Beki Grinter

Unplanned, Delightful, Student Interactions

In academia on October 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Don’t get me wrong, there were things about both PARC and Bell Labs I loved (mainly the people I met and worked with). But Georgia Tech remains my favorite job to date, by far. And a significant of why I am so happy here is the interactions I have with my students. It’s actually hard to put into words how rewarding I find interactions with students. I could talk at length about the pleasure of seeing a nicely done homework or exam, what a pleasure those are to read and grade. But, today I want to write about the unpredictable but delightful interactions.

Last week was a particularly nice example of some.

I received an email from an undergraduate student who was preparing to take his GRE. He would miss my class, one for which I keep an attendance register. I wrote back to him and said that I thought sitting a GRE was a very reasonable excuse and did not dock him attendance. He wrote back and not only told me that I had more than exceeded his expectations for reasonableness by a faculty member, but some about how his GRE went. I am at least 20 years older than most of the undergraduates I teach, I feel the gulf created by that time, and when someone reaches across, I value it in ways that are hard to put into words.

I finished a class early, and told everyone they were free to go. Six students stayed to talk with me, a conversation that lasted for some time. Time I spent learning about their aspirations, about their vocations, and yes, I did answer a few questions about class. At an Engineering school like Tech we might be expected to have a few people who like dungeons and dragons, and we do, although I am now far more aware of the multi-day games of zombie killing that go on on campus. But there are so many other experiences of campus that involve sports, adventure, discovering a passion for research. There’s a lot of talk about the role of the brick campus in the digital era, but it is a place to create a magical set of different experiences, I’m glad to know a bit more about the possibilities that Georgia Tech the campus makes space for its students to create.

I received a thank you note from a graduate student. I had written on his particularly nice piece of work, “Very nice. Thank you!” He wrote to tell me that no professor had ever written that on a homework of his before (and judging by the quality I would imagine he’d produced a good selection of worthy candidates). This was such a positive experience for him that he showed it to his wife, and then spoke to his parents about it. All received his news with joy. And then he told me what had happened. It took me less than a minute to write that on his homework, but it lead to all these other things, and ended here with me.

A graduate student, knowing my enthusiasm for WaffleHouse gave me her saved collection of WaffleHouse t-shirts. She didn’t have to, but I was so excited and shall be flagrantly abusing the Georgia Tech dress code in the next week to proudly wear them. And another former graduate student started mentoring a student in her office. Watching her take on the mantle of advisement was a moment of joy.

This is an unusually high number of unplanned student interactions, but I want to share them not just as an example of why I like being a faculty member so much. But also to encourage students to reach out. I suspect I am not alone as a faculty member in enjoying these sorts of interactions. So thank you to all the students and keep the good work up. You may never know quite how much it means to the faculty member that you interact with.

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  1. This post reminded me of what I really miss the most from teaching. Maybe I need to get back to it.

  2. I love this post on many levels…My experience of testing the waters back in academia after spells in industry were not so positive.

    Think I might write a blog response to this… and get back to you.

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