academia

A back to school tip for aspiring teachers and academics

If you’re confused in school now, you can use that confusion to become a better teacher later. You can write detailed notes about what you’re confused about and and why. Doing this may help you to figure things out now, and it will definitely help you to teach well in the future. 

Teaching is hard, and teaching beginners is often harder. Knowing a subject well isn’t the same as knowing how to teach it. Teachers need to be able to explain things in a way that will make sense to beginners. They also need to be able to figure out why students are getting confused, and find ways to help them understand. This is much easier said than done.

Right now, you’re probably confused about some things that will feel completely obvious in a year or two. Many things that are hard to master feel completely natural once you’ve learned them. It can be hard to understand why something that has come to feel completely natural to you is confusing to your students.

As a student, you’re likely confused about your subject; as a teacher, you are likely to be confused about your students. If you write down what you’re confused about as a student, you will be doing your future self a huge favor. The notes themselves may be helpful when you teach. Beyond that, writing notes about yourself as a student can help you to start thinking from a teaching perspective. The sooner you get into the habit of thinking about your subject with teaching in mind, the better off you’ll be in the long term.

Tl;dr If you’re confused in school, you can use your confusion to be a better teacher in the future. Consider writing down what you are confused about and why. In the future, you will have students who are confused. Understanding your own confusion now can help you to understand theirs later.

remembering to ask questions

rossbennett:

realsocialskills:

Some phrases in academic argument are used to assert that an argument has been successfully been made. If someone’s really good at using them, it can make their arguments feel better than they actually are.

One countermeasure is to learn what those phrases are, and to use them as indications that it’s time to check to see if you agree with their argument.

A few examples of phrases that often work this way:

  • “It is clear that…”
  • “We have seen..”
  • “Now it is evident..”
  • “It has been demonstrated…”
  • “It follows from…”
  • “It goes without saying that…”

If you get into the habit of reading things like this as  questions, it becomes much easier to tell what you think the answer is.

eg:

  • Do you think it’s clear?
  • Have you seen the point being made? Do you agree with it?
  • Do you think it’s evident from the evidence the author brought?
  • Do you think it has been demonstrated?
  • Do you think it follows from that?
  • Do you think it goes without saying? Do you think it’s true at all? 

tl;dr Some rhetorical devices make arguments feel better than they are. Getting into the habit of seeing them as indications that it’s time to ask a question makes it easier to evaluate arguments on their merits.

rossbennett said:

Some particular fields (and journals) consider these to be “weasel words” and will get your paper bounced back faster than Netflix ships discs. 

In academic papers these tend to mean either, “I can’t be bothered to go get the citation,” or “If you don’t follow the logic here, I relying on you to let it slide instead of risking looking like the only idiot in the group who doesn’t see it.”

These little linguistic barnacles, along with “the fact that,” can be eliminated without changing the meaning of what’s around them. What remains will be better.

realsocialskills said:

Sometimes people use stuff like that essentially as punctuation. It can mean “I want to change the subject now” or “I’m moving on the my next point”.

It’s definitely better not to write that way. It’s just not always lazy argument - sometimes it’s not knowing good stylistic ways to indicate transitions in your writing.

remembering to ask questions

Some phrases in academic argument are used to assert that an argument has been successfully been made. If someone’s really good at using them, it can make their arguments feel better than they actually are.

One countermeasure is to learn what those phrases are, and to use them as indications that it’s time to check to see if you agree with their argument.

A few examples of phrases that often work this way:

  • “It is clear that…"
  • “We have seen..“
  • “Now it is evident..”
  • “It has been demonstrated…"
  • “It follows from…"
  • “It goes without saying that…"

If you get into the habit of reading things like this as  questions, it becomes much easier to tell what you think the answer is.

eg:

  • Do you think it’s clear?
  • Have you seen the point being made? Do you agree with it?
  • Do you think it’s evident from the evidence the author brought?
  • Do you think it has been demonstrated?
  • Do you think it follows from that?
  • Do you think it goes without saying? Do you think it’s true at all? 

tl;dr Some rhetorical devices make arguments feel better than they are. Getting into the habit of seeing them as indications that it’s time to ask a question makes it easier to evaluate arguments on their merits.

