Tag Archives: college

Let’s talk professors

[I’m just going to refer to all of these professors in the male pronoun to avoid the tedium of using he/she, him/her, etc.]

I was just reading for a class i hate, and it occurred to me why i hate this class and the professor that teaches it so much.  Then i started thinking back to all the different types of professors i’ve had over the past four years:

1.  The unintelligent professor

This professor just holds you back and there is absolutely no point in taking a class with him, unless you’re the kind of student who’s into taking advantage of this type’s lack of intelligence and getting an easy A out of the course.  Sometimes you sympathize with him when all the students talk shit about him behind his back or corner him or even belittle him in class discussions.  But in the end, you wonder why you’re paying to learn nothing, and if you’re smart, you drop the course while you can.

2.  The smart professor who can’t teach

A smart guy, just not an effective professor.  Most of us have had him.  In many cases, he’s the kind of person who’d make a great conversationalist or a friend, but just can’t teach.  You sympathize with him and wish your classmates would give him more credit.  Or maybe you’re mean and just criticize him to no end, dismissing the class as a waste of your time.

3.  The smart professor who can teach

The perfect professor, you might say.  But there’s more to being a great professor than being smart and knowing how to teach, as we shall see later on.

4.  The smart professor who seemingly can teach but doesn’t know what teaching is really about

He’s clearly smart and he succeeds at getting ideas across, while maybe even engaging his students, but he’s not what a good professor should be:  someone who uses his smarts for good.  So yes, i think this type uses his smarts for evil.  He uses his class to show how smart he is instead of discovering how smart his students also are and learning from them, too, which is an essential part of teaching.  If this type also happens to be arrogant (which they often tend to be), he thinks his students are all dumb, but if he isn’t arrogant, he just doesn’t know what it means to be a teacher.  You might forgive him if he’s a Ph.D. student or a professor early in his career, but if you’re an idealistic student, it can be very hard.

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Indignant

[update 04/13/10:  My TA more than redeemed himself today.  He started out recitation by saying that in grading our papers, he was forced to reconsider the criteria that he’d laid out for us for writing our papers, one of which was that we should write in simple prose.  He still believed that we should do this, but he wondered what the value of that might be.  So we spent the entire class debating the value and lack of value in simplifying the language of these philosophers, which evolved into a wholesome discussion of relevant topics both explicitly and implicitly at hand:  the difference between analytic and continental philosophy; the purpose of writing these papers; the question of audience; the difference between explaining and expressing, and how we necessarily do both while writing these papers; the cognitive process of reading and writing; motives for writing the way we do; language as a tool for contextualization; and the way certain philosophers subvert language to re-contextualize concepts.  The TA was very open to our varying opinions and arguments, and it was clear that he cared about how his criteria were affecting our writing and learning.  And that’s all i needed to know.]

I was deeply offended, insulted, and hurt today.  I’m not sure if i should write about this publicly, but i’m so flustered and have been upset like this for the past twelve hours that i need to vent, or else i won’t be able to sleep tonight.

I wrote my first paper for Existentialism & Phenomenology class several weeks ago.  I was transfixed by Heidegger’s account of death and knew that I needed to write my paper on it.  One of the suggested topics involved it anyway, so i set out to write on that topic, but as i wrote the paper and re-engaged with the text, i became more interested in a different issue within Heidegger’s account of death:  his characterization of death as possibility, not actuality, and the implications this might have for his entire argument.  And this shift in interest—and consequently, in my argument—occurred sometime in the morning of the day it was due.  In short, i procrastinated quite extensively, stayed up all night and just wrote and re-wrote like my life depended on it, panicked for fear of not even finishing on time, and then really did run out of time and was forced to cut the paper short and slap on a concluding sentence.  Not surprisingly, the paper ended up being quite disorganized, and ultimately, my claims were not backed up with strong enough arguments.  Had i given myself ample time, i would’ve done what i knew i had to do when i decided to change my topic:  start fresh and build up my argument.  But since i was irresponsible and left myself too little time, i was forced to rework what i had already written, which culminated in patching and re-patching chunks here and there, re-ordering paragraphs, removing some and adding new ones, and all of this in vain.  In my effort to work with what i already had, i neglected to fully develop my argument and work out a strong line of reasoning for it.  I didn’t even know if my argument was valid.  I decided to just write and see if i could come up with an argument in the process.  Bad, bad mistake, obviously.  I always outline my argument and make sure i have it down pat before i even start writing, but i didn’t think i could do that with the time i had remaining.  I probably could have if i had stopped panicking and had steadily thought things through, but there’s no use in crying over spilled milk.

