Monday, February 7, 2011

Last-Minute Larry

I joined the ranks of CM correspondents yesterday, just in time for this to appear in my inbox:

Mrs. Batavia -

I'm not in your class, but I got your name from the basketweaving website. I have an assignment to ask two teachers about research practices and how to use the library and it's due tomorrow. Unfortunately, none of the Surfing Studies teachers I've emailed have gotten back to me. It would help me alot if you would get back to me as soon as possible.

Oh, Last-Minute Larry. I really would have answered you, happily, because I'm feeling mellow after two snow days and a class that was unexpectedly prepared, interested, and on the ball. Plus you were relatively polite. But you ruined it. It's not actually the last-minute nature that changed my mind; it's the beginning of the term and I've got my empty office hour to fill. It's not even that you called me "Mrs." and "teacher"; I can see you're freshman and seriously, I understand it's hard to know what to call the part-time faculty.

No, Larry, what made me decide to ignore your message is the fact that this is an assignment for my class. Which you are in. The Monday section. We've had long conversations, you and I, both in person and over e-mail. And so, Larry, if you can't even remember who your professors are, I'm not really sure I can help you.


  1. Yes, OK, a particularly flaky 'flake, but also: I make it a point never to give assignments that encroach on my colleagues' time. I am constantly irritated by well-meaning undergrads wanting time with me to discuss inanities like "my research practices" or "my career choices" for assignments given by other professors. No thanks; I have plenty to do attending to the students who are *actually taking my classes,* and in any case "my research methods" are widely available in a book called *The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers.* So I, like the professors of Surfing Studies, hit the "delete" button.

    Maybe rethink this kind of assignment? Sorry to be churlish but it's my first chance to weigh in on this practice.

  2. @Frog and Toad - Yeah, I agree with you, it's shitty to encroach on colleague's time. But this is a common assignment in the college, and the students were given a list of people to e-mail (people who volunteered to answer questions.) Students weren't supposed to be e-mailing randomly, and they were supposed to have e-mailed by last week. I did check with the colleagues on the list to see if Larry had actually e-mailed any of them...nope.

    I left the assignment details out since they would have clogged the story and don't really change the ultimate point: WTF, son, I'm your instructor!

  3. @Frog and Toad: I don't know. I'm one of those encroaching-assignment-giving profs, and I don't think it's so bad.

    It's a writing class, and topically it happens to coincide with a lot of the research on campus, so I assign the students to meet with anyone performing such research and write about it as though it's a news story.

    I give the students a month's worth of notice, warning them multiple times not to wait until the last minute, and most of them do end up being punctual. I also instruct them, multiple times, to thank their gracious interviewee profusely, and from what I gather, they do that, too.

    Any prof who lacks the time for an interview can simply say no. (Or, as many have done, refer the student to another prof or even one of their grad students or post-docs.)

    As long as such conditions are set, I don't see a problem with this type of assignment. It ended up being memorable for several students, and some have even found research fellowships with the profs they interviewed.

    @Barb, yeah, this student is a doofus. No interview for him. Maybe you should write to him and ask him for the name of the professor whose class he thinks he's in? See if he notices how similar it is to your e-mail address.

  4. I don't think such an assignment is a problem so long as the student is willing to meet in office hours. I consider those hours to be "student service" hours anyway, and not really "my" time any more than class time is.

    The problem I've had on the occasion that students have had this sort of an assignment is that they consistently end up misrepresenting what I've said.

  5. This is one of those things where when the student approached me I would cringe, but do it, and in my head I'd be whining about it. But to be perfectly fair, didn't most of us have to do this in grad school? I transfered in the middle and at both schools, before we could be accepted into a research group, we had to do lab visits. At the first school we had to schedule 3-5 interviews and get signatures. Even if we wanted to work with a guy, and that guy wanted us in his group, we needed 3 signatures at minimum. At the second school each specialty was on a different floor and each floor hosted a different thing, kind of like job-fair-meets-college-fair-meets-happy-hour. They occured on alternate fridays during the fall and you had to sign in at each professor's group, and before you could get to the clipboard, you had to talk to him/her or his/her grad students/post-docs.

    I'm not saying that is the same as one professor "encroaching" on another's time. But this did not have the entire department's enthusiasm, but everyone had to do it anyway. I think what Mrs. Batavia assigned sounds like less of a pain in the ass than hosting a frigging carnival and interviewing students who don't want to work for you.

  6. Wow, you are THIS Barb?

    How cool!!! You're great!

  7. Hilarious! Welcome, Barb!

    Assignments of this kind were/are pretty common in my program (comp with a substantial research-and-writing-in-the-disciplines component). I tried them for a while, but abandoned them for all of the reasons mentioned above: I and my colleagues did, of course, teach interview etiquette, allow sufficient time, suggest the use of office hours (which I do think are fair game), etc., etc., only to have students ignore our instructions, and our beleaguered program administrator send mass emails saying "I'm sure you've all set up this assignment to avoid problems, but your students are apparently ignoring your instructions, and I'm getting irate emails from faculty in other departments, so could you please re-instruct your students how to go about this?"

    I've switched to having students analyze published research (journal articles) in their disciplines to see what methods of data-gathering, analysis, etc. are involved. It does take a while for all of the students to actually find a scholarly article in their discipline reporting on original research (and some are very resistant to being told "no, that's an article from a trade publication/book review/review of the literature/press release/blog entry/bazooka comic; try again"), but that in itself is a useful exercise.

    The first time I tried this exercise, I tried to gain some of the same sense of connection/immediacy by having them look up publications by their professors. I discovered that their other teachers (a) publish in a number of genres in addition to or instead of the scholarly journal article; (b) in a considerable number of cases, don't publish much at all, probably because, like me, they're contingent or adjunct faculty with ridiculous teaching loads; and/or (c) in some cases, appear not to understand the difference between scholarly and other sorts of publication, and/or between original research and summarizing others' findings, themselves.

    So now I just point my students toward JSTOR (or another appropriate journal-heavy database), tell them to find an article that is interesting and/or related to the course theme in their discipline, and go from there. I also often have them compare findings within or among disciplines once they've analyzed their own articles. It seems to work, and it reduces the annoying colleagues and/or program administrator quotient considerably. Also, it makes students read closely and write in a class focused on research and writing, which seems about right.

  8. Jeez Louise, Barb, this peabrain is stupid. I've had ones like this too: dealing with them can be a weird feeling, like getting a paper that plagiarizes your own work, or getting your car stolen. You're probably best off just deleting this message of his, without answering it: you may well be right, that there's nothing you can do to help him. The military has ways of dealing with people like this: ever see Full Metal Jacket?

  9. I am shocked and appalled, not only by the behavior of this student, but also by Cassandra's overuse of "and/or."

  10. @Eating Low Salt - yep, that's me. I've returned from La-La Land, but the gumdrop unicorns seem to have followed me. Melt, damn snowflakes, melt!

    @others who have various suggestions for how to respond - he didn't show for class today and I didn't respond to the e-mail. I'm hoping he'll e-mail me and complain that no professors were willing to help...

  11. I like to help out students with these kinds of requests, but, shitfire, give me more than a day!

  12. This one shut me up. Even MY snowflakes aren't this bad.


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