[The author asserts ‘Creative Commons’ copyright of this article—full rights to share or use in part or whole for noncommercial purposes, with attribution]
While the ‘crisis in education’ in America has been a topic of serious discussion for a long time, its relevance has unfortunately never been greater. Tuition rises, administrative bloat amplifies[i], and universities cut corners cheapening education through growing class sizes and reliance on adjuncts and graduate students rather than tenure track professors[ii].
These changes—universally hurting students alongside faculty, adjuncts, and graduate student instructors but benefitting administrators and often athletic departments—form an educational version (which I will call the Coltrane Problem) of effectively the opposite variant of a classic problem in moral philosophy, known as the Trolley Problem.
The Coltrane Problem (whose namesake and inspiration will become clear in time) provides a specification of an aspect of the crisis in education, illustrated contemporaneously…
I am done grading finals... done writing papers… and done with Spring Term. Yay!! Summer vacation here I come!!
Except… although I will have time to do cool stuff like camping, hiking, fishing… and running… I will also be studying. I know! What kind of nightmarish summer vacation requires studying? Last summer was spent studying for the research project I had for the master’s paper. This summer I will study for the comprehensive exam. For those who do not know, the comprehensive exam is an exam to prove that I have “comprehensive” knowledge over one sub-field in sociology. If I pass, I can then continue onto my PhD work. If I fail, I can try to get a job with my Masters degree.
I am looking forward to being done with graduate school. I certainly do not have a “failure to launch” syndrome when it comes to graduate school. I do not want to spend 15 years as a graduate student doing research. I want to be done as soon as possible so that I can be teaching at a college and/or working at a nonprofit. Helping people is what matters to me… and the comprehensive exam is a stepping stone to that goal.
Anyway… the topic for my comprehensive exam is about the environment… specifically, understanding how political and economic decisions impact the environment, and how those environmental impacts create health problems for humans. Doesn’t that sound like an exciting summer vacation? Yeah, well… exciting for an academic and exciting for a college freshman are two different things 😉
Last Thursday, at approximately 11:36 a.m. Pacific Time, I received the news that my master’s paper passed. Many of you know that it has been a long, hard road to get to this point. Many revisions of the paper, many sleepless nights. At one point I actually got stress hives.
But now I can relax this summer. You know, as relaxing as one can have while studying for a comprehensive exam (a nasty exam for PhD students). But I will not be teaching or researching over the summer, which means I can fish, study for the exam, and travel to the coast. How cool do I feel after finishing the masters? As cool as Ferris Bueller in Chicago: that’s how cool!!
This post is by Julio Peironcely, founder and editor of the Next Scientist blog. Julio is a PhD student in Metabolomics and Metabolite Identification at Leiden University, The Netherlands and has been blogging and using social media for several years, both for fun and for professional purposes.
This post developed out of a conversation on Twitter about the difficulties of socialising at academic conferences, particularly at the dinner. I was thrilled when Julio sent me this post which is a comprehensive set of advice which anyone, scientist or not, can benefit from. Take it away Julio!
You didn’t meet anybody new at the last scientific conference.
You paid high registration fees, travelled to the other side of the world, listened to boring talks, nobody came to your poster.
At least you met interesting people at the conference dinner, didn’t you?