Friday, October 29, 2010

What bothers me about Cell Biology

Well, friends, I said I'd keep in better touch and do a better job of updating my blog.  And one easy way to write a post is to complain about something.  So, here I go!

Right now, I am in a cell biology class.  As a graduate student, most of my time is dedicated to research, but I have to take 3 or 4 classes.  That's OK, because graduate school classes aren't like undergrad classes- they're more about critical thinking and learning than they are about regurgitation and mind reading.  Or at least, they should be.

Enter cell bio.  This class feels like they took an undergraduate cell biology class and said "how can we make this harder, so it's a graduate level class, but not change our lectures at all?"  Some of the ideas they came up with were kind of remarkable.

One way they make the class harder is to have it team-taught.  That means that we have a new professor every couple of weeks.  So, if there is a problem with the course, we can go to the professor who is currently teaching who will say "look, I've only got a lecture or two left, let's just tough it out," or the previous one who will say "I'm not involved in that course any more, sorry!" or the head professor who will say "you know, I only supervise and don't have any real power over problem X.  You should talk to someone else."  I've heard each of those, either directly from the professor or from another student who tried to get help.  So, that's frustrating. 

Another way they make my life difficult is by asking terrible questions.  This is one of my big pet peeves, and I work hard to ask good questions when I teach.  The bad questions come in two types: The Fish and The Detail Guess. 

The Fish is where you ask a very vague question with a very specific answer in mind.  Like "What makes Hitler a bad person?"  "No, it's not what he did to Poland.  No, I don't mean killing the Jews.  No, not abuse of power and manipulating people.  That's right, I was looking for 'Killing Gypsies.'  Hitler was bad because he killed Gypsies."

The Detail Guess is where you ask a broad question, and want a very specific amount of detail.  "What do you do when company comes over?" You can answer this question saying "I would vacuum my living room."  Then, if they want more detail, they say "Where did you get the vacuum?  Do you use electricity to vacuum?  Do you move the furnature or just vacuum around it?"  But if they want less detail they say "all I wanted was "clean up the house."  The key elements of the information guess are one, they penalise you for giving the wrong level of detail (either too much or too little) and two, they make no attempt at telling you how much detail they wanted.

Anyway, I'm frustrated with the class, as you can tell.  Will I survive? Yes.  Will I be sending any of the TA's a Christmas card? Probably not.


the House of Payne said...

So what ARE you going to be sending the TAs?

Sam said...

I got a big red '?' on my test from cell bio. the question was a third kind that you did not detail, "make up an experiment to solve the question i've been working on for 10 years." And then because he's an expert, he can shoot down all the solutions that have not worked yet (because he's reviewed all the obscure literature on this moronic topic). or he can just say "I'm not sure what you were trying to say, but it was wrong."

I'm a Mormon.