Interactions with instructors

Anonymous said to :

Hi, do you know anything about student-professor interaction? I’m one of those students that stops by a professor’s office to talk and strikes up conversations on the way back to class very often. Is this OK? I’m not so good at reading social queues and I don’t know if I would know if said professor wasn’t OK with it, or if it was inappropriate. I’m not doing it for a good grade or academic advantages; I just like the conversations a lot.


realsocialskills said:


It’s ok to go to a professor’s office to talk to them during office hours; that is what office hours are for. It’s not ok to show up unannounced outside of office hours. If you want to talk to them outside of office hours, you have to make an appointment first. For most professors, the right way to do that is by emailing them and asking if they have time to meet with you.


If there are other students waiting to speak to the professor during office hours, be mindful of the fact that they also need to talk to the instructor. Wrap up the conversation in an amount of time that will make it possible for them to get a turn too (particularly if the conversation you want to have isn’t time-sensitive). 


It’s usually ok to strike up conversations after or on the way to class, but only up to a point. If they say that they need to do something, don’t keep chatting; take that as a sign that the conversation needs to end for now. Also, don’t try to follow them into their office.


tl;dr It’s ok to talk to professors during office hours. Don’t come by without an appointment at other times. 


Anyone else want to weigh in? Instructors - what kind of contact do you welcome from students? What is unwelcome. Which cues do you wish your students picked up on when you are trying to end conversations?

Preparing for a college interview

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

Any advice for college interviews?

I have one coming up and I always get tongue-tied and I generally don’t do well at them at all, but this is a really big deal and I don’t want to mess it up…

realsocialskills said:

The best way I know of to prepare for any type of interview is to get someone else to do a practice interview with you before you do the real interview.

In a practice interview, someone asks you a whole bunch of questions that might come up, and you practice interviewing them. Once you have practiced, it can be a lot easier to answer interview questions for real.

If you’re in school, you might be able to get a teacher or guidance counselor to do a practice interview with you as you’re applying for college. A lot of adults in that role do that kind of thing regularly. Many adults in schools or teen programs really want to help their students get into school, and most people who want to help are likely to understand why practice interviews are a good idea. (If you’re currently in therapy and your therapist is someone you somewhat trust, you might also be able to convince your therapist to help you practice.)

If you don’t have a teacher or someone like that to help you practice, it can be helpful to practice with a friend. (And you might also be able to help them practice for their interview). While it’s particularly helpful to practice with someone who has good knowledge of how college admissions work, practicing with someone who doesn’t can also be very helpful.

It’s especially helpful if they ask you the questions you’re afraid of hearing. Because if a question you’re afraid of comes up in the real interview, it’s a lot harder to figure out an answer on the fly than if you’ve practiced. It can help to tell the person practicing with you what questions you’re worried about.

Some questions that some people might be worried about:

  • Are you worried that they’ll ask about your activities, and that you might not be able to say anything that sounds impressive
  • Are you unsure about what you want to study and afraid that will make you look bad?
  • Are you worried they’ll ask disability-related questions?

Whether or not the questions you’re nervous about come up in your real interview, it will help to have practiced them. If you feel confident about your ability to answer possibly-difficult questions, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable during the rest of the interview and it will be easier to focus on communicating.

Some questions that are very likely to come up in most college interviews:

“Why do you want to attend this college?”

  • Any answer that reflects positively on the school will work for this
  • Eg: “It’s academically rigorous”
  • “Some of the most interesting people I’ve met have gone to this school”
  • “I’ve heard really good things about the archeology department”
  • “The first year classics curriculum seems like an excellent foundation for further learning”
  • It’s also ok if the reason is partly personal, so long as it also says something specifically positive about the school, eg
  • “I’m looking to study pre-law and stay close to home so that I can be there for family. I like that this college has a large percentage of non-traditional students so that I will have a peer group even though I won’t be able to live on campus.”
  • Don’t say something that would reflect negatively on the school like “I’ve heard that everyone passes” or “I’ve heard it’s a great party schools,“ or "I just don’t want to work that hard.”

“What do you want to study?”

