Archive for the ‘undergraduate issues’ Category

Yes, even in a 4th year class on developmental biology.

I decided to take a seminar class on dev-bio for the following reasons: the topic is pretty damn interesting, I really liked my dev-bio and evo-devo classes last year, and the profs teaching the course are the most engaging instructors I have had at university. What I had failed to take into account was that class content would be highly determined by the students enrolled and that some student would have managed to get through three years of a biology degree believing in Intelligent Design. Apparently, this was a huge oversight.

It didn’t help that the person presenting decided to spring this on us as a wild change of topic. He started off doing a pretty good overview of some aspects of sex determination in mammals and how one model of this was creating. After about an hour of this he finished and put up a slide about how the stuff we learn in class and in the labs should effect the way we view the world. My immediate thought was: “Awesome, we’re going to talk about sex/gender/intersex people/etc!” Oh, how wrong I was. The segue wasn’t for that; it was for a slide with the words intelligent design plastered all over.

*Sigh* What followed that was an entirely uncomfortable 45 minutes.

He started off with an exercise involving us pretending we knew nothing about several objects and trying to intuitively place them in either designed, natural, probably designed. I, of course, decided to object because if I don’t know anything about these object I can make no judgement about their origins. It’s also pretty damn hard to pretend you know nothing about a lion or a pyramid. As you can guess, this was all about making us go “complexity = design” because obviously our “cognitive biases = reality”.

This was all to prime us for the magic that is — wait for it — Kirk fucking Durston. Was it rude to giggle at that point?

My problem right now is that I need to give this guy a mark (wee! for peer marking), but I have nod idea how to go about that. Do I give him a good mark because he did a good job presenting the science-y bits? Do I give him a terrible mark because he used the science-y bits to legitimize wasting my time on inane, drivel? Is it right to give him a zero because, while he can parrot biology he seems to have not learned the core of the subject?


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No, I haven’t failed my midterms. With the exception of one mark that hasn’t been given back, I haven’t gotten anything below an A-. I did however notice that a few people landed here using that search term and while I’m not an expert on most things, I sure do know something about bad midterm marks.

So here are my tips for recovering from a bad midterm mark (some are more serious than others):

  • Develop a relationship with alcohol. Out of all the drugs out there that can “help” with feeling shitty, alcohol is the only one that’s legal. And as an added bonus, if you drink a half a bottle of 80 proof alcohol you can count the next day as a suitable punishment. My personal preference is this vodka straight out of the freezer.
  • If you aren’t up for cirrhosis, then try to find some way to get your mind off of it. You can do something nice for yourself like buy some yummy cheesecake, take a relaxing bath, go out with friends, or sleep.
  • Remember that your midterm probably doesn’t count for more that 30% of your mark (unless your professor is an asshole). This means that if you get a 50% on your midterm you’ve only lost 15% of your final mark. You might still have time to study your ass off and get a 90% on your next midterm/exam. I’ve gone from a C on a midterm to an overall A- in th course. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible.
  • If there are other issues that may have led to your fucking up, go talk to somebody. You can go to your university’s counselling services (if you’re at UofT, that’s CALSS) or your registrar. Hell, your professor may even be sympathetic depending on the issue.
  • It might not be to late to drop the course.
  • If you’re doing badly in a lot of classes, it might be a good idea to take a year or two off. It could help if you have personal issues you need to deal with or if you just think that maybe you’re not cut out for university.

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CV woes

Confused about CVs? Well, so was I the first time I had to write one. After writing, re-writing, and updating my CV several times, I think I have more of a clue as to what I’m doing. For the most part, I’ve figured out what sections work for me and what to write in each one. But, there is still one part I do spend quite a bit of time agonizing over: Lab skills.

It shouldn’t be hard. I’ve taken 1 lab course and 6 courses with lab components, so I do have things to write down. I just don’t know how much of it needs to be written down. My peers have told me that I should write every goddamn thing I can come up with and even marginally justify writing down because getting that lab position is a goddamn competition and I need to be as impressive as I can manage. I’m not quite sure this is the best way to about things and at times it would probably border on lying. Sure, I got to do Technique X one time in my Biology of A class, but that doesn’t mean I could actually do it again independently. I would have no problem writing this down if I knew that whoever is going to be looking at my CV reads it as “LostMarbles has a clue about Technique X and has tried to do it.” But I can never be sure, which makes me question whether I should add certain things.

Another thing that I worry about is listing skills like pipetting. Yeah, I can do it, but so can every other life science undergrad past their 2nd year. An isn’t it implied that I can pipette if I can list techniques that obviously require it? It seems like a waste of space. On the other hand, whoever is reading my CV is probably scanning for keywords, and that might just be one.

tl;dr version: I wish I knew how Professors look at undergraduate lab skills sections on CVs. Anyone feel like helping me out here?

As an added bonus this year, I also get to agonize over whether I should list the 4 submitted meeting abstracts that I’m an author on. And if I do, what section should I put them on.

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I’ve been a bit remiss in regards to posting because I’ve had a lull in school work and I’ve been catching up on sleep. However, when catching up on my blog reading I ran into this post on Sandwalk where Larry Moran asks whether (ignoring the legalities) it would be a good idea to publically post student marks along with names.

His answer:

I like the idea of publishing student’s names and grades because it helps make them take responsibility for their activities at university. Very few people agree with me. They all think that a student has a right to privacy.

I’m one of those people who disagree. And it’s not because I would personally object to having my marks displayed with my name. I just don’t see a good argument for doing it.

Larry’s rationale posting marks with names doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know what he means by taking “responsibility for their activities at university”. What responsibility and for which activities? Based on the comments, I’m assuming that he means taking studies seriously and putting forth a decent attempt at studying. In which case, I’m not buying it at all.

I don’t buy that argument, mostly based on my high school experiences (yes, I know it’s just anecdata). My high school, while not outright listing marks, used to manage to get pretty close to publically announcing everybody’s grades. They did this by having an awards ceremony were students would be given awards for their grades. The awards were so neatly segregated and there were quite a few different one that you would know what everyone got within 5-10%. Additionally, since my school was so small everybody pretty much knew each other’s marks precisely. And, frankly, I don’t remember caring much outside the hour or so we sat through the awards (and even then not much). But this is just my experience, and my high school experience at that.

However, even assuming publishing student marks helped motivate people to be responsible, I don’t see why it should be done at university. I assumed that when I went to university that I’d become responsible for my own successes and failures (like any adult), but if Larry Moran is right I can’t manage that. No, I have to be socially humiliated and shamed (admit it that’s all this argument amounts to) into responsibility.

P.S. I’ll try to make a few more posts in the next couple of days. In fact, depending on whether I end up taking a short trip tomorrow I might have a post up in the afternoon.

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