Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Anyone who teaches at a university knows the insanity that comes at the end of the semester. Students who have been putting things off all semester suddenly realize they have made mistakes, don’t have the time to finish, and think that somehow they deserve special exception.

This is everyone else’s fault but mine.

My pedagogical philosophy is that I can’t care more than the students. It’s also that my students are adults, and should be treated that way. I don’t do flexible deadlines. I don’t do special exceptions. I have a policy in my syllabus for that. If students want a special exception, they have to do an additional assignment. Not one that I give them; one that they propose to me. It needs to be of equivalent work to whatever they want an exception for, and it needs to require them to practice skills from the course. I don’t think it’s unreasonable. And yet, I still get these:

“I know the syllabus says I can only miss three classes, and I know I’ve missed nine. Does that mean I’m going to fail?” yes it does. “Can I do an extra assignment to make up for them?” You can do an extra assignment to make up for each of them. “Well, that’s too much work.”

“We haven’t done this section of the assignment. Is that okay?” No. Do you think a surgeon could get away with not stitching up a patient?

“We haven’t finished the assignment that’s due in an hour. Can we have more time?” No. I think the last five weeks have been plenty.

“I’m sorry I didn’t put as much effort into the last paper as expected.” You never handed anything in. “Does that mean I’m going to fail?” yep.

“I didn’t hand in my paper or any of the drafts. Am I going to fail?” yes.


Now, sometimes I get good students. Like the one who ‘didn’t put as much effort’ into a paper. I told him he was going to fail. He said “Can I write a second paper with the same requirements and hand them in with the final paper?” Yes. That you can do. Absolutely.

He didn’t complain. He didn’t make it all about him, or try to give me a sob story. He just followed the policy in the syllabus. And when I said yes, he said “Thank you.”

Because I’m not looking to fail them. I don’t WANT to fail anyone. I want them to do well. I’m a teacher; that’s my job. If they learn, I’ve done my job. If they don’t learn, then I haven’t.

But I can only care as much as they do. If they won’t do the work, I can’t give them the grade. That just wouldn’t be fair.

I’ve been working pretty hard lately, and the pages are starting to add up. Sometime over the next week or so, I’ll hit a third digit. I’m in the home stretch, as they say. Which is terrifying in and of itself. But while I’m here, I thought I’d look around and write down the observations I have in the form of advice. So think of this as advice from me to someone who is just getting started with their dissertation.


When I was young, my dad once told me a joke:

A wolf comes across a rabbit typing away with abandon. The wolf, curious, asks the rabbit what it is typing. “My dissertation,” the rabbit says. “It’s about how rabbits kill wolves.”

“Rabbits don’t kill wolves,” the wolf says. “Wolves eat rabbits.”

“No, rabbits kill wolves. Come in to my den, I’ll show you.”

So they go into the den, the wolf sure he’s about to have a very easy meal.

Inside the den, a lion waits. He kills the wolf and starts eating him. While he’s eating, the rabbit goes back outside and continues work on the dissertation.

The moral of the story: it doesn’t matter what your dissertation is about; all that matters is who your adviser is.


It’s been a difficult semester for me, as can be seen by how little I have posted here. The long and short of it is that outside stress has forced me to take a step back and find a new way to do what used to come easily for me: writing papers.

When in a normal state of mind, writing papers is done easily enough. Five pages meant an afternoon’s work, Ten pages meant a weekend. Even twenty pages wouldn’t be all that bad. But in this state, I found myself having difficulty. And to solve that difficulty, I had to essentially re-train myself to write papers.

I thought it might be interesting to write down how I do that, in case this should come up again. (more…)

I mentioned this a while ago, but nothing I ever write is ‘rough.’ Not even this post. Even though I’m writing it as I come up with what I want to say, I still won’t call it rough. One way to read what I’m saying is to think that I’m suggesting that everything I write, every sentence I construct, comes out of my brain perfect and without the need for revision. A lot of students think like that. I’m not one of them.

In Amadeus, part of the demonstration of what a genius Mozart was is that his compositions are without editing marks, coming out of his head fully formed and beautiful. We all wish we were geniuses like that. I know I do. But I also know I’m not that smart, not that kind of genius.

But still, nothing I write is ‘rough.’ I hate that term. I think my hatred started in high school, when I had to include a rough draft when handing something in.

It’s not that the idea behind the requirement was bad; the purpose was to teach rewriting, which is a great and important skill. But the language hurts the idea. (more…)

I wish I could say that someone had asked me this question, expecting that I would somehow be an authority on it. But that’s just not true. The truth is, I was wondering about the way I write papers, and how that’s changed over time.

When I was in high school, the one time I had to do a research paper, I had all my sources next to me while I wrote, and just wrote it all out, turning to sources to find quotes or whatever. It was a halting process, but it worked.

When I started college, I did the same thing, but I did go through the sources and highlight things first. It saved time.

As I graduated college, I wrote the paper first, without quotes, putting together the ‘prose’ of it all. Then I would go back through and put in the quotes where they fit, filling in transitions and whatnot where appropriate.

And then began graduate school. (more…)