Acceptance

morgan-freemanRecent events at Marshall High School prompt this post. A parent complained to the school administration about a bulletin board urging acceptance of transgenders and the display was removed. [EDIT 4/1/2015: It appears that the removal of the display happened before the parents met with school officials, and might have occurred simply because it was time for another group to mount a display.] Some students feel that their attempt to increase visibility and acceptance of others was stifled, while others are apparently praising the removal of the display. The school rock was painted with a message of acceptance, painted over surreptitiously in the night, and then repainted with another message of acceptance.

I simply want to add a few words about the science of gender—what we know about the origin of gender identity and the extent to which gender or sexual orientation a choice.

Short answer: no choice involved. Gender appears to be as much a part of one’s biological make-up as is handedness.  Mammals are born with

penis or clitoris,
scrotum or labia,
vas deferens or uterus,
XY chromosomes or XX chromosomes,
large sexually dimorphic nucleus or small sexually dimorphic nucleus,
few hypothalamic estrogen receptors or many hypothalamic estrogen receptors.

You probably think that everyone possesses all of the first or all of  the second items in these pairs. Wrong! Most who think of themselves as male have all of the first elements, and most who consider themselves female have all of the second, but many people are a combination of some from Column A and some from Column B. We have no control over the combination that we are dealt. Instead we are to a great extent controlled by it.

In particular, in the absence of hormonal exposure during fetal development, the brain will become female. Regardless of what the genitals look like, the individual will likely think of herself as female.  If testosterone is present in the brain as it develops, the brain will become male, and the individual will think of himself as male, again regardless of the appearance of the genitals. It is the sex of the brain that plays the greatest part in determining gender identity, and this is something that the individual did not choose and cannot change.

There are people who have XY (male) chromosomes who are in every other way female, and people with XX chromosomes who are male. There are people with penises whose brains are female, and people with clitorises whose brains are male.  If your brain has developed in a manner that finds males attractive sexually, you will find males attractive sexually, regardless of what your genitals look like.  If your brain is a brain that likes females, you will like females, no matter what your genitals look like.  There is no (zero, nada, nil) evidence that sexual orientation is chosen.

So, non-accepting people, regardless of what your genitals look like, if you don’t like guys, don’t hit on them; if you don’t like girls, don’t try to hook up with them. Go for the people you like, and let others do the same.  Be who you are, and let others do the same. It’s that simple.

Peace.

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Integrity

Our psychology majors are typically headed for one of two careers: they want to help people as counselors or clinicians, or they want to extend out knowledge by becoming behavioral scientists.  Both routes are potentially rewarding options, and both contribute importantly to society.  Both also require ethics and integrity.

Rhythm Society Orchestra at the Bohm

Rhythm Society Orchestra at the Bohm

I’m thinking about this as I sit in a quiet office as our students enjoy Spring Break.  The need for integrity does not begin when you enter the the counseling center or the laboratory and end when you leave.  It’s a quality that you must possess and display all the time, or your work will not be taken seriously. Years ago a student explained to a a colleague of mine that she had to miss an important in-class exercise on the day before Spring Break (probably an exam, but it could have been anything) for a good reason (maybe an unchangeable doctor’s appointment, or a dead grandparent — the stated reason doesn’t really matter).  Then she posted photos of herself and some friends at he beach (or on the ski slopes, or wherever) with a boast about taking off early for Break.  Students left behind were none to happy about this, and of course the prof found out. She was thereafter known to us as Spring Break Girl — we doubted her word at every juncture, and I’m sure thought long and hard about offering positive recommendations on her behalf, as she could not be trusted.

I had a similar recent experience.  A student indicated that for transportation-scheduling purposes she had to leave early for Break, resulting in her missing a class.  Given that Break is scheduled at least a year in advance I am never happy about this kind of thing, but there’s little I can do about it (class is important, material covered is hard to make up, and attendance counts toward the grade, but students have their priorities).  So, I acknowledged that leaving early is not a good idea, but wished her a good Break. Then that evening, hours after the class, I attended a local concert and who should be in the audience but… her. I don’t know why she chose to lie about her reason for missing class, but I will remember this incident.

