What’s the Point of a Professor?


As a Postgraduate student (PhD in UNI Galway, Ireland), I spend a lot of time travelling. Most of it I spend at as I jokingly refer to, my mobile office! My laptop, a book and my smartphone! 3G really is the saviour these days!

And as a mobile student, living away from the campus (about 80km and a good rail line, but not perfect), with most of my source material between 160 and 500km away (Dublin and London), a good chunk of my work is conducted on the hoof, so to speak. This very entry is being written on my phone, based on an article I read on my cloud storage, all being conducted on an intercity bus! But such is modern life!

A point whichhas grown to concern me is grade inflation. I used to work in another third level institution as a representative officer for students rights. One course failed an exam spectacularly as the lecturer had asked questions which hadn’t actually been set on the course and thus had not been covered in classes. So 350+ students had suffered in the exam. The answer? Multiply ALL the scripts by a factor of .2 or thereabouts to account for the defecit in marks…..marking on the curve writ large.

I feel still to this day that such practices are counterproductive. That as an educator we have a duty like doctors, to first do no harm. When as an undergrad I had an amazing experience with a lecturer who gave me a bad mark for a historiography assignment. Now I was invited to attend with classmates for individual feedback and I did and had it out with the lecturer over the (I felt) ill deserved poor grade.

It was one of the most seminal moments of my career. The engagement with the field opened my eyes and greatly encouraged my scholarship and my attention to detail. It is something I try to emulate in my own classes, where I might have the reputation of a hard marker, but I still try to give an extra hour or two, outside core teaching hours to my students for feedback and essay/topical help.

This referenes my earlier point about travelling, which makes it difficult to provide extra hrs for students, but is nonetheless a vital investment and well worh it in the long run. A little extra help, I find, greatly enhances work and engagement with material and the field as a whole. Which surely is the whole point?

The concept which is emerging of no child must be allowed to fail, is givig rise to a worry trend. While we as educators should strive to encourage as many of our students to pass as possible, this should be accomplished at an earlier stage by providing supports before submission and after in the form of critical feedback in a constructive manner. This will allow for the best possible work being submitted and having such mistakes as exist to be corrected and thus removed from the equation for subsequent submissions.

This will generate an upward progression trend in students work naturally. The ‘no failure’ trend encourages ‘soft’ marking of less than exact scholarship and, in my opinion, rewards the student who then is no better off scholastically. At least by failing we learn empirically and have something to show for our efforts.

The contact with your leaders (professors) is some of the most important you will ever have as a student. It places a profound mark on your future scholarship and encourages the emergence of a positive learning feedback loop in the student

About eamonntgardiner

Dr. Eamonn T. Gardiner, is a Consulting Historian. He has previously conducted research into links between wartime traumatic-neurosis and evidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst veterans of the First World War serving as Auxiliary Policemen, during the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921. He has written extensively on British central and colonial administrative responses to popular insurgencies. In 2009 he published 'Counterinsurgency and Conflict: Dublin Castle and the Anglo-Irish War (CSP, 2009).' Published papers include; 'The training of the Irish Volunteers, 1913-1916' (The Irish Sword, 2017); 'Scattered, Ambushed and Laid Out: War and Counterinsurgency in the greater Tuam area, 1919-1921' (JOTS, 2015). Research interests include De-Colonialisation/Post-Colonialism; Insurgency, Police/Military Histories; Institutional Histories; Modern Irish/World History; History of Conflict, Protectorates and Peace-Keeping; Hegemony; Old and New Terrorism.
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