Closing in on qualifiers

My first semester as a teaching assistant is done, and in about two months I’ll be taking qualifiers. I was pretty pleased with the way the course (Ole Molvig’s “History of Modern Science in Society”) went. I was disappointed with the amount of low amount of reading the class was willing to do; discussions were perpetually hamstrung because a large portion of the class didn’t do the reading in any given week. However, leading discussions was fun and I think I got a lot better at it as the semester went by. We used the Wikipedia assignment that I designed, which took a lot more work (on my part and the students’) than the original assignment. You can see the results here:

(On a related noted, I wrote an article for the Wikipedia Signpost on Wikipedia assignments.)

As it turns out, I’m a hard-ass grader. (Technically, grades were Ole’s responsibility while grading was mine, but still.) History of Science, History of Medicine has the unfortunate reputation of being an easy major at Yale. So, especially considering the amount of work I required of them, many students were frustrated with the low grades (a B+ average, which is considered a bad grade these days). Now I have the reputation of a TA to avoid. But it’s hard to feel bad about it; grade inflation doesn’t do anyone any favors.

This semester will probably be different. I’m TAing for Susan Lederer’s “A History of American Bodies”, which has 7 TAs and possibly up to 300 students. That means the grading will be fairly uniform across sections and the overall distribution will probably be higher.

Matt Gunterman is back at Yale, and he’s the head TA, which means he has to run point for all the class logistics. Ha ha. Sucks to be him. He has a blog post about the first lecture. I’m glad he’s back, and I’m also TAing with my fellow 3rd year Brendan; it looks like we’ll do our orals on the same day, and we have two fields more-or-less in common, so I’m looking forward to having some orals prep discussions with him. It’s nice to have someone to bitch about orals with.

For the first time in my graduate career, I’m not going to audit or sit in on any extra classes this semester. In theory, that means I have more time for orals reading. But in practice, I can’t read for more than about four hours a day; after that, nothing sinks in and I lose all will to keep at it. Some people are capable of more sustained reading, but I think most graduate students are not (unless they’re popping Ritalin); qualifier preparation is like a hazing ritual. (At Yale, qualifiers are actually not so harrowing an experience, but they still have enough of the traditional elements to cause plenty of stress and induce plenty of depression.)

Speaking of Ritalin, I’ve been trying to convince Faith to score me some free samples from the pharma reps, but she won’t. (They give out whatever prescriptions medical students are on that are still under patent protection; unforunately, Faith’s meds just went generic but aren’t yet being produced by very many sources, so they’re hardly any cheaper but no longer free.) Since becoming a coffee and tea drinker, I’ve become much more attuned to the effects things like carbohydrates, salt, and caffeine. I want to branch out to self-testing of more psychoactive substances, but I haven’t gotten around to it. Oh well.