  • The answer to this question should show that you have interests, and that you like learning things
  • It’s ok not to know what you want to study; a lot of entering college students in the US do not.
  • If you’re not sure what you want to study, your answer to this should still indicate that you’ve thought about it and that you care about something, eg:
  • “I’m not sure yet, but I’m considering either history or political science or economics.”
  • “I want to learn a broad range of things before I decide for sure, but I really enjoy math.”
  • If you do know what you want to study, say so, and say something about what interests you about the subject (it does not need to be original, so long as it’s reasonably sincere), eg:
  • “I’m interested in the history of conflict. I want to try and figure out why people fight wars and how we can make peace.”
  • “I’m interested in studying biology so that I can eventually do medical research.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

  • This question is likely pretty much any time that you’re interviewed for anything
  • It’s helpful to have a question in mind to ask them; it will show that you care about the school and aren’t just generically applying
  • The question should be something that you can’t easily google or get from their website, and it should show that you know something about the school
  • Eg: “I saw on the website that a lot of undergraduates do research. What’s the process like for finding a research adviser?”
  • (Don’t ask about possible exceptions to policies. That’s a conversation to have after you’re accepted, especially if it’s disability-related.)

tl;dr: If you’re interviewing for college (or anything really), it’s very helpful to do a practice interview. There is likely a teacher, guidance counselor, or coach at your school who would be willing to give you a practice interview. Having a peer do one can also work. Whoever does it, it is most effective when they ask you the questions that you’re afraid or nervous about being asked in the real interview.

Students who take up a lot of space caring about the subject

Anonymous asked:
I’m a teaching assistant for a medium-large class (~80 students) at a university. One student has a habit of interrupting me or the professor when we are lecturing, which can be very disruptive. Sometimes we have to cut him off while he is speaking, which feels rude, but we have limited time to teach. He’ll also monopolize class discussions. He’s often insightful and on-point, but I want to get other students’ input too! I don’t know what to do! And I don’t want to hurt his feelings! Help?

realsocialskills said:

This sounds like a student who means well, so I’m going to answer this question with the assumption that he isn’t a jerk and isn’t taking up all the space on purpose. Some students do not mean well derail things for different reasons, but that doesn’t sound like what you’re dealing with here.

Here are my thoughts on how to deal with well-meaning students who take up too much space: 

Make time outside of class to talk to them:

  • When students are really into your subject and monopolize class time, it’s generally not because they want to shut everyone else down
  • It’s usually because they’re really into the subject and passionate about exploring the particular questions that are interesting to them
  • That’s a beautiful thing, and there needs to be space for it, but it can’t take over the whole class
  • When students derail class to discuss the questions they’re interested in, it can work well to say something like “That’s a great question, but we need to get through some other things now. Let’s talk about that during office hours.”
  • This demonstrates that you respect them and their questions and dedication to the subject, and that you will make room for it but need to make sure that the things that need to happen in class time happen
  • That only works if you mean it and follow through, though

There also might be a cultural issue. Norms about interrupting are highly culturally dependent:

  • In some cultures, the way you demonstrate that you’re respecting someone and paying attention is to take turns talking, and wait for the other person to indicate that it is now your turn. 
  • In other cultures, the way you demonstrate that you’re respecting someone and paying attention is by interrupting in on-topic ways and expecting that they will also interrupt you. 
  • It can be really frustrating to negotiate conversation with people who have radically different assumptions about how to pay attention
  • It might be that your student thinks that they are doing what they’re supposed to do, and that there’s confused with lack of response and interruption
  • If that is the problem, it might help to make expectations clearer. If the cultural divide is that wide, dropping hints and relying on politeness won’t help, but being explicit might:
  • For instance, by saying when they interrupt something like “I’ll take questions at the end”, or “Let Bob finish his point first”.
  • This demonstrates that you respect him and his interest, but that you aren’t going to allow it to take up al of the space

It’s also possible that he finds it difficult to follow what is going on:

  • I’m not sure how to describe this, but I know that I find it easy to pay attention to conversations and nearly impossible to pay attention to lectures
  • For me, the things that make it possible to pay attention to lectures are asking a lot of questions, using a strategy like collaborative note taking , or writing notes that are as much running commentary as they are taking down information.
  • He might be asking a lot of questions in order to follow what is going on
  • I’m not sure how you’d go about assessing or responding to that. I am mentioning it as a possible problem in hopes that someone else will have suggestions about what teachers can do if they suspect that a college student is having that kind of problem

No matter how you approach the situation, it’s possible that it might hurt your student’s feelings to realize that he takes up a lot of space and that it bothers people. This is not something you have complete control over. Facing up to problems like that can be painful. You shouldn’t avoid getting your class back on track in order to protect him from that kind of pain.

You should treat him and his interest in your subject with respect, and help him find ways to pursue it seriously without taking up all of the space during class. You’re probably in a position to do that. You’re not in a position to manage his emotional life.

Something about words

skiesofpluto:

realsocialskills:

Sometimes when you think you don’t understand something, it’s because people are using long intellectual words to make you think they are saying more than they are.

