I’m about a week from being finished with classes and about 1.5 weeks from being finished, more or less. Although I’m not terribly worried finals for myself, I know some people are stressing a lot. I already wrote a list of advice for test-taking that should be applicable for many final exams. But what about handling papers, projects, and just finals period?

  • Organize yourself! I have a list of what’s due when in my calendar and have already begun to decide when I’m working (or can work) on what. Make sure you have everything you need as well.
  • Sleep, eat, etc. No one works or thinks well if they are not taking care of themselves. If you feel like you’re pressed for time now, imagine how pressed you’ll be if you are sick. If you do become sick, talk to your advisor or a dean to see about getting extensions.
  • Speaking of eating, eat well. A little indulgence in junk is okay, but I find almost always feel better when I eat healthy foods.
  • If you’re writing papers (like I am), I’d make sure you have adequate breaks away from the computer. After awhile, my hands need to not type and my brain needs to stop working so hard.
  • If your final exam is in-class open everything, be it a writing or math/science exam, review your notes and have everything organized. Open notes, etc. on a test can be a valuable tool, but they can be detrimental if you have no idea what is where. I like using these little sticky-note strips; they’re a sliver of the size of a sticky note and you can write on them.
  • Along the same vein, even with an open notes/book/everything exam, study before you get there. These items are only tools and are pretty useless if you don’t know how to use them or understand the underlying concepts before hand.
  • Address your grade concerns now. While my advice has always been to address grade concerns as soon as they come up, your grade still has not been submitted. Talk to your professor(s) about ways to improve.
  • My last piece of advice is DO NOT CHEAT OR PLAGIARIZE. The consequences can be very steep for cheating. I know people have successfully cheated, but there are plenty of people who have not. Not even looking at the ethics, the risk is not worth it. If you wish to collaborate with a student on something and are unsure if it is cheating, ask your professor!

Best of luck to everyone who is in finals or is about to enter finals.



The other day, I read an article in some popular magazine (I don’t remember which) about how women science students should prepare themselves for college life. While I think women should be aware of how to survive some unfortunate aspects of being a women in science (less of us, sexism, etc.), I think there is a lot of accountability on the professors and that should be addressed just as much, if not more, than how women should just put with certain behaviors, like sexism, and not take it personally.

As the school year is beginning or has begun, I’ve been thinking about my education experience in science. I realize that while students have some autonomy on how things affect them, professors have even more choice in how they affect students. Speaking from experience, a bad situation can really be detrimental to a student’s confidence in science. I’ve been holding back on writing about this, and I’m sure more will come out with time, but right now, if anyone in the sciences is reading, I’m hoping to encourage professors and teachers to treat women and minorities right.

The most important thing, in my opinion, is to treat people like people. I don’t want to be treated as less of a science student than my male classmate. Tangential to this is don’t assume things. The article I read seemed assumptive about women in science. I don’t really fit that mold. Up until recently, I’ve had very good experiences in physics. I’m one of the few people I know who had a phenomenal high school physics teacher. My undergraduate physics department is amazing. I’m not afraid to ask questions, speak up, etc.

Building on the theme of treating people like people, don’t use “mansplaination.”  The short version of what a mansplaination is when a male condescendingly explains something to a female. He assumes the woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Often, opinions are stated as fact. Today I realized that in one research situation, I had been subjected to “mansplaination.” In this situation, I would tell the professor what I was going to do, prior to doing it. I figured, in case I was wrong, I should confirm what I was doing and not waste time. He would then say, “No, here is what you should do” and then tell me exactly what I said. It had happened several times. Because I had several people in the lab at the time and I remembered what I said, I knew I was right. Because the lab was small, I cannot confirm that the behavior was directly a result of me being female, but I never saw such behavior towards the males in the lab. Mansplaination is really obnoxious, to say the least. Even though I didn’t doubt myself, that kind of behavior created a poor work environment. Who wants to work around someone who feels the need to behave so condescendingly?