Students: the opinion that others have of you is important.  Academic success (doing well on exams, writing good papers, excelling on standardized tests) is important, and makes a difference to your future success. But so too does how people feel about you, and whether people trust you or not. I routinely ask myself one simple question before I write a positive letter of recommendation: “Is this student someone whom I could recommend to a friend?” Obviously if the student cannot write a simple sentence, or routinely fails exams, the answer is “no” and I will not write the letter. Similarly, no matter how academically gifted the student is, if the student has demonstrated that s/he is not to be trusted the answer is also “no.”  If you’ll lie about something as trivial as the reason for missing a class, what else might you lie about?  Therapy and science both require integrity; if you plan to go into either of these areas don’t squander the trust that others are willing to place in you.

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Upcoming Opportunities to Make a Difference

1502645_10152590262963897_4041982096404441761_oWinter — blah! — January and February are grey, bleak months offering little of value. Here are some events that will allow you to have fun and help others.

Friendly folks delivering some firewood to the homeless camp before it was destroyed by city officials.

Friendly folks delivering some firewood to the homeless camp before it was destroyed by city officials.

The Blues Jam and Chili Cook-Off occurs annually on the last Saturday in January at Marshall’s United Methodist Church. The 23rd annual event occurs Saturday, Jan 31 with music starting at 6:00 PM and lots of delicious chili to eat. Donate what you can — proceeds benefit the Haven of Rest, a homeless shelter in Battle Creek. With winter temperatures as cold as we’ve seen lately, the homeless have an even harder time than usual. Last year Battle Creek evicted the homeless from an established camp; only through the good graces of some big-hearted people were they able to find alternate shelter.  Let’s do what we can to help.  And don’t forget — the chili and music are both hot that night!  Among the bands that will perform are some of my local favorites: The R & D Project, Pogo Rey and Blue Haze, Laditude, probably Whiskey Rhythm and Slytones.

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Then on February 15 check out Cabin Fever Bands for a Cure at Marshall’s Backroads Saloon, 3:00 – 9:00 PM.  Everyone has a family member or friend whose life has been touched by cancer; this event raises money to help fight the disease. $5 to get in, of which $4 go to the American Cancer Society.  Other fund-raising will occur at the event as well. So far the performers include Whiskey Rhythm Band, Laditude, Freeburn School of Music, T.Y.P.O, Slytones, & Skyler Davis.  This is the first year for Cabin Fever, but each summer the same organizers host Jam for a Cure, always a good time.  Cabin Fever Bands for a Cure will likely be just as awesome.

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How I Met Bosco (or: Coincidence or Fate?)

Unrelated to neuroscience, or at best tangential (because everything we do is related to neuroscience).

Pogo Rey

Pogo Rey

Each summer Battle Creek hosts a wonderful outdoor music festival – Leilapalooza. Five venues scattered around the beautiful Leila Arboretum host bands and soloists pretty much non-stop from 10 AM – 10 PM on a Saturday in July.  Musical genres are varied, from Celtic folk and Tejano through classic rock, hard rock, and nihilistic sounds that pass for music in some alternate universe.  I go for the music, and for the chance to take photos.

In 2013 I approached a stage where Pogo Rey and Blue Haze were playing – low-key blues done as well as they can be.  I took a few photos and stood listening, then Rey shouted out (in my general direction), “Hi Bosco!” I turned around to see who Bosco was, and there was nobody there.  I turned back and Rey again shouted, “Hi Bosco! I haven’t see you for a while!” I shook my head to indicate the he had the wrong guy, and he looked a bit sheepish (well, as sheepish as he ever could, which is not much).  After their set I spoke with him, reminding him that we had met before a few times when I photographed them.  He told me that my fedora had confused him – I nearly always wear one when I’m in my photographer alter-ego, and his friend Bosco wears one like it.

Pogo Rey and Bosco

Pogo Rey and Bosco

 

A few weeks pass, and I’m at another great local music event – Jam for a Cure at Marshall‘s Stuart’s Landing.  Because I’m there playing photographer, I’m in my fedora.  As I’m sitting and relaxing, a guy comes up to me and says, “I like your hat.”  He extends his hand to shake mine and says, “I’m Bosco.” I laugh and share the story of Rey’s confusion with him.  To be sure, the hat could be the only basis for confusing the two of us.

