Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Witnessing a Student Cry

I saw a professor make a student cry today.

I was sitting outside my advisor's office waiting for our weekly meeting, and across the hall is another professor's office.

The student, I am assuming one of the professor's own, was meeting one-on-one with the professor to present a paper he had written or a progress report on something. I was trying not to eavesdrop, but the door was open to the waiting room. It didn't take long before the professor was very frustrated with the student and started to raise his voice a bit.

At first the professor was just asking pointed questions on details of what the student was saying. The student didn't seem to have very good answers, or didn't demonstrate a thorough understanding. But the student was not a native English speaker, so the conversation was tough to begin with.

Then the discussion quickly devolved into higher-level criticisms.

"We need to change the way you think", said the professor, "you are still not asking questions or looking for answers. From now on when we have a meeting, if I ask a question and you have no answer, we are going to stop the meeting and you are going to go find the answer and come back."

The poor student was so flustered by all this that he started to cry, and he couldn't get out any response.

And then at the end, the professor came back in for another blow - I looked at your class grades, he said, and I saw that you got B's in both of your two classes. You know that in a graduate class that means you were below 50%, so what is the problem? Are you having difficulty studying?

And the student started crying, although he was trying so hard not to, and he just looked so dejected. I have no idea if he deserved it, or if this has been a long standing pattern of his. But it hurts my heart to see somebody reamed out like that, because I know how much I value my own advisor's opinion of me.

I had one meeting last year, September-ish, where my advisor told me that my work was not "up to the level of quality I expect." That one critique alone was enough to make me take a long hard look at the work I was doing, so I'm not even sure how I would have reacted to an entire meeting of unfavorable critique.

I'm feelin' for the student. I hope it's a learning experience for him.

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