Category Archives: Education

A Theory of Procrastination

Two months ago, I was looking for participants for my psychology research. It took me six weeks to convince 50 people (students) to fill out my questionnaire. Not a great success, if you ask me.

A new semester started. I sent out new invitations. BOOM. Five new participants in two hours. Three more  in another hour. And again. Wow. What was going on?

Believe it or not, I think that the most important part of data collection is timing. I think that since students like to procre– procrastinate during the semester (especially if they have some homework due!), they are many times more likely to participate in studies (and fill out questionnaires).

So what?

Quite honestly, I am not sure. On one hand, it might be interesting to look at volunteering and participation at studies during the holidays vs. during the semester (I would LOVE to write a paper about that), on the other hand… yeah, you guessed it. Homework. Essays. Compulsory readings. Sometimes I wish *I* didn´t procrastinate…

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Posted by on 30 September, 2012 in Education


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Team Assignments – When Two Plus Two is Really Four

Dear teachers, tutors, and professors. I am sorry, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. Similarly, there is no such thing as “magical synergy during team projects”. Just – no. Trust me.

Team assignments are the second worst invention one sometimes involuntarily encounters (beaten only by Hannah Montana games – no, really). The idea that “if you put students together, it will make it easier for them to come up with amazing ideas and enable them to do more than each person individually” is unrealistic at best. It would work only under very specific conditions, namely that:

a) all students are equally motivated to do the assignment (i.e. you don´t have one hard-working student and three slackers)

b) all students are equally skilled (i.e. you don´t have three students with an average of D and one with an average of A+) and

c) the group actually works as a team (i.e. you don´t have four control-freaks who prefer to do everything on their own and then be accountable for their own mistakes)

Unfortunately, these conditions rarely hold in real life. So, in contrast to what many teachers believe, 2+2 is not “5” (yes, I am counting the extra magical synergy/creativity/what-have-you), but can be equal to 1, or 2 – if you are lucky (depends on how many ambitious students that particular group has).

However, there IS a way out for all those unhappy high-flyers who always did the team assignments on their own because “they had a terrible team”: It is called “division of labour”. Let me give you three simple steps how NOT to do a whole project alone:

1. Find a (reasonably) good team. Find either smart people, or at least the hard-working ones. Avoid party-goers, irresponsible guys and demotivated do-nothings.

2. Divide (and rule). Split work evenly, try to give everybody a part he or she feels comfortable with (i.e. do not force someone who hates maths to calculate monopoly profits or do not force a shy IT-guy to prepare a presentation). Make sure you control if people do what they were assigned in a timely manner, so that you don´t have to redo something in a rush just because somebody forgot.

3. Meet before the deadline, put everything together, all people check that all parts are of good quality. If you are all happy, submit it; otherwise correct it together.

There. Done. You might not get the mystical “creativity boost” in this way, but at least you won´t have to carry the world (project) all on your shoulders. Good luck!

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Posted by on 23 September, 2012 in Education


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Getting a Research Internship

There are certainly days when nothing goes as planned: your alarm clock goes on strike (weird, mine says “made in China” but acts as if it was made in France), you’ve burned your breakfast – so far things are going great… Anyway. If you want to get to Grad school, I have a bit of heads-up advice: There are things that actually work!

Since almost all Graduate schools require at least some research experience, this is something you should probably be aiming at while doing your Bsc./MA. Here’ s a short list of tips how to get a research internship – read on!

1. Make sure you know what you want to do. If the answer is “economics”, for example, this is not good enough. Is it micro, macro, finance, behavioral, labour, econometrics…?

2. Find a professor (at your university) with similar research interests. Take his/her class (if possible), approach him/her and ask about the possibility of an internship.

3. If you are asked for an interview, prepare your transcript (just in case) and your CV (at least in your head) – and of course your grad school plans.

4. This professor can become your “secret ally” – he or she probably knows which school would be nice for you, you get get a good recommendation letter if your internships turns out well… don’ t underestimate these benefits.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask. Ask about what exactly is expected from you, ask when you don’t understand, ask about your possible wage. There are important questions – remember, it’s always better to ask than to omit something because “it didn’t occur to you”.

