Universities shouldn’t fire scholars just for being mean
Dear obese PhD applicants: If you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.
As you might imagine, cyberspace went nuts, calling Miller lots of nasty names, calling for his resignation, and hinting darkly at the possibility of legal action. Many outlets then took a closer look at some of Miller’s other public statements including the time he wondered whether women might be wise to schedule job interviews while they are ovulating because, he said, they are more sexually attractive then. There are also renewed questions about his ideas and involvement in Chinese eugenics—as in this article which seems to equate wealth with intelligence, and ends with an allusion to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World—Miller seems unaware of the fact that the novel actually condemns biological manipulation for social benefit.
Watch the commencement speech that went viral
Jon Lovett, a 30-year-old speech writer for Barack Obama, gave such a side-splitting and inspiring commencement speech at Pitzer College that the video seems to be showing up on every other student’s Facebook page. There’s plenty to laugh about but the best part is arguably the introduction where students are asked to picture an old gay judge. There’s also practical advice. “One of the greatest threats we face is bullsh*t,” he says. “We are drowning in partisan rhetoric that is just true enough not to be a lie, in industry-sponsored research, in social media’s imitation of human connection, in legalese and corporate double speak. It infects every facet of public life.”
Addressing teacher oversupply will please many in Ontario
Ontario’s government announced today that it plans to double the time students spend in teacher’s college to four semesters starting in September 2015. It will also increase the minimum number of days spent on placements from 40 to 80. And here’s the big news: it will cut admissions, starting that fall, by 50 per cent.
One reason for the dramatic change is the oversupply of education graduates. About 9,000 new teachers per year have been graduating in Ontario. Add in foreign graduates, many of them Canadians who went to U.S. schools, and there are about 11,000 teachers certified each year competing with each other and with graduates from previous years, while only 6,000 are needed.
The plan to double the length of the education was an election promise made by Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals in 2011 and it’s a politically smart move for Premier Kathleen Wynne to follow through on.
Artwork deemed “inappropriate” for donor event
Queen’s University student David Woodward’s final project All I Am Is What I’ve Felt got the type of reaction many new Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates dream about: he was asked to take it down, meaning far more people will now see it.
Woodward, 22, was not surprised his work—10 white briefs adorned with cryptic slogans and images, some of them sexual—offended people. Still, he didn’t expect to be censored. He says the work is autobiographical and discusses “the limitations of romantic love.”
It has also stimulated discussion about the limits on freedom of expression at campuses like Queen’s where some employees get carried away in their mission to avoid offending anyone.
Here’s what happened. Woodward was asked by his campus alumni office, along with other visual artists and musicians, to show off his work to potential donors at an event in April. He forwarded a link to a website that showed his product. On the big day, he arrived early and hung his undies.
Student groups, police unions boycott hearings
The head of the Quebec government-appointed commission looking into the 2012 student protests has sought to reassure its critics with a promise to remain apolitical.
The commission has begun its work under a cloud of suspicion, with different sides in the historic student dispute expressing equal disdain for the project.
Student groups have indicated that they will boycott the panel’s hearings, which began Monday. Police-officers’ unions won’t take part either.
And the Opposition Liberals, who were in government during the memorable protests, have also said they’ll boycott what they describe as a political masquerade.
Doctorates aren’t what they used to be
Two decades ago, if you sat at a dinner party next to someone with a Ph.D., chances were, those letters made an impact. You’d try to sound your smartest, asking about the person’s field of study, nodding sagely at the Coles Notes version he saved for such occasions. By dessert, you might have run out of $5 words, but you’d have done your best to keep up—a show of respect due to someone with a decade of university education.
These days, a doctorate is as likely to inspire pity as veneration. Universities are cutting back on tenure-track jobs. The federal government is laying off scientists. The economy, meanwhile, is skewing ever harder toward resource extraction, where the demand for highly specialized knowledge is limited. This confluence of forces is starting to show in the numbers: At last count, Ph.D. grads were more likely to be unemployed than master’s degree holders, while those with jobs enjoyed a median income only eight per cent higher than their master’s counterparts, at $65,000 per year. A good many of those were working in less-than-promising circumstances. One in three doctorate holders have jobs that didn’t require a Ph.D., while a 2007 survey of Ph.D.s working at Canadian universities found that only 12 per cent of those under the age of 35 held tenure or tenure-track positions, compared to 35 per cent in 1981.
