One of my newly appointed duties post-tenure, is to serve as an advisor to graduate students (other than those in my own lab) in one of the many programs that I am affiliated with. This is my first sort of ‘real’ year doing this particular teaching/service responsibility, and so far it has been quite an interesting one. Based on my (admittedly anecdotal) observations, I have come to the conclusion that grad students today, in general, are quite a bit different than they were back in the day. A few examples.
First, it I’ve heard that the incoming graduate students are doing poorly on one or another aspect of coursework, because “they don’t know how to study”. I’m not sure what to with this observation. I recognize that one’s ability to study effectively is a learned skill- and that graduate school is a special kind of curriculum where one has to be able to take facts and evidence, and be able to put the pieces together to figure out where to go next- and that that can be a challenge if one has not done it before. But- from what I’ve been hearing the ‘don’t know how to study’ comment refers to not being able to recall facts delivered in class. Maybe I’m a bit of a hard ass- but if the instructor gives you a list of 6 facts you should be able to recall for the exam- it seems pretty obvious to me that you should probably know those 6 facts and the information delivered in class surrounding them. Is this just lazy-assed-ness or what?
Second- students aren’t taking notes in class, and aren’t seeking out faculty input or help on subjects they aren’t totally comfortable with. WHAT??? Students are apparently given the powerpoint presentations of the faculty, and are given access to taped lectures so they can re-watch the lecture (or watch it for the first time if they didn’t attend class) as they see fit. I’m all about different learning styles and whatnot- but I don’t think one gets too much from just passive listening. I’m not sure the communications revolution – making sure everyone can see the taped lecture- has been helpful as far as developing good, disciplined study habits is concerned. Back in the day, we went to lecture, we paid attention in lecture, we took notes, we did the recommended reading, we did problem set after problem set to get a handle on the material and be familiar with what kinds of questions might show on an exam. We went to lecture and we took notes because we knew we had one chance to get the material in class- if you didn’t pay attention it was at your own peril. Am I just hopelessly old fashioned?
Finally- there is the issue of seminar, journal club attendance. Seminars and journal clubs seem to be taken as an optional obligation by grad students this year. ??? What is up with that? Now I just lost my patience. Kids – get your ass to seminar. Period. You are wasting a chance to be learning some new, cool science. You are wasting the opportunity to learn what makes a superb or really shitty seminar. You are wasting the chance to broaden your horizons.
I almost can’t believe that I’m writing a blog post about this topic. It seems so obvious. You won’t be a successful graduate student if you expect to skate through with people handing you the answers, unmotivated and un-invested in your own education and projects. Now …..get offa my lawn!