Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Studying, Grade Schemes, and Greater Conspiracy Theories

There's no adequate substitute for doing the work.

I have my text materials back. I'm not sure what my adviser thought he was accomplishing by confiscating them. I spent a good portion of my time without them outlining and summarizing chapters and subheadings from memory. When I got my books back and compared my notes against the actual materials, my recreation was remarkably close and omitted only a few minor subheadings.

Highlighters: You can't live with them, as in I seriously hate the things, but you probably cannot live well without them, either.

Life will be easier for me, I suspect, when grades and rankings are for real in Year #3. As it stands, everyone knows exactly where they are in the standings. What we don't know is how it is being perceived by professors. We don't know if they're looking at the non-ranked rankings as we do, if they're truly ignoring them because they don't exist in an official sense,  if they're paying every bit as much attention to them and considering them as we do, or if the high relative rankings are actually working against those in the top spots, as it is being considered  that those of us who insist upon maintaining the top positions even in a technically non-ranked pass/fail situation are truly cutthroat and are circumventing the administration's attempt to create a supposed academic utopia of spirit for cooperation by clawing our way to the top despite the non-official status of rankings and of grades beyond pass/fail.

I will go on record as saying the whole pass/fail and non-rankings-based system is a colossal failure.  The reason it's a failure for me personally is because I never know when to say when and to put the books away for the night. With more clear-cut grading and ranking, it would be easy to say, "I'm in the top three" or whatever, "so I must be doing enough," and to close my books and laptop and go to sleep.

how a casual study group might or might not look

My philosophy has evolved into one of that when in doubt, one should go for the highest scores one can possibly attain on any test or performance-based assessment whether grades technically count or not as long as one isn't observed knocking others down in the process of getting there. The members of my high-achieving study group all seem to feel the same way.  If someone else is struggling because the material is too demanding, I'll do what I can to help, but it's possible that person does not belong in the field of medicine. I'll attempt to explain a concept with the hope that my explanation is more comprehensible to the student than was the professor's explanation, and I'll share every mnemonic tip I have, but I certainly won't do anything bordering cheating on the person's behalf, and I won't write any papers for the person, though I'll give advice or edits if asked.

I did not get the highest score in the class on my presentation last week. My score was the second-highest. I should be satisfied with that, as public speaking is not my forte.(Note, the word is technically pronounced /fort/ when used to indicate an area of strength; it's /for-TAY when used in a musical sense, meaning loud; some dictionaries now accept /for-TAY/ as an alternate pronunciation, but it was simply widespread mispronunciation that caused /for-TAY/ to become acceptable even as a secondary or alternate pronunciation; this is a little known fact surrounded by widespread misconception, not that many people really care). I was probably doing well under the circumstances to have scored even second highest in the cohort.  Still, I'm bothered and have a tough time with accepting second-best.

What my medical school experience is reminding me of, especially with the non-rankings and pass/fail system, is of a very old and short-lived reality show. I believe it was called The Family. The premise of the program was  based, as are many reality shows, on a group of people, in this case mostly related familially, and competing for prize money. They lived together in a mansion, complete with household staff. They were asked by the producers of the show to compete in various tasks. What the contestants did not know was that the decision as to which contestant would be voted "off" on any given week was made by the servants of the mansion. 

The program was apparently not terribly well-done, which makes me sad, because it's the sort of program with which TV gets only one chance; if a network tried to do a new and improved version, the contestants would catch on too quickly to the idea that they were being voted on or off by the servants.  TV production had a single chance with this idea, and they apparently didn't do all that great a job of it, which is a bit sad, as it seems to me that the show had considerable promise.

In any event, many of the contestants, once they learned the true nature of the competition, were actually angry about the show's premise and about having been voted off by those who scrubbed their toilets.  Many of the contestants were angered by the elimination process when they learned of it, which spoke volumes for the validity of the system of using servants as judges.  Karma can be a bitch, and those who are on the receiving end of the negative aspects  it often are not pleased with the outcome when what has one around finally comes around. To me, it was poetic justice at its finest, as  probably no truer measure of a person's character exists than how he or she treats those theoretically "beneath" them, who are in no obvious position to advance a person's statute in career or in life.

I can't help wondering if there might be some sort of unintentional parallel between the realty show I described and our medical school and its administration's policy as to which of us will move on and which of us will be invited not to come back next year. Perhaps there will be a lot more to it than our pass/fail grades, whether ranked or not. Suppose that Bimbo or even Kal Penn isn't with us so much to study medicine as to vet out the candidates who might ultimately be too selfish and self-serving to be of benefit to the field of medicine.  Perhaps even the professors are fulfilling the roles of moles/spies themselves. They cannot see what is going on from the inside as well as a true insider could, but they still have ample opportunity to observe how we treat one another and how we work together.

My dad say this idea is positively delusional and is a direct result of my having watched too many episodes of House, M.D. In his way of thinking, such would be the case. He went to medical school when education in general was straightforward and it was every man for himself.  Grades were based on what an individual knew and could do. 