Sensitivity only reinforces stereotype of Muslims as violent
An event that has become all too common in our benighted century is the suppressing of anti-Muslim sentiment over fears of retribution. Canadians will recall it happening, for instance, at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2006.
More recently, the Australian National University made international headlines, when the student newspaper there was barred from running a satirical graphic about Islam.
The Woroni had already skewered other religions, but when it got to Islam, university officials stepped in, saying that the piece might gain “traction” in social media and could spark violent protests. The university’s vice-Chancellor called the graphic “offensive and discriminatory” and hinted that the Koran should be off-limits because of “very unfortunate side effects.” Even Civil Liberties Australia defended the Uni. Crikey!
Watch out: academic entitlement has consequences
We hear a lot about how “entitled” students are these days. Employers complain of new graduates who want to be the boss right away or who demand high pay before they’ve earned it.
New research by four students at the University of Windsor, all in the Master in Social Data Analysis program, sheds light on the phenomenon. The researchers e-mailed a 96-question survey to all students on campus and used 1,025 responses.
The good news: entitled students aren’t the norm. The bad news: those who feel entitled may be setting themselves up for failure at school or work.
Academically entitled students are those who want exams rescheduled around personal plans or who think they deserve high marks so long as they’ve paid their tuition and put in the hours. They’re like Cher Horowitz, the Beverly Hills bimbo who argues her way to As in the 1995 film Clueless.
Petition asks university to pull money from fossil fuels
McGill University’s Board of Governors has rejected a petition from the environmental activist group Divest McGill, which collected hundreds of signatures calling on the school to take money out of companies that develop, transport, refine or sell oilsands products, reports the McGill Daily.
The vote was likely a first in Canada and the rejection is a setback for a global movement.
Hundreds of campus groups across North America affiliated with 350.org have pressured schools to pull out of fossil fuels in an attempt to slow climate change by cutting off the cash.
Poor marks for a new technology
Sometimes when I’m halfway through a pile of 40 essays, I get tired. At these moments, if I had a grading machine, I would probably be tempted to insert the remaining essays and watch them pop out all freshly marked.
However, after 20 years of grading university essays, I know this would be terribly misguided. I’m here to help my students learn how to thrive in university—and beyond. In order to do that, they need to have strong thinking, reading, and writing skills. Machine generated grades will not help them develop these skills. With this in mind, I pick up my pen and go back to providing the constructive human feedback that will help them.
Just to be clear, I am not some remote professor in an ivory tower above Lake Ontario. In fact, I am a non-tenured “gun-for-hire,” fighting hard in the trenches of the humanities. This past year alone I have taught 914 students in six classes in writing, literature, and film. I have graded hundreds of exercises and essays, some brilliant, some hard to understand. I have worked with 19 teaching assistants, generated over 20 evaluation rubrics, assigned 12 essays. Basically, I have been battling to keep my head up, to keep teaching as well as I am able, and to keep grading the many essays that come my way.
On Judith Butler’s honourary degree from McGill
Every convocation season, some group somewhere in Canada protests an honoury degree recipient or commencement speaker. This year, the controversy is over the honourary doctor of letters that McGill University will bestow upon feminist scholar Judith Butler on Thursday.
Butler is well-respected by those who follow gender theory and perhaps equally despised by supporters of Israel because she calls the nation an “apartheid state” and seemed to sympathize with the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah when she called them anti-colonial and anti-imperialist forces. She later clarified that she doesn’t support “violent resistance,” but that’s not good enough for McGill Hillel and McGill Students for Israel who want the honour reconsidered.
The fact that these students are speaking out against her degree is a healthy sign. Nonetheless, the honourary degree should go ahead. I say bring on the controversial thinkers. That’s what university is all about. Or supposed to be about, anyway.
A grade 12 student’s five criteria for choosing a school
Every year since I was six years old, I’ve attended St. Francis Xavier University’s convocation ceremony in my hometown of Antigonish, N.S. I didn’t know the graduates and I wasn’t forced to go by my sentimental parents, who both work at the school. I went because I wanted to see the looks of triumph, happiness and success on the students’ faces as they crossed the stage.