In short, treat others with kindness, respect, and dignity, regardless of other attributes.

My SO is working at an overnight summer camp right now for middle and high schoolers. They have very strict rules that I believe are a result of the law; the counselors cannot reveal that much about themselves, should not correspond with their students via email, befriend them on social networking sites, etc. Violation of any of these rules can result in the counselor’s firing.

One of the students Googled both my SO and another counselor, found my SO’s website, and found both counselors’ Facebook pages. This is just another reason why one should be careful about their web presence. Neither of them has anything salacious, but things would’ve gotten sticky had they had questionable content. If anything, teenagers being teenagers, I’m sure the job would’ve been more difficult if the student had found something more interesting than he had. As always, it’s smart to lock your Facebook profile, be aware of what’s on the intern about you (I Googled myself again after hearing about this), and if you do things online that you don’t want an employer to find out about, I would suggest using a pseudonym.

On the Belly Dance New England website, an editorial was written on bullying in the New England community. Unfortunately, this is not unique to New England. While I think Middle Eastern dance is an amazing activity and encourage others to be involve, like any group, people behave as bullies. Being on the fringes of any dance community, I’ve kept myself out of the drama. However, my friends/teachers haven’t always been so lucky.

Bullying comes in many forms beyond events. Anything from wanting to split off and teach on one’s own to even taking classes or workshops from another teacher- it happens.

The editorial has great tips on how to deal with bullying. Beyond the fact it’s always good to be respectful and treat people with kindness, intimidating people and starting unnecessary drama is really unprofessional and reflects poorly on people.

I found through my stats that someone came here looking to find out how to argue their graduate school grade. Because that’s not really a topic I’ve covered, I figured today (especially after receiving an email from a student re. his grade) would be a good day to talk about that.

My short advice? Unless the situation is particularly grave (see the last paragraph of this entry), don’t bother, no matter what level you are in your schooling. Unless it’s points added incorrectly, usually the professor feels s/he has done a fine a job grading/preparing you. Some people react terribly to having their grading questioned, and people leave upset and with no satisfactory results.

There have been a few times in grad school I thought the grading was terribly unfair, as did several other students. By unfair, I mean we were penalized every single point of the problem for not having plot labels formatted exactly as the professor wanted; the plots were only a small part of the problem and certainly not the topic of the class. Why did the bulk of us not argue? Too much to lose. For some, this was their advisor and maintaining good relations was more important at the end of the day. They had about a year or so they needed to work with this professor. For others, they had more things to worry about or knew that they would have this professor again in the future. I’d also add in that if you are expecting recommendations from a person, you should tread lightly. Regardless of whether you should be able to question your grade without fear, we live in a world where people have egos. People also talk, so you also don’t want your reputation viewed poorly by someone gossipy. I reiterate that these things shouldn’t matter, but they can, so you may as well beware. Tread very lightly.

If you chose to pursue arguing your grade, I’d think about the following questions:

