Wednesday, May 9, 2012

So THAT'S how they do it.

From one of our first-year grad students -- in week thirteen of the semester, mind you:

"Yeah, Professor [X] hasn't gotten back any of our work to us, or assigned us any grades for any of it.  So we've all just figured that either we're doing okay, or we're not, and we'll find out when he gives out the final grades... I guess he's working on his next book."

Ah.  So that's the key to productivity.



Contingent Cassandra said...

Well it's certainly how they did it in my Ivy-League Ph.D. program. Sometimes we had to do a seminar presentation, for which I don't remember getting any kind of feedback, and we always had to write one substantial paper, due at the end of the semester, about which we may have had a meeting with the professor (or not). Assuming you handed in the paper sometime before you defended, you got an A in the course(and still no feedback). I think we were supposed to write a dissertation prospectus, but my department was in turmoil that year, and nobody organized that process, at least for those of us who had lost advisors in said turmoil. It was a few years later that somebody realized that I (and several others) hadn't written one, and came up with some hasty process to correct the omission by having us describe projects that were by then well underway (if not, perhaps, particular well defined). Once I got an advisor, and managed to turn out a chapter (nobody wanted to comment or, really, even talk about anything less), there was a bit (but only a bit) more feedback on dissertation chapters.

Mind you, these weren't bad courses or bad professors. The professors designed the courses thoughtfully, with primary and critical readings which complemented each other, and led discussions well, and even threw in some thoughts about writing and publishing and the directions various fields were going and related professional matters. But, especially if the seminars were based on the professor's current research (which they nearly always were), the time investment on the professor's part was minimal. And the dissertation process was almost entirely dependent on the advisor/advisee relationship, with few institutional structures in place support that relationship (or even make sure that everyone *had* and advisor).

I think they were basically trading on the fact that they were admitting very good students, who could figure many things out on our own from reading published models. I survived (barely), but I could never in good conscience teach that way. Even (especially) good students benefit from feedback, from help in planning/scaffolding projects along the way, and from clear rules and procedures that help them (and their advisors) navigate departmental politics.

But the professors I had were all very productive, teaching grad classes was in part a reward for that productivity, and the system they used in turn fostered yet more productivity.

The moral of my story (and yours)? Perhaps scholarly productivity, while *a* good, is not necessarily the highest good.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Yep. Now, don't get me wrong: I know I allocate far too much time on the instructional part of my job, and I know that I need a better balance. But I think my colleague may just be letting his students (M.A., not Ph.D.) hang, and that's not right, either.

Historiann said...

I know my life would be a lot more fun without grading. I'm not sure it would save me so much time that I'd have a second book out already, though.