed, though, to any policy that doesn’t allow people to get fired (‘cuz that just isn’t right!). They also know very little about the city, other than where the airport, Target, Chipotle, and the bars are.

Although most “real” blind dates are more comfortable than these awkward affairs, I’ll keep going to them if I’m invited. It’s important to me that, at the end of the night, they’ve learned as much about us as we have about them. Of course… that assumes that they’re the kind of blind dates who aren’t too wrapped up in themselves to listen (sigh).

and while we’re at it, i can do without mr. webster too

Another of my pet peeves is starting an academic paper by referring to the dictionary definition of something. “According to Webster’s Dictionary, X is defined as…” How many times have you read that sentence in your life? I suppose it is a lousy, boring, but minimally acceptable way for an undergraduate to start a First Year Composition paper (even then, could you possible get any less original?), but I think by the time grad school rolls around, it’s time to give old Noah the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. Continue reading “and while we’re at it, i can do without mr. webster too”

question of the week (take 1)

Here is our very first question of the week. If you have a question you’d like me to post, email me (see the side-bar with my name – this will be a weekly feature on Wednesdays). I will not reveal who asks these questions. From a grad student:

Is it a bad idea to have an untenured (assistant) professor as your advisor? I have heard it is; that you should go with someone established and if possible, famous. What’s the conventional wisdom here? Continue reading “question of the week (take 1)”

what ever happened to…

That idea of Jeremy’s where grad students ask questions about things they’ve heard about the discipline, the job market, navigating grad school, etc.? And then folks who’ve been around the block chime in and answer. Wasn’t that going to be a regular feature of this blog? I really liked the idea. It was first suggested here. This could be one of our niches in the sociology blogosphere. And I could list it as “service” for my reviews. We could call it our, “question of the week (or weak)”.

first day of (grad) class

As usual, I want to get the semester started off right on the one graduate course I teach each year, and every time I teach this course, I decide that there are a few more things that I should not take for granted that the students will know. While I usually turn to Fabio for All Things Grad School, his take on the Grad Skool Rulz of how to take a class falls somewhere between “don’t” and “do a decent job of it,” so from a professor’s perspective, that leaves a bit of a gap in helping students know what they need to get the job done. I’ve compiled a short list of things I intend to go over on the first day, before we get to the content of the course, and I was hoping for some feedback and additional suggestions. Continue reading “first day of (grad) class”

where to draw the line?

The recent post about how background characteristics and former experiences shape people’s behavior reminded me of a case that raises questions about where we should draw the line in being sensitive to people’s various circumstances.

In a plagiarism case with a graduate student, a colleague once told me: “Well, this is cultural, where he is from [insert country], this is common and often allowed.” My colleague thought that therefore we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it. I found this approach very frustrating. For one thing, the graduate student had already spent over four years at American institutions. Wouldn’t that amount of time be enough to teach someone that plagiarism is not okay at American universities?

How far can/should we stretch sensitivity to different types of behavior based on differences in background?

’tis the season

You don’t have to be an economic sociologist to understand that as a professor, it is not straight forward to get gifts from students. It’s that time of the year (or maybe one of those times in addition to the end of the academic year) when gifts might appear. What to do? I haven’t developed a formal policy about this, but maybe I should.

My preference is for students not to give me gifts. And if it were to come up, I would say no ahead of time. But it doesn’t usually come up (people don’t usually say: “I’ll be stopping by to give you a gift.”) and it’s awkward and rude to reject something when someone’s already giving it to you. So what to do? Continue reading “’tis the season”