Since then I’ve become friends with Bosco, and a bit closer to Rey and some of the musicians in Blue Haze.  And my daughters have determined that when I make it big as an accodion player my stage name should be “Bosco Squeezebox,” pronounced “Bosco Squeeze” (the “box” is silent, as people would wish that mine would be).

Thinking about this now because I’m heading out tonight to hear Laditude - the band that Bosco plays in currently.  Looking forward to it.99630compress

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Faculty Lecture Thanks

annelidometer

Annelidometer

I had the honor of giving a Faculty Lecture today, discussing my research on learning in earthworms.  I am grateful to the many students who worked hard to run the worms and collect the data that led to the work that I discussed, and I was glad to see a few of those students (even past ones) in attendance.

For those who are interested, here’s a copy of the presentation, in pdf format.  It might not be fully self-explanatory, but it will come close.

I appreciate the thoughtful questions posed by my colleagues during and after the talk.  Now back to end-of-semester fun and games!

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40 Years

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Bruce Baron, Alice Powers, Tony Reiner, and me.

At the recent Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington DC I ran into three people whom I’ve known for a long time. Only after the event did I realize that this marks the 40th anniversary of when I met them, a long time ago in what seemed like a different life. I thought I should write about my earliest memory of each of them.  I am struck by how old the men look compared to the woman — more remarkable considering that what binds the three guys together is that we were all her students at about the same time.

First – Alice Powers. Alice was my first psychology professor, teaching the first segment of my team-taught introductory psychology course at Bryn Mawr College. This was the segment of the course on learning – not her normal area but Dick Gonzalez was on sabbatical so the task fell to her.  I took the course at Bryn Mawr (I was a Haverford student) because at the time the two psych departments were quite distinct (at least in the eyes of the students).  We described the two this way: “Bryn Mawr is rats and cats; Haverford is nuts and sluts.”  I was way over on the science end of things, so I gravitated to the biological, learning theory end of psychology (plus my then-girlfriend was a psych major at Bryn Mawr).

Alice taught the segment very well, or at least I assume that she did.  Learning is my favorite area of psychology, and I am sure that my being partial to it came in part from Alice’s teaching and from Gonzalez’s 200-level Learning course.  Gonzalez’ course was theoretically challenging and offered my first experience of writing a detailed APA-style paper (and I’m sorry to say that I just learned that Gonzalez died last March).  Alice did (and still does) research in turtle vision and turtle learning, informing our understanding of our mammalian brain by looking at its evolutionarily distant ancestor.  I never did any research with Alice (I worked with her colleague Earl Thomas) but I have remained close to her – we get together at nearly every SfN meeting.

From Powers AS & Reiner A. (1980). A stereotaxic atlas of the forebrain and midbrain of the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta). J Hirnforsch. 21:125-59. Powers AS, Reiner A.

From Powers AS & Reiner A. (1980). A stereotaxic atlas of the forebrain and midbrain of the eastern painted turtle (Chrysemys picta picta). J Hirnforsch. 21:125-59.
Powers AS, Reiner A.

Tony Reiner (behind Alice in the photo) was a graduate student working with Alice on turtle vision.  He has had a successful career as an anatomist at the University of Tennessee. I remember Tony showing me microscope slides of turtle brains — my first real experience with neuroanatomy.  He explained to me that brain areas really are distinct from each other, that you come to appreciate the subtle differences that constitute their boundaries.  I had no real understanding of how brain areas were organized; I knew that they had names, and I imagined very obvious differently-colored blobs of clay molded together into a brain shape.  It was Tony’s willingness to spend a few minuted (probably the whole discussion lasted 15 min at most) with a lowly undergraduate that helped me to comprehend the nature of anatomical differences in the brain.  In order to do his research Tony needed an atlas of the turtle brain.  Such an atlas did not exist, so he created one for his masters thesis (that’s my memory of the situation, anyway).

Finally, Bruce Baron was a year ahead of me at Haverford. Like me, he was interested in what was then called Physiological Psychology, and did his research with Alice, although I can’t recall the nature of his project.  Bruce was the first person to demonstrate to me how one removes the brain from a formalin-soaked rat’s head.  I remember him telling me that after you do it you can’t eat chicken for a week.  I also recall Bruce getting five grad school rejection letters before getting his first acceptance – to the University of Rochester, I think.  He lived one floor up from me in our dorm, and I recall hearing the fire doors in the corridor slamming open and closed as he ran down the hall toward the staircase to come down to tell me that he had gotten in.  He has spent a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, working at Sanofi.