I know my love of learning is not common among teenagers, but I am extra excited about university. For years I’ve read Maclean’s education issues and Guide to Canadian Universities, analyzing what schools best suit my personality and goals. Through five criteria, I’ve managed to create a shortlist. Here’s how I narrowed my search:
1. Program possibilities
I have a passion for curriculum design and education policy. Once I realized this passion, I decided to find a program where I could explore it to some degree. After long hours of soul-searching, I narrowed my major down to ethics, economics or educational psychology. This was by far the most difficult part of the process and it was only once this was done that institutions could be analyzed. I started searching for the best universities for those programs. The University of Toronto has a specialized first-year program in ethics, making it my current top choice. McGill University allows for a minor specifically in educational psychology, so I kept that on my shortlist too.
Prabhdeep Srawn last seen May 13
Australian police say they have scaled back the search for a Canadian hiker missing for more than two weeks in the Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales.
The move came even as the family and friends of Prabhdeep Srawn pleaded with Australian authorities to expand the search for the 25-year-old hiker from Brampton, Ont.
A Canadian military reservist, Srawn was last seen May 13, when he drove to a village in the park where he intended to go for a bushwalk.
A search operation only began on May 20 when it was discovered he was missing.
In a release early Tuesday, New South Wales Police said they made the “tough decision” to scale down the operation after consulting medical experts and examining the conditions and weather forecasts for the area.
Why I don’t buy into “sizeism”
Journalism student Gemma Michael, in a recent opinion article in The Charlatan student newspaper at Carleton University, wrote that “fat-shaming” is “society’s final ‘ism.’” According to her, “ideas about beauty, and the outrage and disgust that persists when someone in media doesn’t fulfill that idea, is a social issue.”
It’s an example of how activism against those who promote smaller body sizes has gained ground on campuses. Last week the idea of “sizeism” entered the mainstream consciousness when blogger Jes Baker’s letter addressed to clothing-maker Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries went viral. The Militant Baker, as she’s known on her blog, also posted provocative pictures of herself and a parody of the brand’s logo: “Attractive & Fat.” Some of these pictures have her posing nude, others in an actual A&F t-shirt and one has her flipping both middle fingers at the viewer—or perhaps at an imaginary Jeffries.
What did the CEO say that so offended her? “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told online magazine Salon in 2006. “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Jeffries’ comment was undeniably offensive, but is being overweight really the next “ism?” Can the experience of fat people really be compared to racism or sexism? Or is this an overreaction?
Students programming at university level
When Robert Arkiletian heard Google was interested in interviewing him for a computer programming job, he wasn’t interested.
He told the Google recruiter, who found Arkiletian’s work posted in online forums, that he wasn’t the type of person the company was looking for and that he already had a job he loved.
He’s known as “Mr. Ark” to the students he teaches computer programming to at Eric Hamber Secondary School, where programming prodigies are winning national competitions and 17-year-old whiz kids are confused with graduate-level computer scientists.
“I’ve got the best job in the world,” Arkiletian said. “When I get up in the morning and come to work, I’m going to work to have fun. In some ways I’m not that different from the kids. I’m still a kid at heart.
Incidents may be related
RCMP at the University of British Columbia are warning students to be vigilant after two women say they were groped on campus. The latest incident occurred on May 19 at 2:50 a.m. on Wesbrook Mall near Thunderbird Blvd. A 20-year-old says she was grabbed on the buttocks under her skirt.
“The woman said the suspect appeared to be a Middle Eastern-looking man, in his early to mid-20s, with a slim build, 5’8″ tall, dark brush cut hair and a stubble beard with an oval shaped face. He was wearing a gray hooded jacket, dark blue jeans and white runners,” said Sergeant Peter Thiessen of the University RCMP in a statement. He also told The Province the man was “Persian-looking.”
The other incident occurred on April 19 at 10:35 p.m. A 36-year-old says she was walking into a building on Larkin Dr. when a man lifted up her skirt and grabbed her buttocks. That man was described as of unknown race, 5’9″, wearing a dark top, dark pants and dark shoes with white trim.
We must engage the past even when it’s uncomfortable
Remember the end of the film Dead Poets Society? When the students all stand up on their desks and cry “O Captain, My Captain!” as a tribute to the wronged and noble teacher Mr. Keating?
The reference is, of course, to a famous poem by the American writer Walt Whitman. Whitman is one of the giants of American literature, and the poem is usually interpreted as an elegy to the recently assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, of course, was, much-hated in the South for, among other things, his opposition to slavery.
