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View Full Version : Professors: How would you feel about such a request?


Gestalt
03-06-2009, 11:08 AM
Some background: So, I'm taking a calc-based Physics II class at a small, liberal arts school that's very teaching-oriented (I think my professor and I sent 8 emails back and forth yesterday about a homework problem, and there are maybe 40 students in the class total, divided into two sections). I'm a postbac student and this is the only class I'm taking there; I'm taking it to fulfill my premed requirements.

Anyways, so, atomic decay is not on the syllabus for the class. Atomic decay is tested on the MCAT, and I feel that a large chunk of the people in the course are probably only taking it because it's a premed requirement and covered on the MCAT, as is true of any intro physics classes at any university. Also, I remember being confused about this topic the first time I took the MCAT, and I feel like I could understand the topic a lot better if I learned it in a classroom setting.

So I'm thinking of emailing the prof just suggesting that she consider squeaking that topic in, particularly as it might be useful to many people in the class who are not taking advanced physics but will probably need to know this information for the MCAT.

While I think this is a reasonable thing to mention to the prof, I'm worried that it might sound presumptuous of me to "tell" her what she should be teaching (although this is really meant more as a suggestion). Furthermore, I know how annoyed many basic science profs get with the premeds in their classes who don't give a damn about the material and are only there to make the highest grade possible to inflate their gpa, and to learn what they need for the MCAT, and I wouldn't want to irritate her by bringing up the possibility that many people in the class are just there to fulfill a requirement. And finally, the curriculum is really more waves-optics-electricity and magnetism, and atomic decay doesn't really fit with that "theme."

So professors, how would you feel about such an email? Also, don't know if it makes a difference, but I like to think I'm generally a good student . . . go to office hours, show up to class on time, sit in front, do the homework well before it's due so I'm not emailing her at midnight with questions, etc. The professor is fairly young as well; I would think early-30s, and this is her second year teaching.

Phlosphr
03-06-2009, 11:18 AM
Talk to her like a person and have a dialogue about your specific question, no need to be presumptuous, talk to her like a human being. That being said I have not stood in front of a class for a while and I do know there are some profs who demand respect from their students while others are more layed back [that was me]. Use your best judgement and maybe talk with her face to face if yuo are comfortable with that.

Harriet the Spry
03-06-2009, 11:43 AM
I'm not a prof, but I am in an academic environment. I think you couldn't go wrong with emailing her and asking if she'd be willing to cover that topic with you in an office hours session. If a lot of students ask for it, she'll probably come up with the idea on her own to add it to the syllabus. If it's really not her area and she's not comfortable teaching it (seems unlikely, but Physics is right where I decided no more pre-med for me, so I know nothing!) she can let you know that, maybe refer you to someone who does know that topic.

ftg
03-06-2009, 01:53 PM
1. There's a scale from letting the Prof know about the MCAT issue to making a demand. Stick close to the information end of the scale.

2. It is not any Prof's job for any class at any time to match up the material to some outside issue. The curriculum is the curriculum and that's that. Never, ever whine about the material not being helpful towards goal X outside the class. That's missing the whole point big time.

3. The Prof may not be able to adjust things. Some curriculums are written in stone.

kidchameleon
03-06-2009, 01:59 PM
They teach nuclear decay in Physics? I learned mine in Chemistry (and later, on the job).

Harriet the Spry
03-06-2009, 02:21 PM
2. It is not any Prof's job for any class at any time to match up the material to some outside issue. The curriculum is the curriculum and that's that. Never, ever whine about the material not being helpful towards goal X outside the class. That's missing the whole point big time.

3. The Prof may not be able to adjust things. Some curriculums are written in stone.

I disagree with 2, but do agree with 3. With regard to 2, it would be perfectly normal end of class feedback to suggest something else that would be useful to cover. In fact, it would be more productive than about 90+% of end of class feedback. That said, norms for a lot of things vary by discipline and school, so YMMV.

Eureka
03-06-2009, 02:36 PM
They teach nuclear decay in Physics? I learned mine in Chemistry (and later, on the job).
This is a good question. I would not be surprised at all if the answer is "sometimes". Whether a request to cover a new topic is reasonable or absurd is affected by how far off the intended material the topic is.

(And of course, many other factors suggested by others).

But it is certainly possible that nuclear decay feels like a semi-relevant physics topic to the OP and simoultaneous feels as off-topic as a discussion of the economy to the professor.

Or it may be the case that covering nuclear decay is only slightly off-topic, but the schedule is crowded enough to make covering it possible only by sacrificing something else.

I don't know that it is unreasonable to suggest that you'd like it (and you and others would benefit) if the professor would cover a topic not initially on the syllabus. I do think you should do so in a low key way so that the professor does not feel put on the spot. Do so alone--do not round up a bunch of other people to make the same request. Do so directly--don't go whining to the department head or other academic advisors about how it would be helpful if this topic is covered (NOT that this has been suggested, just. . . ) Try to have an idea of what amount of class time/homework time/test time you'd like to see devoted to the proposed topic--don't mention these initially, just be prepared to answer if you are asked. Do so early in the semester-- give the professor more time to be flexible.

Most importantly, remember that even if it is a reasonable request, it may not be practical to implement this semester, so you might benefit next year's class but not this year's.

(I am not a professor, although I have been an adjunct instructor at the college level. OK, OK, it was a two-year "career" college, but still--some of my students called me Professor MisprouncedLastName.)

GargoyleWB
03-06-2009, 02:49 PM
They teach nuclear decay in Physics? I learned mine in Chemistry (and later, on the job).

I was a physics major. At the time (1992-ish), simple nuclear decay (1/2 life equation and element decay paths) was part of the 3rd class of the 3 quarter "Physics w/ Calc" series.