It’s hard to know for sure, but it is likely that my scientific life would have been quite different had I not met these fine people.  Forty years ago…

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Working Hard on a Paper

phd092111sWhat does it mean to say that you “worked hard on a paper?”  Consider these two hypothetical students writing about the nucleus accumbens:

Sue Perfishle:

  • Spent hours online finding a handful of full-text articles with the word “accumbens” in the title.
  • Read the abstracts to find the key sentences about what was done and what was found.
  • Read the introductions to find older references about the accumbens.
  • Searched for full-text versions of these older papers.
  • Sought sentences in the various papers that seemed to have something to do with the function of the accumbens.
  • Painstakingly cobbled together a 6-page paper by cutting and pasting these sentences, re-arranging them and substituting synonyms.

or

Anne Durstuhd:

  • Read the textbook to see what it said about the accumbens.
  • Read some of the articles cited by the textbook authors to learn more about the accumbens.
  • Formulated an idea about what the accumbens might do for behavior.
  • Sought articles related to this hypothesis.
  • Read more and revised the hypothesis.
  • Sought more articles and read them.
  • Came to a conclusion about the accumbens, and wrote about it based on the new-found knowledge.

The scientific content of the two papers might be comparable, if one judged solely on the basis of number of facts per page.  The scientific quality of the second will be far better, because it reflects a thesis; the facts presented are more likely to hang together in some relevant manner.

It’s also a safe bet that Anne could tell me about the accumbens — what we know about it and what it might do for behavior — without referring to notes, articles, or the final paper. Sue would struggle to do this, perhaps being capable of repeating some of the phrases from the paper but without understanding.

Don’t be Sue; strive to be Anne.

[Note - I found a draft of this on 11/24/2014, the evening before papers are due in Neuroscience I.  Not sure why I didn't post it two years ago when I first wrote it, but I think I ought to post it now.]

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Grad School Advice from Experts at SfN 2014

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Washington DC Convention Center

Albion’s Neuroscience Concentrators (well, some of them) attended the 2014 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, DC.  During the trip, students heard many lectures by senior scientists about cutting-edge science, attended cutting-edgier posters presented by younger investigators (typically grad students, post-docs, and un-tenured faculty), and networked with many other neuroscientists.  In conversations with some established neuroscientists (recent PhDs, assistant professors,
and famous full professors) over drinks or meals our students got some good advice about grad school; I summarize it here.

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Albion neuroscience students with Jim Pfaus (center).

First, all scientists regardless of their level stressed the importance of research experience for people seeking admission to PhD programs in neuroscience.  Such experience demonstrates to potential grad school mentors that a student understands what science is all about.  One established professor who routinely decides between applicants to the lab indicated that she looks for evidence of failed research attempts; students with such experience understand that science is not all glamorous and are better prepared for life as a grad student.

Some Albion alums who have gone on to PhD programs suggested that knowledge of coding is important.  They suggested that computer science courses should be  part of an undergraduate neuroscience curriculum.  Physics courses were also identified as being important.  (My take on this is that physics is important for the student interested in imaging, perhaps less so for behavioral neuroscience.  And programming is an important tool for all scientists.)

4695

With Sheri Mizumori (3rd from right).

Assuming that research experience is part of an applicant’s background, another respected scientist indicated that passion is critical.  He views passion as more important than grades; it’s a student’s passion that will see her through the hard days and nights of lab work, seldom for the big scientific pay-out and never for big financial reward. A student should not get a PhD as a stepping stone to what she really wants to do.  What she does on the way to getting the PhD is what she will be doing later. Grad school is a job in science that will lead to other jobs in science with more responsibilities; if what one does in grad school is not appealing, the rest of one’s career will not be appealing.

