So…was it good for you?

A dear friend and I were having another of our wonderful chats today–as usual, much of it had to do with her poor luck on–when we ran into the topic of faculty feedback on graduate student work. My friend has been working for months on her minor field and finally gave it to her adviser recently. In a matter of days, the essay was returned, marked all to hell with critiques: what’s missing, what’s wrong, what’s unclear, etc. And while my friend will certainly take these comments to heart, the one thing that struck her was the utter lack of positive remarks. This was disappointing to my friend, having put so much of her life into the project. This has spurred me to reflect.

1) Hooray! to the adviser for returning the paper so quickly, which can be a rarity in graduate school.
2) Hooray! also to the adviser for providing helpful commentary–something else that’s all too rare.
3) Tsk-Tsk. to the adviser for not including some positive remarks. Surely the adviser knew that my friend had put a lot of time and energy into the paper. A pat on the back can go a long way to reassuring the fragile graduate student psyche. Most of us are one more Last Straw away from bailing to get in rich in Dot-Coms (what’s that? It’s all over? Well, damn…), and a friendly “Good show, chap” helps keep us in the game.
4) Hmmm… to myself. Do I do the same thing to my students? I’m afraid so: lots of criticisms, not much on the positive side. In my defense, none of my students put much work into their essays. Okay, fine: I’ll change my ways.
5) C’mon! to my friend. Yes, she put a lot of work into it. But we grad students have got to get a grip and do a little self-affirmation. Words of congratulations, if I’ve been correctly informed, are not all that forthcoming in this profession. So we’d better learn to pat ourselves on the back, lest the it go completely un-patted.

Gosh, I hope you liked this post.

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