This structure seems most common:

1st qtr: Mechanics
2nd qtr: Electromagnetism
3rd qtr: Nuclear and modern

Santo Rugger
03-06-2009, 02:58 PM
... I feel that a large chunk of the people in the course are probably only taking it because it's a premed requirement and covered on the MCAT, as is true of any intro physics classes at any university.What in the world gives you that idea? The only people that need physics are those going into medicine? Am I misunderstanding?

Chronos
03-06-2009, 03:01 PM
A physics professor is probably not aware of the content of the MCAT, and might well be happy to include a topic that she knows the students will find useful. I would recommend that you politely ask the prof about it: Best case, she does include it, and you and all the other pre-meds get your learning on the subject. Worst case, she'll probably at least point out for you another class which does cover it, which you can take if you choose.

Gestalt
03-06-2009, 03:43 PM
What in the world gives you that idea? The only people that need physics are those going into medicine? Am I misunderstanding?

Not at all, but I imagine that in most introductory physics classes, the majority of the students are there for the premed prerequisite. At any large state school, let's say that freshman physics has 1000 students enrolled. I imagine that half of them are there for the medical school prerequisite. Maybe 25% are there because they are genuinely interested in physics and want to learn more about it. This is based on my personal observation.

Harriet the Spry
03-06-2009, 03:56 PM
I agree that a lot of people taking intro to physics are pre-med. It could easily have been half of my class at a private university. US med schools ask for 2 semesters of physics.

Kolga
03-06-2009, 04:04 PM
I'd always consider a polite request to cover a particular topic, or a polite question as to whether that topic will be covered. Depending on the curriculum of the course (which I determine), I may or may not be able to fit it in, but I could either offer to hold an extra session with several students who are interested, or meet with a student during office hours to go over the topic, or refer the student to a colleague who does cover the topic.

The operant word, of course, is polite. Demands never go over well :)

BlinkingDuck
03-06-2009, 04:19 PM
Some background: So, I'm taking a calc-based Physics II class at a small, liberal arts school that's very teaching-oriented (I think my professor and I sent 8 emails back and forth yesterday about a homework problem, and there are maybe 40 students in the class total, divided into two sections). I'm a postbac student and this is the only class I'm taking there; I'm taking it to fulfill my premed requirements.

Anyways, so, atomic decay is not on the syllabus for the class. Atomic decay is tested on the MCAT, and I feel that a large chunk of the people in the course are probably only taking it because it's a premed requirement and covered on the MCAT, as is true of any intro physics classes at any university. Also, I remember being confused about this topic the first time I took the MCAT, and I feel like I could understand the topic a lot better if I learned it in a classroom setting.

So I'm thinking of emailing the prof just suggesting that she consider squeaking that topic in, particularly as it might be useful to many people in the class who are not taking advanced physics but will probably need to know this information for the MCAT.

While I think this is a reasonable thing to mention to the prof, I'm worried that it might sound presumptuous of me to "tell" her what she should be teaching (although this is really meant more as a suggestion). Furthermore, I know how annoyed many basic science profs get with the premeds in their classes who don't give a damn about the material and are only there to make the highest grade possible to inflate their gpa, and to learn what they need for the MCAT, and I wouldn't want to irritate her by bringing up the possibility that many people in the class are just there to fulfill a requirement. And finally, the curriculum is really more waves-optics-electricity and magnetism, and atomic decay doesn't really fit with that "theme."

So professors, how would you feel about such an email? Also, don't know if it makes a difference, but I like to think I'm generally a good student . . . go to office hours, show up to class on time, sit in front, do the homework well before it's due so I'm not emailing her at midnight with questions, etc. The professor is fairly young as well; I would think early-30s, and this is her second year teaching.


Oh gawd no. Profs (well me anyway) lived for that shit!

I've had requests very much like yours, though they were rare. A student will be transferring to a certain institution and they need to learn about x. While I couldn't add it into the class, I would eagerly create lectures/conversations/tutoring sessions with the student to cover it.

Critical1
03-06-2009, 04:24 PM
instead of suggesting it, ask if its on the agenda. I get questions from students all the time about something they are worried I wont cover and its rare that they are bringing up anything new to me. By asking you take away the part where you feel you are telling the prof how to do their job.

Hari Seldon
03-06-2009, 04:34 PM
What I recommend is that you email her and say something like this:

"I am taking this course, in part, to prepare for the MCAT. That exam involves questions on radioactive decay. Since this topic is not on the syllabus, could you recommend something where I could read about it on my own?"

She will understand it as a suggestion that it be included, maybe, and if she doesn't she will appreciate that you have not actually made the request and will likely steer to something suitable. Incidentally, I don't understand what the issue. Once you know that the decay is inverse exponential and the half life is the time it takes for half of the material to decay, you have learned just about everything there is to learn on the subject. I guess there is also the question of question of going from half life to the actual decay equation and back, but that is also completely straightforward.

threemae
03-06-2009, 06:10 PM
2. It is not any Prof's job for any class at any time to match up the material to some outside issue. The curriculum is the curriculum and that's that. Never, ever whine about the material not being helpful towards goal X outside the class. That's missing the whole point big time.

Uh, seriously?

I'm pretty certain that classes really only exist to reach outside goals. I wouldn't exactly be content getting hit with a bus tomorrow and with my last fleeting thought intellectualizing: "ce la vie, I haven't accomplished much in my life outside of undergrad, but at least I learned about the decay-curves of radioactive isotopes!"

I understand the frustration of professors facing monomaniacal pre-meds that don't give a damn about anything beyond the curriculum of the MCAT. Certainly there are many other worthy objectives beyond preparing students for that exam, including more advanced study within the field of physics itself, but the claim that the curriculum is some sort of noble good unto itself? That's rather preposterous.