  • Why are you arguing your grade? Why do you think your grade isn’t fair? In my story about being given 0 credit for improper labels on a plot, that exam question had more components than just plot labels and the exam was not on plot labels. Do I think that we should have been docked for incorrect plot labels? Absolutely, just not every single point if a student managed to get the spirit of the problem down pat. If you’re arguing your grade because you’ve always been an A student/you can’t fail this class/you tried really hard/you didn’t study hard enough/etc., those aren’t good reasons. Base your argument on something that is substantial to academics and the topic.
  • Are you being petty? Grading is somewhat subjective, even physics (I tend to grade on work more than the end answer). I personally think it’s a waste of time to attempt to argue your A- to an A or argue that 95/100 on your lab report to a 97/100. You’ve done good work, but according to your grader, it could be a bit better. Having discussed this issue with others, this again comes off poorly. Why? None of us have seen a case where the person has a good reason why they should receive a higher grade. For myself, I don’t like when students become more about the grade and less about the learning.
  • What is this professor like? Granted, even personable professors can become irritated easily, but I’d say your chances of having a good conversation with this professor re. your grade are slimmer if the person is already snappish about questions.
  • How are you going to approach the person? Catching them 5 minutes before class or stopping them in the middle of the hall is never a good idea. I’d send an email or ask to meet with the person. I’d be humble and not accusative towards the professor, even if you find the person to be a jerk.
  • Are you capable of remaining calm and professional, should the meeting go sour? This goes back to future contact with the professor. You may, regardless of how you behave, leave a bad impression on a professor, but again, your odds are quite that you will if you become belligerent, whiny, and overall unpleasant. People gossip, and if you need this person to not have a negative view of you (future prof for another class, your advisor, semester not over…), you need to put your best face forward.
  • Are you willing to discuss strategies on how to do better? Before you arrange to discuss your grade, you may want to also ask the professor, particularly if this isn’t your final grade, how you can improve. I like when people ask me how they can improve their grades. Not students who are digging for extra credit but students genuinely interested in learning how to write, solve physics, whatever. It shows that you realize you can improve and that you aren’t necessarily blaming the professor.

I have yet to argue a grade; at most, I’ve inquired why I’ve received some grades when the comments have not been apparent on the work. I’ve had numerous students attempt to argue their grades with me. Typically, they’ve been people who been any of the following: hostile, condescending, hysterical, insulting, or just plain nasty. They also have typically been people who don’t realize that we have the rest of the semester to get through together, and leaving a bad impression on anyone is always a terrible idea. I have yet to see someone argue his/her grade and present a good reason why a higher grade is deserved. That’s why I think it’s important to consider what you’re doing and why.

If your situation is grave (I’ve heard stories where professors allegedly have intentionally given inaccurate grades) and justifiable in arguing, I would talk to your department head or advisor on how to proceed. If that doesn’t go well, talk to a dean on campus. Go up the food chain in your school. While I think grade arguing is often not done for the right reasons, I know there are cases where it should be done. However, always proceed with caution and make sure you have all the information to present a strong case. It isn’t fair, but things can come back to bite you in the butt.

Good luck!

Ironically after I wrote my review yesterday, I read an article in the Gilded Serpent about whether reviews on instructional DVDs are important anymore. The writer’s stance is that they aren’t so much anymore, because there are notable companies who routinely produce high quality DVDs for dancers. I disagree with that. Obviously, the writer is correct that the reviews are someone’s biased take, but I tend to use reviews on instructional DVDs the way that a friend of mine uses movie reviews: find the reviewers whose opinions seem to align well with yours and you lower the odds of being led down the wrong path.

I like DVD reviews, because I’m not rich. I can’t buy everything, and even if they are reasonably priced, I don’t want to waste money.  If it weren’t for the glowing testimonials of DVDs produced by Cheeky Girl Productions, I wouldn’t have purchased so many of their DVDs. Like anything, you have early adopters who are fine with possibly making a poor purchase, but quite a few people choose to see if the marketing hype is true. This is why reviews are important. How would I know Akai Silks, L. Rose Designs, etc. are any good if people weren’t willing to review the products?

The reviews have also been useful, because I get a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from someone less biased the marketing. I totally agree that certain companies almost always knock it out of the park; however, sometimes they don’t or whatever they made isn’t suitable for me. A good review should include some factual information that may not be obvious from the promo material.

Reviews are a tool, like anything else. Don’t take them as the gospel, but I think can be used effectively to help you make shrewd purchases.

Evidently, according to some study, we’re not doing too well. I agree that paying math and science teachers more isn’t the answer. How does that help, if they’re not doing a good job? Obviously, teachers should be paid well. A friend made a video that has good ideas on how to improve education. I don’t necessarily agree with everything he has, but I think it is definitely a starting point to really analyze we’re behind. The video is located here. Make sure have about a half hour to watch it.

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