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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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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!

University:

– “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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Motivation: I Miss You

Do you also sometimes get the feeling that you have lost your motivation to study/work/…even move? Does your bed (floor?) feel so comfy that you never want to get up again? Have you ever felt so absorbed by some procrastinating activity that time literally flied?

Next question: Why does this happen during the most important exam period? …

Quite honestly, this would make for an interesting research question. Why do even hard-working people just lose the mana to work at the moment they need it the most? Logically, I would expect some kind of natural selection here: If you are weak, you don´t graduate. And yet, this rule doesn´t seem to apply (show me a single person who has never felt weak or lazy – and I will give you my piano, one of my legs…)

I don´t think it´s “just the summer”. Sure, it is more difficult to concentrate when you have 30°C in your room and nature suddenly feels so inviting, but this cannot be the only reason. Is it because we think that we have almost reached the end of the semester and hence just want to “sleep it through”? Or perhaps because the semester is too long and we need a rest already? …

To all fellow sufferers: Kopf hoch, tanzen! No, actually, heads up (so far, so good) – study!

 
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Posted by on 27 May, 2012 in Education

 

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How Studying Economics Ruins My Life

University applications should come with a warning: “Ministry of Education: This degree may transform your thinking.” However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that most freshmen come unprepared, not expecting to be turned into a new “dear-20-year-old-me“.

Today I would like to share one important insight with you: If you study Economics, your logic may prove not only useless at times, but once in a while outright fatal. The Problem here are not complicated graphs or models that do not work (hello, macroeconomics) – it´s merely the assumptions you make.

It probably comes as no surprise that rigorous economic models need some underlying assumptions (e.g. “this works only if all people are rational”), but the thing that nobody tells you is that making assumptions is contagious! Example: I was washing a window. It didn´t quite work out, so I just shrugged and said “yeah, let´s assume* that the window is clean…”

Funnily enough, sometimes you do get away even with the most ridiculous assumptions. Example: I went to a pub with some friends of mine and we did not know when the pub opened. We all assumed that it won´t be a problem – and surprise, surprise, the bartender actually opened the pub for us quite a bit earlier than he was supposed to.

Unfortunately, the life of an assumption-making student is not always so easy. Your wi-fi won´t (always) miraculously start working after you turn it off and on again, your library card may have its moods and the university cafeteria always runs out of muffins five minutes before you enter. Your non-economist friends no longer understand your jokes and your stomach cannot stand your cost-benefit analyses of extra junk food consumption anymore. In a nutshell, if you are not careful it it easy to become detached from the real world (something like a theoretical physicist, as anyone who knows Sheldon can testify).

On the other hand, as long as your assumptions do not make you contribute to the list of the Darwin Award Winners (e.g. “let´s assume that the electricity is turned off”), you are doing fine. As a rule of thumb, I would suggest sticking to making assumptions about maths or other – relatively – harmless concepts, while being back the “6-year-old you” when it comes to dogs, snakes, high buildings or holes in the ground. Chances are that little kids have better survival instincts than your fellow economics classmates – but hey, nobody is perfect…

* Reminds me: Do you know the joke about an engineer, physicist and an economist? As an experiment, an engineer, a physicist and a economist are placed in separate rooms and left with a can of food but no can-opener. A day later, the rooms are opened one by one. In the first room, the engineer is snoring, with a battered, opened and emptied can. When asked, he explains that when he got hungry, he beat the can to its failure point. In the second room, the physicist is seen mouthing equations, with a can popped open beside him. When asked, he explains that when he got hungry, he examined the stress points of the can, applied pressure, and ‘pop’! In the third room, the economist is found sweating, and mumbling to himself, ‘Assume the can is open, assume the can is open…’
 
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Posted by on 25 March, 2012 in Education

 

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Founding a Student Organisation: For Dummies

September 2011. Twenty timid freshers who have just arrived to Tilburg are sitting under a big oak tree, having lunch. Anne, their mentor, converses with a girl with a naughty smile who looks anything but shy. “So, what would you like to do in your free time? Would you like to join some student organisation?” – “I am not sure about the latter; but I would love to start a debate club for English-speaking students.” The mentor nods and a small doubting question mark reflects in her eyes. She has already heard so many ambitious remarks, yet has never seen any finished project.

Three weeks later, these girls meet again. “How´s your debate club going?” smiles Anne. She is expecting a yielding, hesitant answer along the lines of there not being enough time. However, she could not be more wrong. “Quite well, thanks. So far we have five members and meet weekly in the P-building. Wanna join us?”

Believe it or not, starting a student society is not as difficult as you would expect. I will now provide a formula for mathematicians, normal people can skip the following paragraph.

S = e* (r + t + p) + a + l /where the Success (S) of your undertaking is determined by your enthusiasm and perseverance (e) times your resources (r), time (t) and quality of your plans (p); plus a bit of good advertising (a) and luck (l)/

Firstly, if you want to be a leader of a new student organisation, you really need a thought-through plan of how exactly this would work /surprise, surprise, surprise!/. Who can become a member? How? Is there a fee for members? What kind of activities will you do? Are you going to apply for university funding? …

Secondly, you need to make sure you have the necessary resources for this ambitious project. Can you afford to dedicate your time (and possibly money) to this? Can you design, print and distribute flyers, posters, or approach individuals and talk them into joining? And perhaps even more importantly – can you persuade people not just to come once, but to come regularly? /It´s just like with dates: Getting the second one is more difficult than the first one./

Thirdly, you have to be sure that this is what you want. If you yourself do not care enough, how can you possibly expect others to care about your social group? Even if you are not successful within a month, you should not give up. Rome also wasn´t built in a day. Be enthusiastic, make yourself seen and your cause heard. Be prepared to answer tricky questions and always reply to the point and with a smile.

Lastly, you will need a pot of luck. Easier said than done, eh? Yes and no. It would be great if you secured support of some professors (or even the Dean of your faculty), but it is not necessary. It would help you a lot if you found more enthusiastic people who would help you with this enormous burden – just like it would be awesome if one of your friends had a degree in Advertising strategy, or something. But you can do without!

When you cannot copy posters, draw them! When you cannot persuade your classmates to join, try it in a different class. If you want people to listen to you, hand out cookies (no, seriously – at least they won´t talk during your presentation as they will be too busy eating). The possibilities are endless. /As a debate coach with 2+ year praxis, I should know./

So, dear Reader, there is really just one thing I want you to remember: Go and give it shot. There is no use sitting at home and crying over how lazy others are. Go and talk to people. Persuade. Go and do what you have always wanted to. The world is yours.

 
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Posted by on 16 January, 2012 in Education

 

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