So, that’s about it. Simple, eh? Happy job hunting! 🙂

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Posted by on 3 September, 2012 in Education


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Ethics: What Is Debatable?

What do the following statements have in common?

“I don´t support abortions. They are wrong.”

“I generally condemn embryo research – actually, I consider it murder, not _research_.”

“I believe that euthanasia should be illegal.”

Correct. They are all moral judgments without substantiation. Way too often do we hear that X or Y is “immoral” without being told why exactly. Sometimes people argue “but the Bible/Quran/insert-a-holy-book-here says so“, sometimes (especially when people run out of arguments – well, “arguments” – altogether) we are told that “yeah, it is just wrong, I know it“. Right?

No. I am sorry, but someone´s feeling of what is moral is not an argument I would buy. If you were able to explain why a) abortion is murder (i.e. life begins at conception), b) the right to live of a fetus is more important than the right to bodily integrity – then yes, that would be different. I am open to discussions about morality, but beware: I am rather allergic to those “somebody said so” claims.

I could go on and argue why I personally believe in certain things, but instead, I would like to pose a few questions, my dear Readers, for you to think about (feel free to comment below):

A) Are women able to achieve equality when they live in a non-secular society? [see here some provoking facts; but feel free to argue even that women should not be equal to men]

B) Would it be OK to pay poor people to have less kids? [a place to start for example here]

C) Is euthanasia acceptable? [I strongly recommend this blog with many useful moral analyses]

Alternatively – do you have something that is really eating you? Please comment. Why? Because nothing is 100% good or bad – and before we as a society make a definite moral judgment, all those various points of view should be heard and taken into account. Why? Because hopefully then our decisions will not harm others (yes, dogmatists, I am talking about you).

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Posted by on 29 July, 2012 in Education, Random


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Language Course Highlights

Summer courses. Everybody seems do be doing at least one nowadays. Well, guess what! I hopped on the bandwagon too: I went to Frankfurt for two weeks to refresh my German and now have a couple of hints, tips and stories to share with you: Feel free to comment, laugh, facepalm… or do just about anything else.

1. Intensive courses are not worth the extra money. If a “standard” language course means 20h/week and the “super-intensive” 28h/week, the difference is negligible. (If it is a good course, you will work your a.. off anyway; if it is bad, those extra lessons won´t save it. Besides, nothing beats real-life conversations with native speakers who are – hopefully – around.)

2. DO experiment. Both with the language and the food. While I do agree that exotic food might not always count as “fun” (think of the next morning´s consequences), language concoctions mostly do. Anyway, I can heartily recommend coconut soup (!) and black bubble tea with milk.

3. Make new friends. Sure, you might never see each other again, but that´s no reason to stay at the hotel all the time! As Penny from The Big Bang Theory might put it: “Go out and talk to people!”

4. Go wild. At least for once. Do something other would never expect from you: Go whiskey tasting, join the belly dancing club, sign up for scuba diving lesson. But hey, be safe. (For those of you who ever come to Frankfurt – go and check out where apple wine is made – amazing experience!)

5. Take pictures. Go on excursions, do all that crazy stuff you have always dreamt of doing – and capture those moments! And no, not having a fancy camera is not an excuse (because you probably have a smartphone anyway). Then again, think carefully about the appropriate time of taking pictures – security check at the airport is not the best place (true story).

But most importantly – enjoy the time! Remember that learning a language is not an isolated action consisting of doing your homework and reading the textbook: Rather, it is real-life practice that makes perfect.

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Posted by on 22 July, 2012 in Education


How to Motivate Stubborn/Lazy Teens: Chapter for Coaches

<even if your team is falling apart, don´t give up>

Being sixteen nowadays must be difficult. First love, big career/university decisions, (probably) first glass of alcohol and first cigarette, first need to “grow up”. Add all those flashy magazines telling you how to look, TV commercials telling you what to eat, what to do – and parents who do their best to influence their kids before they leave home (read: before it is too late).