So it might have come as a surprise that the man who so eloquently eulogized the Great Emancipator is now at the centre of a controversy over racism. A graduate student at Northwestern University is, according to reports, willing to fail a class rather than perform a piece of music based on a Whitman work. The student insists that Whitman was an “historically racist” man, who denigrated African Americans and opposed their voting rights.
An interview with the remarkable Will Guest
Will Guest, a 25-year-old University of British Columbia student, has earned an M.D. and a PhD and will soon patent an algorithm that could have implications for Creutzfeldt–Jakob Disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In case you’re wondering, he skipped fifth grade, finished his undergraduate at the University of Manitoba in three years and completed his combined M.D./PhD a year ahead of schedule. After just returning from a vacation in China, we spoke about his route to success, the Canadian university system and how others can succeed.
In high school, what was your typical day like?
I went to high school in Winnipeg. We were able to work independently in our math courses so we could work ahead and complete our high school curriculum as quickly as possible and then we could take AP (Advanced Placement) courses. When we’d finished the AP courses, we could go on and actually take university courses in high school through the University of Manitoba. Fortunately, it was a pretty normal schedule. I wasn’t working day and night by any means. I enjoyed it.
In university, how tightly did you pack your schedule?
It depended on the semester. Generally, I would take six courses per term. There was one term when I was taking seven courses and that was a little uncomfortably busy.
In university, did you have time for a social life and extracurriculars?
I did but to a reduced extent. Most of my social life did revolve around school one way or another but that suited me just fine. I wasn’t that involved in sports, which is something I probably did miss out on early on, not because I didn’t have the time for it, but because it was something whose importance I didn’t realize until later. I remember, really clearly, that hitting home when I was in first-year medicine sitting in a lecture on exercise physiology and learning just how important regular physical activity was. That’s when I clued in that I should pay more attention to it. Vancouver is a city where it’s very easy to be physically active whether it’s running, biking, being outdoors, hiking, skiing.
University life, for many, involves late night parties and alcohol. Did you do any of that?
The truth is, I kind of skipped that phase. When I had my eighteenth birthday party—18 is the legal drinking age in Manitoba—I got drunk that night, which is sort of customary. Other than that I was not a big late-night partier. That’s not something I ever particularly enjoyed doing.
How hard have you had to work compared to the average student?
In the 60 hours per week range in undergraduate. At UBC, the pace has been as fast or faster. In this program it does feel like you’re working two jobs, which essentially you are, because the two streams of training are relatively parallel. It would fluctuate between 50 and 70 hours per week.
Any tips for university success for an undergraduate just starting out?
Recognize that you can dedicate yourself to your studies while having fun at the same time. As much as possible, it’s good to set your goals at an earlier stage. I was looking at the M.D./PhD program when I was in between high school and university so I had a reasonably clear idea of what I wanted to do and that enabled me to work toward a specific destination and not get confused or bogged down along the way. Ultimately everything is just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Often, it does seem daunting and overwhelming but the answer to that is to just focus on what’s in front of you. Don’t get to alarmed by looming exams. Work on what you can do. Put it aside when you’re tired. Once you have no energy left, it’s best to relax and try again the next day.
Did you ever have so much stress from your workload that you couldn’t sleep?
The stress level was usually moderate. I, fortunately, didn’t ever have any trouble sleeping. The exception to that was when I was on clinical service. When we have our on-call shift, we spend up to 36 hours working in one go and you’re exhausted and you have to keep going.
What’s your approach to studying?
My approach to studying is sitting down and reading the textbook. Sometimes the explanations in the textbook are hard to understand at first but through perseverance and coming back to it, usually it’s the best way to study. There has been very much a movement away from using textbooks as a sort of antiquated way of doing things but my personal experience is that it really is the best way to comprehensively know a field, rather than sort of new-aged or more sophisticated ways.
What surprised you about university?
There was a certain amount of busy work that had to be done, which was a little disappointing. What comes to mind are lab reports in certain courses that were a little tedious, not very educational.
There’s a debate about the value of universities considering that Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and David Karp of Tumblr all dropped out of school. Why did you stick with it?
Those are all entrepreneurs who developed a very good idea at an early stage of their career. They essentially needed to devote their full-time energies to it very early on. Ultimately, the goal of university is to train an individual to be able to do something like that. I think they were people who had already achieved what university was intended to offer them. For me it’s essentially necessary to complete the full course of training up to a PhD. That’s just the expectation. What’s more, the training environment to become a researcher is really only available in an academic setting.