Many students hear this advice and decide that a PhD program is not for them, and that’s good. One must be certain that research is interesting, that unanswered questions are worth pursuing, that being the first (and for a while only) person in the world to know something is pretty cool, before undertaking a life of science.  I can tell you that when my student and I first found out that earthworms use the same neurotransmitter receptors for learning as do humans I was thrilled — soon the rest of the neuroscience community would know this, but for a while this new knowledge about the world was known only to those of us who did the science, and this was way cool.  If you would appreciate this first-hand experience with new information, then science is for you.

4706

With Arik Nagel (left), Moriel Zelikowsky (front, 2nd from left), Robert Twining (peaking over Moriel’s shoulder), and Marieke Gilmartin (front, 2nd from right).

Among the people with whom we met were Sheri Mizumori (University of Washington), Jim Pfaus (Concordia University), Marieke Gilmartin (Marquette University), and Moriel Zelikowsky (California Institute of Technology). We also met with several successful Albion alums who have gone on to graduate programs or post-baccalaureate research fellowships in neuroscience.  In addition I know that many of the students spoke with other scientists and learned from those conversations.  All-in-all I am grateful to my colleagues in neuroscience, some old friends and some new, who were willing to share their advice.  I know the students appreciated it — those who will decide to go for PhDs as well as those who will heed the advice and recognize that grad school is not the life for them.

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Current Neuroscience concentrators, with alums (A). From left: Kate Sears, Amanda Komur (A), Nicole Ferrara (A), Erik Brink, Katie Pickworth (A), Emily Stephens (A), Jeff Wilson, Ashley Glenn, Brandon Johnson.

 

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Finding Scholarly Articles

You need to write a term paper, and you have no idea how to find the relevant scientific articles on the topic.  What to do!?  Here’s a quick guide to get you started.

Screenshot - 11112014 - 08:44:21 PM

1. Google (Scholar) is your friend. I need to find articles on classical conditioning in earthworms. I typed “earthworm Pavlovian conditioning” into Google, and got this page. At the top you see the entry for “Scholarly articles for earthworm pavlovian conditioning.” Click on it and you will get

Screenshot - 11112014 - 08:23:14 PM

2: This page — results of a Google Scholar search for the term that I entered. This page contains papers that probably were drawn from the scientific literature. The third one down looks promising; I click on “All 3 versions” near the end of that entry.

Screenshot - 11112014 - 08:24:10 PM

3: Then I see this – one link to the actual article, and two links to citations. I don’t want a citation, I want the real thing, so I click on the top link and get to…

Screenshot - 11112014 - 09:17:40 PM

4: This page, the article’s entry in PsycNET. I see that the right side of the page offers me the option to buy the article, but it does not appear that the article is available for free here. I really want it, so I decide to try our library. I copy the title of the article, go to the library home page…

 

5: I paste the article title into the OneSearch box at the top of the page, then click Search...

5: I paste the article title into the OneSearch box at the top of the page, then click Search.

Now I remember that i saw another promising article in the OneSearch results.  I want to look at the second entry, so I click it...

6: The top article is the one I want, and near the end of the entry I see “Full Text Online.” I click it.

 

I'm almost there.  At the right I see a link to "Full Text - PDF." I click it...

7: I’m almost there. At the right I see a link to “Full Text – PDF.” I click it…

Screenshot - 11112014 - 09:35:48 PM

8: Here’s the article! I can read it online, or use the option near the top of the page to open it in my pdf reader, and then save it to my computer for future use.

Now I remember that I saw another promising article in the OneSearch results.

Now I remember that i saw another promising article in the OneSearch results.  I want to look at the second entry, so I click it...

1: I want to look at the second entry, so I click it…

8: Unfortunately I get a page indicating that the document is unavailable, but I notice a "Check for Full Text" button.  I click it...

2: Unfortunately I get a page indicating that the document is unavailable, but I notice a “Check for Full Text” button. I click it…

9: and see this page, which indicates that I can view the Full Text Online from PsychARTICLES. I click that link, and,,,

3: And see this page, which indicates that I can view the Full Text Online from PsychARTICLES. I click that link, and,,,

 

9: This page, where I have the option to select "Full Text - PDF" on the righ-hand side.  Clicking that link ...

4: I get to this page, where I have the option to select “Full Text – PDF” on the right-hand side. Clicking that link …

10: And here's the full text of that article.

5: I get to the full text of that article.