And now imagine that you – as a sports/debate/what-have-you coach – are facing five/eleven/infinity-minus-one teenagers to whom you need to explain that

a) if they want to become a part of the team, they need to work hard indeed – rewards don´t just materialize themselves out of thin air (surprise, surprise!) and

b) people stirring conflicts are not desirable in this community. 

This task in itself wouldn´t be so difficult if it weren´t for one extra obstacle: Imagine that two days ago, these five/eleven/… had a huge fight and now refuse to talk to each other. (And no, you can´t just select a new team. There is no easy way out here.)

Believe it or not, I think I have found the solution to dealing with (over)sensitive teens. Here it is. (Coaches, teachers, supervisors, take note – or help me improve this recipe :))

1. Highlight common ground: Goals everybody shares, benefits, rewards (including fun, for example). Praise hard work but do not publicly shame those who are currently shirking. (You will deal with those later.)

2. Make them feel at ease. Show that it is normal that sometimes things go wrong. Don´t be afraid to admit that perfection is impossible – but motivate them, because if they try hard, near-perfection (read: performance you can be proud of) is attainable. Have you ever done something silly? Make them laugh. Show that you are more than a strict coach who will lead them to success; you are also a friend who “understands”.

3. Point out flaws, but don´t be too specific (yet): Explain what sort of behaviour you support and expect (and why, if necessary) and set the rules: Be strict, but stay within reasonable bounds: There is only so much pressure a stressed high school student can endure.

4. Open discussion. Ask them – where do you see the problem? What should change – what should I change, for example? This has two purposes: One, you show them that you value their opinion, two, you might get to hear what might be the factors splitting the team apart.

5. Finally, one-on-one session. Take the time, talk to them, one by one. Now you can be very specific. Moreover, when they are alone, they are more likely to tell you what is really eating them. Based on that, you can either think of a conciliatory activity (bowling? BBQ? cycling trip? …sky is the limit!) – or help individuals talk about a specific problem. (Chances are, you are unbiased and can see the whole picture – which they probably can´t.)

Result? I don´t know how about you (but I would love to hear 🙂 ) – but as far as I can tell, my conciliatory recipe worked like magic on the national team: While in the morning it seemed the kids would eat each other alive, in the evening they all genuinely worried when one of them had to see the doctor because of severe pain in her hunches (no clue how that happened – you just can´t leave them unattended!). “Tick” for today. We survived.

</even if your team is falling apart, don´t give up>

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Posted by on 8 July, 2012 in Education


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Freshman Year: Few Quotes to Say Goodbye

Done. Finished. It´s gone. Now let the summer holidays begin! …Wait a second. Let´s have a couple of good laughs first. Dear Readers, let me present the funniest/most profound quotes (by professors) of the year. Additionally, I am sharing some of the best high school quotes too – “in loving memory”. Enjoy!


– “A lottery is a tax on people who do not understand probability theory.” /Statistics/

– “I know it´s Monday after the holidays – but you look terrible.” /Macroeconomics/

– “It´s [= the correct answer is] C. …See?” /Microeconomics/

– “If you split it into more halves…” /Mathematics/ !

– “Republican voters are not completely stupid…” /Microeconomics/

– “Statistics is like wine drinking. The more flavours you taste, the more you like it.” /Statistics/

– “We will have a polluting activity.” /Microeconomics/

– “I call this price discrimination Dracula style.” /Microeconomics/

High school:

– “Buying just one beer wouldn´t make sense.” /German language/

– “No-fly zone. Yeah: Flies – forbidden!” /English language/

– “My husband always complains about domestic violence. Supposedly I behave like a teacher.” /Social sciences/

– Okay. Here´s a riddle: It´s yellow, extremely dangerous and goes up and down all the time. What is it? … A chicken with a grenade in a lift.” /Czech language/

– “Have you been to England?” – (student:) “No, I just saw some pictures.” – “Yeah, I was there too…” /Geography/

–  “He was chopping vegetable, when he got an electric shock…” /English language/

– “Look! I will make a mistake!” /Physics/

– (student admires socks with cows:) “Wow! Jesus!” – “Cows. Jesus looks completely different.” /English language/

PS: Would you like to share some funny moments from your school? Please comment below! 🙂

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Posted by on 3 June, 2012 in Education


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