As for the utility of taking university courses and then finding a job, I do think it’s a matter of the field pursued. There has been a lot of encouragement of people to go into the so-called STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and I think that is something really worthy. In my physics graduating class there were, unfortunately, only three of us. In general, the physical sciences suffer from a lack of student interest and I think it would be beneficial for people to be encouraged to go in those directions because that does lead to better job opportunities.
How can you make students interested in STEM fields?
I think this comes down to their high school or junior high school experiences. So often you hear people say, “I’m not any good at math” or, “I just don’t understand physics.” They’ve written off these entire fields when the reality is that, with perseverance and, particularly with a teacher who motivates or inspires an interest in the field, I think that pretty much anyone is able to understand and make progress in these fields. It’s kind of socially accepted in our society to write yourself off.
Going forward your plan is to stick with research obviously?
That’s right, as much as possible. The next thing I need to do is residency training. I’m matched to radiology at UBC so that’s what I’ll be doing the next five years. The goal of the M.D./PhD program is to train someone as a clinician-scientist so that they can be seeing patients while also having an active research interest. At this stage, I’d like to do a neuroradiology fellowship afterwards, specifically the interpretation of films of the brain and spinal cord. That’s an additional two years.
The patent-pending discovery you made, how did that come about?
That relates to one of the main areas of work in my PhD thesis which is trying to understand the process by which proteins misfold in neurodegenerative diseases. We developed a computational tool that allowed us to calculate the free energy of unfolding different regions within a protein, which is part of the process of a protein ultimately misfolding in disease. If we knew which regions would lose their structure early in the misfolding process, these were areas that could presumably be targeted by antibodies that could ultimately recognize the confirmation of the misfolded protein over the folded confirmation. I came from more of a computational background so I was more familiar with the modelling necessary to develop this into a more general computational prediction tool.
Do you think Massive Open Online Courses will lead to the downfall of residential universities?
I could see that, at some time in the future, online universities could play a pretty substantial role in our university system. But, by and large, I think the Canadian university system delivers excellent value for money and there are really few barriers for people who want to pursue post-secondary education. I think in Canada the current system will remain dominant for quite some time. I can understand why, in other countries where the cost of education is much higher than it is in Canada, those emerging potentially disruptive technologies will play more of a role early on. But who knows?
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Family joins search
Family members joined a frantic search Tuesday for a Canadian man with survival training missing for more than a week in Australia’s Gold Coast region.
Prabhdeep Srawn of Brampton, Ont., hasn’t been heard from since parking his rental car on May 13 in the village of Charlotte Pass in Kosciuszko National Park.
For the last two years, the 25-year-old has been a law student at Bond University in Brisbane.
But he is also a Canadian Forces reservist and former Australian military reservist and has had extensive survival training, said his cousin Tej Sahota.
“He’s an armed forces member in the Canadian army,” Sahota said from his medical practice in Cleveland, Ohio.
New book teaches Millennials how to be grown-ups
The news has two objectives: to report what’s just happened and to rehash, in the most sensational terms, what is apparently always happening. There’s the obesity beat, the what-gives-you-cancer beat, the housing-crash beat, and the most constant of these constants: the everyone-under-30-is-lazy-entitled-and-doomed-to-fail beat. Some recent highlights: “Generation Y struggling to start their adult lives”; “Study claims Generation Y more materialistic, less willing to work” and “Are Millennials the screwed generation?” We either can’t get jobs or can’t appreciate the jobs we have. We’re not even thinking about getting married yet, we walk through traffic with our eyes fixed to our phones and, to top it off, we can’t even cook a decent roast: according to Australia’s McCrindle Research, “only 51 per cent of women aged under 30 can cook a roast compared with 82 per cent of Baby Boomers.” We are also useless at gardening: “Only 23 per cent [of Millennial women] can grow a plant from a cutting when 78 per cent of older women say this is a breeze.”
To the rescue of this so-called lost generation comes 28-year-old American blogger and former newspaper columnist Kelly Williams Brown, who has written a book called Adulting, How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. It’s the first book of its kind—a guide for Millennials who are oblivious to all things seemingly adult: the young professional whose parents still pay her cellphone bill; the med student who spends his student-loan money on a trip to Tijuana; and the Maclean’s magazine columnist who, until very recently, thought that Warren Buffett sang Margaritaville, and had to ask her boss for instructions on how to write a cheque.