An Update on Streamlining Exam Marking

I really hate marking exams – it’s mind-numbingly boring. I find that one of the most frustrating aspects of this tedious task is the time I waste just hunting for the answers. Consequently, I am always looking for new types of exam questions and new exam formats that can make the answers easier to find.   A while back I posted some advice on setting effective exams – which included suggestions for streamlining the marking process.  I was planning to try the idea of using a summary sheet at the front of the exam where the students could put their answers, making it easy for me to find them.  I’ve actually had some time now to refine that idea and test it out on a couple of exams, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I think it works pretty well.

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Using Your First Years Efficiently: What I wish I’d known…

A few weeks ago I was asked to come to a “New Faculty Forum” and give a talk on this topic. Always keen to follow my own advice, my initial reaction was to Just Say No – after all it takes time to prepare these things, and the timing of the actual session was right in the middle of my office hours for undergraduate students. However, it was a friend that asked – the friend who originally suggested that I write this blog, in fact – so it took me only a microsecond to decide to say “yes” instead.

Attending the forum was instructive for me, as there were two other speakers in addition to me (the old fart): one was a fairly new prof and the other a more mid-career level person. Their advice was very different from mine – in fact they mentioned (more than a few times) how they approached things differently than me – which just goes to show you: we never stop learning in this job – even an old prof can learn some new tricks.

Here’s the advice that I offered to the group…

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Have an ‘effective’ summer!

With any luck, by now your exams are long since marked and your grades are all submitted.  My guess is that you’ve spent the last two weeks catching your breath after the eight months of insanity that typically accompanies the fall and winter teaching terms.  And no doubt as summer approaches, you’ll be hearing this question from all of your family and friends, “So, are you off for the summer now?”

Probably that question irks you as much as it does me – since summer typically means just dropping down to a 40 hour work week (and that actually feels like a rest!)  Here’s a much more relevant question about your summer – one you should be asking yourself actually, “How can I use the summer months most effectively?” Continue reading

Chasing the rabbit – how much is enough?

Treadmill_womanA question that frequently haunted me when I was a new professor was, “How much is enough?”  More specifically it was a series of questions,

“How much research money is enough?”

“How many graduate students are enough?”

How many evenings and weekends of work are enough?”

And the biggie…

“How many journal papers per year are enough?” Continue reading

Tips for Setting Effective Exams

I don’t know about you, by my least favorite job as a professor is marking exams.  I’m always keen to give students as much credit as possible for their knowledge, but sometimes finding a correct answer can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Consequently, it’s wildly time consuming, not to mention discouraging and frustrating. Setting an effective exam can be a challenge, as well – it’s not too informative if the exam is so easy that everyone aces it.  On the other hand, if everyone fails, you’ll be left wondering whether you’re a terrible teacher, they’re terrible students, or it’s just a terrible exam.

Over the past 23 years I’ve given my share of all types of exams – from WAY too easy to brutally difficult, and everything in between.  I’ve learned to do some things well and managed to do some things terribly wrong.  I’ve kept lots of notes on what worked and what didn’t, and I thought I’d come up with some pretty good methods.  However, I recently attended a seminar on setting effective exams and I got some new and cool ideas from that, as well.  So I guess that means I’ll be learning new things about this until I retire.  Nevertheless, I think I might be able to save you some time and energy by telling you what I’ve learned so far. Continue reading

Advice for writing your first grant propsal

Today I am re-blogging a guest post I did for SoapboxScience (a community  guest blog from nature.com).  It appeared today as part of their Beginnings series.  Hope you find it useful!  Check out the nature.com blogs for terrific info.

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Many thanks to Nature for inviting me to write a guest post for the “Beginnings” series.  I’ve been asked to offer advice to young academics who are facing the daunting task of writing their first grant proposal.  This is a broad topic and, to a great extent, the specific approach is highly dependent upon the agency you’re targeting with your application.  In that context, it’s critical to read the instructions they provide.  Apparently, ~80% of people don’t do that. Amazing! However, beyond that, there are some general tips that apply universally and that’s what I’ll be focusing on today.

Preparation of a successful grant proposal generally requires the ability to communicate effectively with two entirely different audiences.  You want to come across as knowledgeable to the reviewers who are experts in your area, but you also need to be understandable to those members of the review committee who may have little or no related expertise.  Most people make the mistake of catering only to the former, when it is the latter group that typically carries the weight in the decision, simply because there are many more of them.

Fortunately, it is actually pretty easy to satisfy the experts in your area.  You do this by: Continue reading

It’s all about fear control…

Welcome to the inaugural post on the “Help for New Professors” blog!  I’m starting this blog at the suggestion of one of my (much younger) colleagues who recently said to me, “I would love a book that offers advice to academics early in their career. “

Never one to pass up a great idea I thought, “Hey! I could do that!”  After all what old professor doesn’t love to give advice?  Despite being a bona-fide old fart (I’ve got the gray hair to prove it), I do remember the stress and insanity of those early years, probably because the stress and insanity never went away.

Am I qualified to give advice to new professors?  Well, if making lots of mistakes along the way counts towards the requisite skill set – I’ve got tons of training!  However, the main goal here is to let you know that you are not alone and that you’re probably not doing as badly as you think you are – because everyone is struggling!  And if perhaps you get a chuckle or find a gem of truth in something I post here – all the better!

So to get started – the topic for today is “fear control”.  You see, there are many skills that can make you a successful academic: effective time management, good writing abilities, being really smart (that one’s easy right?  after all you DO have a PhD! ;-)), being a good mentor…  What else? Oh ya, never needing sleep and having a family that doesn’t mind you working evenings and weekends…  I am sure I could think up a better list but, no matter how long a list I came up with, the one skill that would always be right at the top is “fear control”.  Really, once you have that mastered, the rest becomes easy. Continue reading