roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Highlights of Working at a University

with 11 comments

How exciting, University of Lies!  What, praytell, is the most thrilling part of working at a college?

Is the secondhand high you get from students who come to class stoned out of their faces?

 We totes went to college!!

We totes went to college!!

No, fellow internet friends, it’s spending your evenings trying to grade horrible papers with Real Housewives of Who Cares in the background, because you need to know there are people in the world dumber and more irritating than the authors of said papers.

I stare at the pile and have no idea where to begin.  Should I just dunk the papers in a delicate mixture of artisanal tea leaves, then used the aged paper to make papier mache birds, which I can sell to try and subsidize my living?  that would probably be less work than trying to evaluate them for content and style.

These are the main hardships in trying to grade my students’ work:

1. Many of the students (50%?) deem your topic not stimulating enough, so they invent a topic of their own choosing and write about that instead.  Despite the fact that you wrote, what you stupidly hoped, were very clear step by step instructions.  And no, they don’t answer their own questions either.

2. They regurgitate the info you told them in class (usually getting it wrong) and then add no commentary of their own.

3. Many of them only fill half or 1/4 of the page requirement, then use experimental poetry type spacing in an attempt to fill the space.  This kills me because my brain is all, ‘what? you think I can’t tell you have only written 5 sentences here instead of 2 pages?  you think you’re smarter than me? Why did you even bother to turn this in?’  This is, of course, brain space that could be better used trying to finish my fucking thesis.

4.  Each sentence is the verbal equivalent of a jackson pollock.  (I should also disclose that I don’t ‘get’ him.)  There might not be a subject, verb, complete thought, etc.  Some of the words are not recognizable as English or any other romance language.  FML. SMH. LOLcats.

5.  Repetition.

6. Repetition.

7. What’s left is filler.  Ya know, the shit inside hotdogs:  “Shakespeare was a very good writer. Yes he used old school language which is hard to understand but his poems are very good and people should read them.  I had to read them in class and thought they were good.  Shakespeare is considered to be an excellent writer.”

So how does one affix grades to these papers without driving themselves insane and (less importantly) not inciting a mutiny where people come after me with pitchforks, flaming torches, and signs saying ‘god hates offensive words for gay people?”

I don’t hold these students to Haahvard/Oxbridge standards by any means.  But I also don’t believe on grading on a curve–why should you get a higher grade because everyone else in the class has no standards or pride in their work?   I also won’t lower my standards so much that I reward people with a passing grade just because they printed out a sheet with their name on it.  I’ve slogged my way through about 35 papers so far, and there are 2 that are pretty good, good enough for me to give A grades to without losing any sleep at night.  But the rest breaks down as follows: 2% B, 2% C, and the remainder is a primordial sludge of Ds and Fs.  But where do I draw the line?  After 5ish years doing this, I feel like I should have a better idea of what constitutes an F paper.

I guess the real problem is that most of them look like Fs, and I know I can’t fail em all.

11 Responses

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  1. Sure ya can. Unless you’re interested 5ish more years of this 😉
    I shouldn’t tease like that.

    Matilda Aya

    March 1, 2013 at 18:17

    • good idea, Matilda! Fail em all and let the door hit me on the way out. I’ll put it on the list of possibilities.


      March 1, 2013 at 18:35

  2. Students at my (former) university knew about these YouTube videos that showed how to blow up the font size of punctuation to make one’s paper look longer than it actually was. The first student that did that turned in her paper over email – so I reformatted it correctly, then met with her and put the version she had formatted and the one I had reformatted next to each other, and said something that amounted to “DON’T EVER DO THIS AGAIN.” She didn’t (at least in my class). But she wasn’t the last student to try to fake writing a full-length paper – and those were the worst, because if someone held them up on the other side of a classroom, you could still tell that there was something horribly wrong with them, and it felt insulting to my own intelligence that they would turn them in thinking that I somehow wouldn’t notice. Ugh – things that I will never miss about teaching!


    March 2, 2013 at 02:10

    • who do they think they’re fooling?? agh! and that’s it, if you get the message across to one of em, there’s 100 in line who will do the same thing. frustrating.


      March 2, 2013 at 17:50

  3. The distinctness between F and D is that the Fs are the ones you can write in the margins “This paragraph is totally full of shit. It’s a fucking nightmare that made my brain pulsate in a baaaad way. It would be nice if you could at least try to prove you’re not a total fucking moron next time.” The Fs are the ones that won’t read your comments. I recommend writing that on the whole mess of them. Then, the ones that come to you with that wordless gaping look of stupification –“whaaaahuh?” — get their grades changed to a D for taking the time to read your comments.

    recent Ph.D.

    March 2, 2013 at 03:24

  4. […] out of my brief time on this mortal coil?  I imagine that I’d be better equipped to laugh apathetic students off and not take it so personally if I was making a fair wage.  But maybe it wouldn’t be […]

  5. […] for college (especially the particular entry level classes I teach), and if they do submit “work” ,  it’s on a 4th grade […]

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  7. […] as I wade through a mountain of shitty papers and make notes for my own shitty paper, I’ve also been trying to sew a few panels into my […]

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