This is particularly common in academic writing, and in ideological writing that makes use of academic conventions.

skiesofpluto said:

Sometimes people don’t realize they’re using obscure language and terms because they’re so used to using them, also. When you’re in academia you spend a lot of time associating with other people who also know those field-specific words, and you may use them automatically without remembering that most people don’t understand them.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, sometimes people are just using technical terms and assuming a certain degree of background knowledge. And there are contexts in which there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about when people *aren’t* actually doing that, but rather using words in a way that makes it *sound* like they are doing that.

When the words aren’t supporting the argument, but saying “you’re stupid if you don’t understand this,” as a way to avoid actually making the argument rigorously. 

Both are real things.

cocksucking-accent:

Social skills for autonomous people: A method for understanding confusing lectures

realsocialskills:

Some teachers have a disorganized lecture style that’s difficult to follow.

One reason this can happen is if there’s like 5 things they want to talk about, but they don’t do it in an organized way. Like they keep moving from one topic to another, then back again.

For instance, in a class on…

cocksucking-accent said:

I used and loved OneNote (Microsoft Office) in college. It is bullet-based, and allows you to draw sketches (easier if you have a drawing tablet), and to export to PDF (which is then printable, or viewable on kindls and other e-book readers. You can share it with friends online, and categorize notes in a notebook>section>page system (say, Biology>Labs>Date).

I’ve used VUE (Visual Understanding Environment, freeware) for flow charts in the past. It’s not easily shared and takes a teeny but longer to format than I’d like, but it’s also exportable to PDF and allows for an infinite workspace in all directions (unlike Word, for example).

summersaysso:

Social skills for autonomous people: A method for understanding confusing lectures

realsocialskills:

Some teachers have a disorganized lecture style that’s difficult to follow.

One reason this can happen is if there’s like 5 things they want to talk about, but they don’t do it in an organized way. Like they keep moving from one topic to another, then back again.

For instance, in a class on…

summersaysso said:

I tried this using Inspiration 9 software last year in my biology class. It was still tough to keep up, as my teacher talks really fast and I was getting the whole lecture slightly delayed through a captioner, but using the mind mapping software really helped quite a bit.

A method for understanding confusing lectures

Some teachers have a disorganized lecture style that’s difficult to follow.

One reason this can happen is if there’s like 5 things they want to talk about, but they don’t do it in an organized way. Like they keep moving from one topic to another, then back again.

For instance, in a class on vegetables, a teacher might talk about carrots, onions, peppers, celery, and for some reason, cows. They might jump around from one topic to another, saying things about each as they’re reminded of them. 

It can help to use a computer to take notes, make topic headings, and add to each topic as it is raised.

So it could look like this, in the hypothetical class about vegetables:

Teacher says: Carrots grow in the ground. Onions grow in the ground. Onions are delicious when you caramelize them. They’re good with steaks. So are peppers, even though they don’t grow in the ground. The other thing about carrots is that they are orange, and they are sweet and have more sugar than you’d think a vegetable would have. Cows like to eat vegetables. Celery needs to be washed before you eat it. So do carrots. Cows can eat vegetables without washing them. 

Carrots:

  • Grow in the ground
  • Orange
  • Sweet
  • have more sugar than you’d think
  • Need to be washed before you eat them

Onions

  • grow in the ground
  • delicious when you caramelize them
  • good with steaks

Peppers

  • Good with steaks
  • Don’t grow in the ground

Cows:

  • Like to eat vegetables
  • Don’t need to wash vegetables first

Celery

  • Needs to be washed before you eat it

You can do this with Word files, but I’ve found that it’s easier with outlining software. (I use OmniOutliner). The advantage to outlining software is that it’s really easy to drag things around if you change your mind about which topic they go in. You can also collapse topic headings when the topic seems to be over, then reopen them if it comes up again.

If you think more visually, a diagraming program might work well for you. Idea Sketch works reasonably well on iPad. This works well for following lectures, but notes taken this way can be harder to use later than more conventional notes. It’s also difficult to share notes taken in this format.

lati-negros:

Academic Secrets-

By chance you come across an academic journal article online that needs to be paid for (something like $25-$40), lots of times you can take the authors name from the article, google them for their email, and ask if they can send you their article b/c you’re interested in their work. More often than not, they’ll say ‘cool’ and send it as an attachment.

Heads up!

I haven’t tried this personally, but from what I know of academics, I bet it works more often than not.