And if the article had not been available online through our library, I’m not out of luck.  In Panel 2 above, and an many other library search pages, there is a blue link that allows me to request an article through Inter Library Loan (ILLiad).  Our librarians will get an electronic copy of an article to me quickly once I fill out the info requested when I click that link.  As an alternative to ILL, if you can find the first author’s email address, send an email requesting the paper.  Authors  are very happy to get such emails, and will nearly always reply with a copy of the article.

Remember, once you read an article you will have many more ideas about useful terms to enter into a search engine (whether it is Google Scholar or one of the databases provided by the Library, such as PsycINFO or Web of Knowledge).  For example, I might decide to search for “Lumbricus learning.” a search that will likely yield many other useful articleds

Another very useful tool allows me to search forward in time. Suppose I decide that the Ratner & Miller article is crucial to my paper, but I note that it is a really old article.  I wonder if anyone has done related work since then.

5: I paste the article title into the OneSearch box at the top of the page, then click Search...

1: I go back to the Library’s home page and click on the box labelled “Subject Guides.”

2: That takes me to a long list; I scan doiwn until I find "Neuroscience" under "Sciences > Biological Science."

2: That takes me to a long list; I scan down until I find “Neuroscience” under “Sciences > Biological Science.”

3: THsi brings up a list of databases useful to searches in Neuroscience.  I scan down and find "Science Citation Index (Web of Knowledge)."

3: This brings up a list of databases useful to searches in Neuroscience. I scan down and find “Science Citation Index (Web of Knowledge).”

In "Web of Knowledge" I select "Basic Search > Cited Reference Search."

4: In “Web of Knowledge” I select “Basic Search > Cited Reference Search.”

5: Here I enter the authors last name and initials, then click "Search."

5: Here I enter the authors last name and initials, then click “Search.”

I see that there are LOTS of articles by Ratner SC.  I scan down to find the one that I care about (noting that there are two from 1959, I select the correct one) and check the box beside it.  HTen at the bottom of the page I click "Finish Search."

6: I see that there are LOTS of articles by Ratner SC. I scan down to find the one that I care about (noting that there are two from 1959, I select the correct one) and check the box beside it. Then at the bottom of the page I click “Finish Search.”

Screenshot - 11112014 - 10:13:31 PM

7: And I’m taken to a page that offers four articles published since 1986 (the earliest year covered in this database) that cited the Ratner and Miller article. Are they all relevant? I might not be able to tell without reading them, but finding them was easy!

 

Use this guide as an example of useful ways of searching.  There are many more ways to find useful and relevant articles, all of them far easier than the old-fashioned approach.

 

compare1997withPsyAbstracts1927(wwwJolley-MitchellCom)

Library-Card-Catalog-1(wwwRetronautCom)

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Teaching to the Test

phd101008sI’m now (perhaps later than most) recognizing the problems caused by the practice of assessing education and basing teachers’ pay and promotions on standardized test performance by their students. I want educated people to be capable of solving a problem, of taking information and applying it, of seeking out solutions. Many current students, the products of 12 years of pre-college education in which their success is judged by their ability to provide the correct response to a standardized question, expect the same gauge of their knowledge to be applied in college (and perhaps in the rest of life).  There was a time when the question, “Do we need to know this for the test?” meant, “Do we need to understand this material and be capable of applying it?”  Now more often than not it means, “If we can repeat this phrase will we get an ‘A’?”phd120310s

Success in graduate school or in a job will come not through parroting information back to a mentor/supervisor, but through extending the available information to learn something new, to answer some new question, to solve an unanticipated problem.  I don’t now how to teach students to do this; all I can do is to encourage and reward those who make efforts in this direction.  Sure, there will be some questions on my exams that can be answered correctly with a memorized phrase, but there will also be many questions that require thought.  Let’s work to encourage thinking.

[I posted this after I was asked by students to hold a review session before the next exam, because even though I tell them that they need to know it all for the exam, they want me to tell them what they need to know (could I be any clearer?).  To attempt to address their request for clarity, I have created a web page that I will update every day with some of the questions that they should be able to answer if they understand the material from that day's class.  To me this feels way too much like teaching to the test, and in fact offers them nothing that they could not offer themselves if they thought about the class material.  We'll see how it goes.]

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