Things have changed since then, though, in that now a much greater  emphasis in grading (too much, in my opinion) is placed on group work and not enough on individual accountability. I recognize the importance of possessing the ability to work as part of a group to arrive at a solution. It's probably all the more important now because children do not have the experience of playing together in neighborhoods as they had in previous generations. Any activity in which children are involved today is typically adult-organized and -directed. Today's youth and even young adults have not developed the ability to negotiate, and the effects of such are supposedly far reaching, perhaps even extending so high as the political arena, where today's young politicians no longer possess the ability to step across the aisle to negotiate with the other party to make legislation happen because they never experienced having to negotiate and to work things out as children without an adult mediating every disagreement.

So because of this societal breakdown, schools are picking up the slack. This is all fine to a point. If schools are the only safe place where today's children can learn to negotiate, it's still far from a perfect system, because there continues to be an adult hovering and mediating, though it's better than the issue not being addressed at all. My criticism of this, and a lot of it is tied up in the whole Common Core fiasco, is that any given student shouldn't receive a grade in math, reading, or any other subject area based on another student's work. The grades given for Common Core-type  group work should be grades in negotiation, conflict resolution, doing one's share of the work,  and in the ability to work as part of a group, but not grades in content areas. Making this happen would involve teachers monitoring to carefully observe who was contributing, who was totally dominating, and who was slacking, but would yield more valuable information than is being gleaned by simply viewing the end results of group projects. The grades on such projects should be based on the process rather than the final product and should not be subject/content area grades.

I've ventured ridiculously far off my original topic, but I suppose my bottom line here is that  with our present grading system at my medical school, we don't really know what our grades mean and what criteria ultimately will be used to determine who among us moves on and who does not. Some of us may be very surprised to learn that we're not doing nearly so well as we thought because the standards by which we think we're being measured are a smaller piece of the total puzzle than we had assumed. The people we might least expect to have any say whatsoever may perhaps make the final decision as to which of us live, educationally speaking,  and which of us find ourselves in that vast medical school graveyard.

And, for those interested, my next blogs will focus on the grassy knoll aspect of the theory of the JFK assassination, whether or not Apollo 11 actually landed on the moon or if it was really just a enactment on a soundstage somewhere at NASA headquarters in Houston, Paul McCartney's reported death in 1966, and the whole Roswell/ Area 51 matter. This is facetious, incidentally.

Is he, or isn't he dead?


  1. My comment was too long so it was erased when submitted. I did not copy it first (mistake). So I had to go back in time to recover it using the BACK button. So here is is broken up.

    Alexis, you make wonder about the future. If you are this smart at age 20, what will you be like at age 25. I had a girlfriend that graduated second in her class in high school (she was not as smart as you are). For the whole time in high school she was first in her class and another woman was second in the class. But right near graduation, Lisa slacked off and the girl that was second worked extra hard so she graduated first in her class and Lisa graduated second in her class.

    Your father should never say that you are delusional! There were these stories in a magazine about this idea. One mother said to her child, "You are always clowning around. You will never amount to anything." This child's name was Bill Cosby. Another mother said to her child, "You are always getting into fights, you will never amount to anything." This child's name was Cassius Clay (Mohammed Ali). There were kind of like jokes.

    Geniuses are always called delusional. A reporter told Albert Einstein that there are over 100 top physicists that say that his theory of relativity is nonsense. Einstein said that if it were nonsense then it would only take one top physicist to say so. Note that after an eclipse took place his exact calculations were tested and proved the theory of relativity to be a fact. The next day, he became a worldwide celebrity!

  2. The next day the New York Times headline said "Lights all Askew [wrong] in the Heavens. Men of Science More or Less Agog [eager to hear] over results of Eclipse Observations. Einstein Theory Triumphs."

    It then explains that only 12 wise men in the world can understand Einstein's theory of relativity. My cousin told me that it hurts his brain to hear that time can slow down.

    When Einstein came to physics, it was a contradiction. They stated the the speed of light never changes but experiments showed that the speed of light did change. So Einstein saw that physicists assumed 2 things to be facts that were false. They never tested them.

    They assumed that the speed of time never changes and the length of something never changes. These were their mistakes. When something moves faster through space, it move slower through time. Also as something moves faster through space, its length contracts. If you figure these in, it accounts for the false appearance of light moving at different speeds.

    How fast can time slow down? Things that have mass cannot travel at the speed of light since then they would infinite mass. But things without mass, like a photon (particle of light) can travel at the speed of light. At that speed times slows down to zero. Or in other words time stops.

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  4. Alexis, I also love learning about you. If you knew everything that you now know about the pass/fail system back when you chose this school, would you have picked another school that does not use it? I would like to know what school you go to but know that you are keeping that confidential.

    Also do you believe that after you die, you still exist in another form like a soul? Does your father also believe the same as you?