After i handed in the paper, i wanted to spend the next few days revisiting my argument and trying to see if what i wrote really made sense.  Of course, other classes and obligations got in the way, and soon, i forgot all about the shoddy argument.

Earlier this week, i got the paper back, graded and commented on.  I got a higher grade than i expected, but it was clear from the TA’s comments that he didn’t get the point of my paper.  This was seriously worrisome for me, and i couldn’t just let my argument go misunderstood, or even not understood at all, so i went back to my dorm and started tearing the paper apart.  Initially, i was just writing responses to the TA’s comments, but i soon realized that there were too many missing links in my argument.  Responding to these comments wasn’t gonna get me anywhere.

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Mapping out your life is overrated

A wise friend of mine recently said to me, “Knowing what you want to do is not quite the same as knowing exactly where you can go.”  School and society put so much emphasis on the where that i lost sight of the what as i came closer to where i am now:  my last semester of college.

This academic year has changed me in strange ways.  I struggled a lot last semester with insecurities i never knew i had, most of which got in the way of my learning.  For the first time in my life, i found my classes to be an inconvenience and a drone (this partly had to do with the kinds of classes i was taking that semester, but it was also my attitude towards the learning that got in the way).  Needless to say, it was a highly disappointing semester, resulting not only in dropped grades but also a further drop in self-esteem.  (Just to be fair, one class and the professor that taught it encouraged me to express myself, which positively changed my approach to writing, but this didn’t change the fact that i felt oppressed by my other classes and professors.)

This semester has been interesting in that the four classes i’m taking are so different from each other and yet still overlap in various ways, in ways that motivate me to synthesize the thought products of each class with each other, which in turn makes me strive hard in all of them.  One class, Tactical Media, is a graduate course cross-listed as an offering to undergraduate upperclassmen, but the class is mostly graduate students.  I was intimidated at first by their professional accomplishments and general outspokenness, but i’m starting to find it easier to talk to these people than my fellow undergraduates.  There is a higher degree of respect for each other and not just a willingness but a desire to get to know one another.  I think it might have to do with the lack of competition.  They’ve already accomplished a great deal in their respective fields, and they’re all here for different reasons (the course belongs in the Arts and Public Policy department, but students come from all different departments, backgrounds, and careers).  They’re here to further their own individual projects, whether it be producing a social activist movement or sparking a debate about urban etiquette, but while doing so, they work together and share their individual interests and skills.  At the undergraduate level, most students are in the same boat of graduating and moving on to their respective fields.  Whether they admit it or not, undergrads are out to outdo one another in order to get a job or make it into grad school.  But going back to why i started talking about this class in the first place, it’s a key element in my learning this semester in that it is helping me become more outspoken in all of my classes; to put it simply, it’s encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone, but in a welcoming environment.  There is no competing—only sharing.  We don’t even compete for grades, because we grade ourselves at the end of the semester.  Discussion in this class is therefore as democratic and open as it can get; besides the individual projects (which are always collaborative), we are all in the unified project of progressing as a class.

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My last NYU September

The past week has been the best i’ve ever spent at NYU.  This is my third semester dorming (the first, fall of freshman year, and the second, spring of junior year), and i have never been this happy with my living situation.  Alumni Hall was definitely nice–you can’t beat its location, neighborhood, and convenience—but it was too loud and hectic, and i spent many a night cursing off the sophomores gathered under my second-floor window smoking, chatting, and generally being stupid all night.  And of course, there were the mice.

Now i’m at 26th and 1st, and while it’s the least popular NYU dorm, i’m very happy with the remodeled kitchen and i even like that it’s out of the way.  The walk to the subway is not bad at all, and the lack of good, cheap eating options in the neighborhood compared to the East Village will mean that i’ll be cooking most meals, which should be a nice change.  And it’s quiet.  There are mostly juniors and graduate students here (i’m the only senior on my floor, the rest being juniors), and despite living next to two big hospitals, i’ve only heard one ambulance so far.  While i sometimes miss the liveliness and convenience of the East Village, i’m relieved to be living in a peaceful, residential district this year.

Then there are my suitemates.  I don’t think i’ve ever gotten along this well with assigned suitemates.  We talk all the time, hang out all the time, and have tea and sweets together regularly (cute, right?).  I actually look forward to them coming back to the room, and i already miss one of them who’s been in Toronto for the past two days.  And if this weren’t enough, i have an awesome RA!  He’s so friendly and helpful and i love running into him all the time.  My freshman year RA was hard to get ahold of and ultimately failed to help me resolve issues with my disruptive neighbors (hence, the departure after one semester), and i never even formally met my junior year RA.

