Saturday, June 28, 2008

Week Three progress report

Doin' good.

At least, I think so.

After gentle admonishment about the lengthiness of a few of the student presentations last Friday, yesterday's talks all came within a minute or so of the universal 15-minute maximum we'd prescribed in advance. ("15 minutes, MAX!") The talks were solid, with more eye-popping graphics, slick LaTeX work, and tons and TONS of data. They're beginning to come up theorems of their own, they're making conjectures, their laying out formal proofs. It's coming together. I've yet to get a look at their written work for the week yet, though I've gotten sneak peeks through reading their drafts (thanks for bringing that to me, Uwe!) and seeing their presentations. Their level of sophistication appears to be rising. I have to admit that I'm looking forward (sick scholar of scholarship that I am) to the point at the summer's end when I can lay their weekly assignments side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by-side-by-side in an attempt to track the development of their technical writing proficiency throughout the program.

One more thing I'll say about these students: they (and one or two of them in particular) ain't shy about asking for what they need from us: more ideas for things to do around town, modifications to the presentation schedule, caffeinated tea...At their behest we've scheduled a "grad school forum" in a couple of weeks, at which time we'll give them the chance to ask anything and everything they'd like to about selecting, applying to, transitioning to, and surviving grad school.

I hope that their forthrightness is indicative of a sense of belonging and collegiality, and not just out-and-out boldness. Probably a little of both.

I really wish that I'd had a chance to take part in an REU when I was a student. I know I'd have been up to the challenge. I realize now in reflecting back on my undergraduate experience that though I had solid professors who were active in their fields and who did a great job in the classroom, their mentorship didn't extend far beyond the classroom door. I fear that I was simply a student in a Ph.D.-granting department whose Ph.D. program was undergoing a period of latency, and that the faculty didn't really know how to properly mentor talented undergraduate students...I really should have been told about journals geared towards undergraduates, I should have been encouraged to go to undergraduate-appropriate conferences, I should have been pushed to apply for REUs (there weren't as many back then as there are now, but there were a good number by then, and I'm sure I would have landed a spot in one had I applied to a few).

Ah, c'est la vie. I'm pretty happy with the way my life has turned out, and now I get a chance to live the REU experience vicariously through my own program. Woo hoo!

In other pedagogical news...well...there's not much more right now. I've started to plan my syllabi for the Fall semester (two new preps! I've not taught Abstract Algebra here before, and I've never taught Precalc). I met with Lulabelle and Casanova over lunch this past Thursday, and we planned our next move in the new writing assessment study. Casanova's going to focus on analyzing the syllabi as faculty products, and I'm going to try to better articulate my hypothesis that the rubric we constructed at the conclusion of the last study was (perhaps unintentionally) skewed towards assessing more "traditional" research theses. "We might just have to report that it's not possible to create a universal rubric capable of assessing the writing of any given course," said Lulabelle.

Well, for now the waterhole calls...I must away.

I'll check in again weekend, at the latest!

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