Thursday, February 19, 2009

Things that are not rocket science UPDATED

Today's one of those maybe-I-should-sign-up-for-a-job-advertised-on-the-subway days. (Once I get my license, $12/hr car-parking, here I come!) Not much helping. (Second link via Belle.)

So, two thoughts re: grad school vs. law school, the subject of the second post. My authoritah, having never been a law student, is of course nil, but anyway...

1) If you're interested in both, fair enough, but there are clearly better and worse orders of doing things. If you first go to law school, then owe tons, then before paying it all back head to a PhD program... I'm not even quite sure how that would work. Whereas if you go to grad school and, at the end of the tunnel, there are no jobs, tragedy of tragedies, you enter law school-- still without grad-school debt-- at 28 rather than 22. Again, if you were interested in both to start with. Which, anecdotal evidence tells me, is not that unusual.

2) Belle's suggestion of a double-major with something practical makes sense for the brilliant all around, but not everyone who's an A student in humanities can pull so much as a C in the hard sciences. (No comment.) Is this because word people are not always number people, or because literature classes are objectively easier than physics classes? Either way, the point is that taking on as a major a subject outside your areas of strength will kill your GPA, and thus your chances of going to a top law school, which would have otherwise been your best option for a lucrative career.


Grades! I know, those of us who teach undergrads are supposed to hate grade-grubbing, but how can you, when you know their futures largely depend on the numbers and letters you affix to their assignments? That they care about grades means not that they are entitled brats, but that they are aware of the precariousness of their futures. Jacob Levy has a good defense of the undergrads. Although Levy's post does seem to describe a theoretical undergrad who was the star student at a mediocre high school and is put in his place during his first semester at an Ivy or similar, and who can reasonably be assumed both exceptionally intelligent and hard-working, most of what he writes strikes me as true of the situation generally. (Again, having never taught at a non-selective school, my authoritah here as well=nil.)

Still, I'm left with a question: Levy quotes a professor (one who, as Levy points out, had the strange idea of complaining about his students to the New York Times) as saying "Some assert that they have never gotten a grade as low as this before," and argues that this complaint is understandable, coming from an 18-year-old who really hasn't been that challenged before. Understandable, yes, but what are you supposed to do, as a teacher, in that situation, that will not further rile the student who's come to complain? A grumpy 'life isn't fair' speech won't do, and unless you're grading a math problem set, subjectivity comes into play, so a methodical adding up of points will not convince a student of the justice of his grade. Explaining what it takes to, say, write a stronger essay is probably the way to go, but such advice, given more or less in passing, might not work either, and might make grading seem altogether arbitrary, when, alas, it's not. So, thoughts?


Jezebel also responds to the NYT-TNR-grades debacle. Their post is reasonable, so this update is about an anti-undergrad comment that begins, "I taught my way through grad school," and appears to mean teaching undergrads. Huh? If you are a grad student, you do not 'teach your way' through your program. You are a TA, or an adjunct, or whatever your school calls it. Should TA's earn $500,000 a year for their efforts? I'm game, but regardless, the teaching is part of your professional training. One waitresses/brick-lays/lifeguards/strips/babysits one's way through school, because these are jobs that do not have direct relevance to your degree. It's a matter of terminology, but also of the heights to which the Jezebel-commentariat-as-proletariat trope seems to have risen.


Anonymous said...

dunno how you define "top law school," but I took on a major outside my field of study (biology), let it kill my GPA, and though it probably killed my chances for Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Berkeley (which is particularly GPA-focused), I'm in at NYU...

so, not fatal! at least, not with a degree from a place known for grade de-flation.

Phoebe said...

Who might this be?

There's GPA killing and there's GPA killing. Let me point out that the C I got in physics was in astrophysics for *non-majors*. It goes well with the C I got in high school physics.

JMR said...

I thought Alan Sokal settled the whole humanities vs. physics thing some time ago.

Of course he specifically targeted postmodernism, but I haven't attended a humanities class since 1993 and I just assume it's all PoMo now.

Phoebe said...

"I just assume it's all PoMo now."

No, not so much.

Dana said...

I am barely able to stand Jezebel these days, and like it only as a link-referral service. The comments are for the most part asinine, and the "substantive commentary" posts are barely better. Grr. I despair for modern feminism.