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Education, learning, training

These are my initial thoughts on the differences between education, learning, and training.  I’m looking to see how these thoughts evolve as i continue with my participation in all three.

My Media Criticism professor said that the purpose of his course was to teach us the vocabulary necessary to discuss visual culture.  I think he was on to something.

How many times have you read something for class and gone, “I knew that!  That’s what i always knew or vaguely knew but never had the words to express.”  That certainly sums up how i usually feel when reading academic texts.  And so, we could argue that education is the acquisition of vocabulary, a means of expressing what you know.

Learning, on the other hand, is about perceiving things and thinking about the information gathered.  Learning is the development and exercise of thought.

Training, which is geared towards a craft or profession, is the acquisition of skills.

Now the question is, how well do learning establishments, and even individuals, integrate the three?

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Philosophy or Communications?

[edited 11/01/08, scroll down for the edit]

I’m currently a junior in NYU Steinhardt’s Media, Culture, and Communication department.  I hate it.  I used to be in NYU GSP (General Studies Program, now called Liberal Studies), had thought about transferring to CAS for Cinema Studies (GSP used to be a two-year program that required an internal transfer to a school of your choice in NYU), but upon taking two core courses in Steinhardt’s MCC (Media, Culture, and Communication) department, i decided to do an off-track transfer (i was on-track to CAS) to the latter department instead.  And now that i am officially majoring in MCC, i’m beginning to realize that the academics aren’t as strong and inspiring as i initially thought they were.  Also, i’m paying a lot of money for this education, so i’d rather major in something that would really allow me to experience and ponder humanity at its fullest, and a good major for that kind of education would be Philosophy (which is in CAS).  I do have a bit of a background in Philosophy as i was required to take two core courses in it while in GSP, and most of my MCC courses included (and currently include) philosophical texts as well.  

The thing is, if i were to double-major in MCC and Philosophy, i might have to stay an extra semester or two, which costs even more money.  But if i major only in Philosophy, my degree may not be as marketable (as much as i don’t want to, i need to think about how i’m going to make a living).  So, my question to you all is, would a minor in Communications suffice to make up for the practical education part of my degree, or is it true that employers don’t even consider applicants’ minors?  Also, which U.S. universities are well-known for their Philosophy departments?  Because if i am to do this, i might as well do it right and consider transferring to other schools as well, especially if i’ll have to spend extra semesters either way.  As for my career aspirations?  Anything, really, as long as i can help people and be creative at the same time.  Anything in the arts would be especially appealing.  I’d also like to be able to afford a roof over my head, sufficient food to stay healthy, and clothes to keep me civilly dressed.  

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Nonverbal communication

So here’s the deal.  For our first field assignment in Nonverbal Communication class, everyone lined up against a wall and introduced themselves.  The professor taped us one by one from the chest up.  In the next class session, we watched the entire video with the audio off.  She (the professor) instructed us to write down the first thing we noticed in the denotative data column.  Just one thing, and use descriptive language.  

Now that the situation is set up, i’ll just paste a message i sent in frustration to a fellow classmate:

i think a lot of us (including you and me), took “write down the first thing you notice” as “write down the first thing that you pick up on when you watch the screen, whether the person has started talking or not, whether it’s a visual detail or a behavioral trait, whether it says anything about the person or not.” at least that’s how i interpreted it. so almost all of my observations had to do with appearance, not behavior. how can you extrapolate connotative data from an observation like, “mouth” (which only means that that particular person’s mouth was prominent in some way) or hair (which i noticed 5 times). everyone’s cheeks are raised when they smile, but some people’s left more of an impression, whether they moved differently or were placed a little lower or higher on their face. how can i use that kind of info to make a personality judgement? HOW?! (jake), i am going to explode right now!!! i talked to professor (steinberg) until 2:30 (god, she wouldn’t let me go; i eventually had to just get up cos my feet went to sleep from sitting uncomfortably on the floor), but she just didn’t get what i meant and i was growing more and more irritated that i had such a hard time controlling the tone of my voice. and (claire) was there too, but she didn’t help my case either. the professor kept trying to convince me to jump to irrational conclusions like long and dark hair means mysterious instead of considering that MAYBE I CAN’T THINK THAT WAY. that maybe i just can’t make judgements based on people’s appearances, especially over things they have no control over. sure, i can say what a particular kind of feature means to other people, but i can’t say what it means to me. GOD. i mean, one of the features i noted was how one guy’s glasses lenses were tinged with grey, which probably means that they were transition lenses. what the hell am i supposed to say about him as a person, using only that piece of data?

—–

Any thoughts?  How much of nonverbal communication is intentional, and if it is unintentional, is it still communication?

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