Jobs that involve communication of social science data?
October 14, 2011 1:01 PM   Subscribe

How can I focus on what I'm good at?

Ideal work for me involves mining complex, technical, and interesting social science data/research, and communicating the meaning of it to a non-specialized and interested audience.

Teaching college at my state university is fine, but 20% of the job is the fun part. The rest of my time is spent rank-ordering the students (ugh), listening to their excuses/grade-grubbing (UGH) and dealing with dumb emails and administrative duties. Most of my students are completely grade-oriented.

I know I'm good at communicating with passion, both orally and in writing. Students often say they look forward to my engaging lectures. I want to build on this communicative strength and not continue to be bogged down in the nonsense of being an instructor.

Two questions:
How do I get students off my back, and feel more comfortable about grading them? I have no idea how to grade objectively and I'm overly sympathetic personality-wise. I think they sense my weakness and pile on! I have trouble caring much about the grading part of it, and I think they sense that too and exploit it. I wish they'd all just leave me alone, so I could go have coffee with the one or two that intrinsically care!

Also, what are some careers, jobs, or even freelance opportunities, where I could focus on what I'm good at?
posted by powerbumpkin to Work & Money (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You're perfectly free to be an easy grader. Nothing wrong with that.

Career-wise, maybe a business consultant? Think tank analyst?
posted by shivohum at 1:26 PM on October 14, 2011

To discuss the teaching side of things: I think you just need to lay ground rules to your students so that you don't need to worry about people pushing an envelope. I agree that it's within your right to be an easy grader, as shivohum says, but think of how that impacts the world view of your educational institution (I pride where my degree is from because it's tough as shit to get through the curriculum) and whether people trust a degree from your program.

some ideas
1) You have 100 pts per semester, so no calculations are necessary to figure out your grade
2) Your due date is your due date unless you have an actual note from a doctor regarding a condition that kept you from having time to do your work or there was a death in the family
3) your tuition does not guarantee a passing grade in my class. Do the work or don't.
4) my exams will cover both lecture material and material that you would have come across if you're experimental enough in your assignments (only people that really enjoy the subject will get an A)
posted by zombieApoc at 1:29 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am interested in reading your blog, listening to your podcast or subscribing to your youtube channel featuring interesting social science research. If you are truly as talented as you say you are at communicating this research to a non-specialized audience in an interesting way, you may be able to generate a modest revenue stream from advertising or eventually parlay that work into a freelance job writing or reporting for a pop science magazine. If you really like to give lectures, maybe find an agent to get you on a professional lecture circuit.

As for grading, I would just say don't agonize over it. Plan your homework / tests / quizzes to be the least work for you as possible. At the college level, I don't think it's your job to motivate students. They're adults, that's their problem.

Try your best to automate or better organize your emails and administrative duties so that they are less of a burden. Make space for yourself.

For the grade-grubbers and go-getters, offer some ridiculous or clever extra-credit assignment. You get them off your back, they get a hamster wheel to run in. When they turn it in, hold on to it for a day and return it saying they haven't put in enough effort to receive the credit. Let em run in the hamster wheel a while longer. Then when they turn it in again, give them a gold star and tell them how impressed you are and they are the best student you have ever seen.
posted by j03 at 1:43 PM on October 14, 2011

I'm a big fan of rubrics for grading.

If you're assigning a paper, decide what features an "A" paper will display. Assign points to each feature. (I'm lazy; I just do 5 pts per feature instead of trying to weight them relative to each other.)

If you're really going gangbusters, you can describe the feature for a "A" paper ("A clear thesis statement is well-supported by evidence."), a "B" paper ("The thesis statement is present, and there is supporting evidence.", a "C" paper ("The thesis statement is vague, and there is little evidence supporting the thesis."), a "D" paper ("There is no identifiable thesis statement but the reader might still identify the argument presented."), or an "F" paper ("There is no identifiable thesis statement, and no argument seems to be present.)

When you assign the paper, hand out the rubric.

The students will still point-grub in each category, but you can say, "An 'A' paper would have X, but you can see here that your paper has Y, which is not as strong." Each category is still subjective, but students seem to like the structure that the rubric provides, and they tend to say that I have clear expectations in my course evaluations.
posted by BrashTech at 2:08 PM on October 14, 2011

So go for the bare minimum: midterm and final, split something like 30% and 70%, pure multiple choice. Inherently objective (just make sure there's no ambiguity in any questions/answers!) and requires minimal effort to grade. No room for grade-grubbing, and the rank ordering will happen automatically.
posted by ootandaboot at 2:31 PM on October 14, 2011

How do I get students off my back, and feel more comfortable about grading them? I have no idea how to grade objectively and I'm overly sympathetic personality-wise. I think they sense my weakness and pile on!

One strategy I've seen used to good effect here is to separate out grading-as-feedback from grading-as-gatekeeping. If you can say to people "Look, this assignment could have been way better, but don't worry, I won't fuck up your GPA over it" then you can get the grade-grubbers off your back and still get some respect from the kids who are genuinely interested in doing impressive work.

A few profs in my department have taken to grading "on the European system" — 80% and up is an A, 70%-80% is a B, and so on. Gives them room to distinguish between "This is absolutely breathtaking" (100%), "This is pretty damn clever" (90%) and "This is good solid work and I have no complaints" (80%) while still giving A's to the kids who "merely" did good solid work.

Now, these are people who get mostly CS students signing up for their classes, and CS students tend to be pretty creative and driven (and — this is the downside — teacher-pleasing) on their own. So it turns out those students are still motivated to try for 100%, even if they're perfectly satisfied to get like an 82 and not make anyone's life miserable over it. I don't know how well this would work for an intro History or Sociology class, say, where I fear a fair number of the students wouldn't even care if they impress you or not, they just want to get the distribution requirement filled and go home.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:31 PM on October 14, 2011

(Also, yes to rubrics and yes to difficult extra-credit work. Both seem to be really satisfying for those students who want to treat college like it's Farmville with dorms.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:35 PM on October 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't change grades or provide extensions unless valid medical notes are submitted. Otherwise you are rewarding dishonesty and 'grade-grubbing' while essentially penalizing more honest and less aggressive students. Think of it in that way. Don't change grades then people will stop giving you stories. That's the only part I can answer except to also boringly say that all jobs will have parts you don't like vs parts you do.
posted by bquarters at 2:47 PM on October 14, 2011

Response by poster: Awesome answers, everyone! Thanks. I feel like I'm on the right path, finally, with my career. All I need now is to maximize the good and minimize the bad.
posted by powerbumpkin at 7:53 PM on October 14, 2011

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