My Turn (for Engineers)

Georgia Tech, along with most other American universities, has almost never pretended to give out grades based on "academic performance" or even actual knowledge. We are given grades based on how we do on tests compared to the rest of the class. There is a HUGE difference between the two, especially considering some of the tougher courses where the professors give out exams that are difficult enough so that a large portion of the class doesn't even pass. Is it the student's fault when 40% of the class receives less than a C? Then, everyone's grade is based on a curve. A curve is nothing more than an arbitrary contrivance of what a department wants its students to receive - completely outside of a student's ability or desire to actually receive it. That's why there is an "indifference towards grades as an indication of personal effort and performance" because grades don't usually indicate anything of the sort.

Then we hit another problem unique to Tech students. Georgia Tech considers C average, but the majority of the rest of the academic world considers a B average. Now, maybe the rest of the academic world is artificially inflating grades, and that's a fair argument. But that doesn't help out those Tech graduates who go into an interview with a 2.5 or even a 3.1 GPA competing against a UGA grad with comparable intelligence and ability (or maybe less) with a 3.3 or a 3.9. I won't even get into the fact that most companies now require a 3.0 to even interview. A 3.0 is on the Dean's list at Georgia Tech!

One final note on the subject of "academic performance" -- the professor's ability to rate performance on what is actually taught. It is assumed that students learn things fundamental to the class entirely on their own. I'm not talking about studying notes taken in class or anything related to the lecture. I mean that a student is lost without the ability to learn things entirely on his or her own. I'll give you an example: An introductory physics lab class. If a student can't teach himself how to use new instruments, new software, and learn new concepts, that student has no hope of getting above a C -- this ability entirely outside of what is actually taught in lecture. Hell, there isn't even a TA to help you with the homework. Am I complaining about the class? Not at all. I understand and accept this. If there's anything that an engineering school ingrains that is most valuable to it's students is that life isn't fair. Plus, any student could transfer to an easier school or an easier major at any time of their choosing. But in the media we hear mostly of lazy and uneducated students, and another point of view needs to be heard.

Back to the point -- A student has no guarantee that a professor even has the ability, much less the skill, needed to accurately examine the students on what is actually covered. A student sits in a class on the very first day knowing in the back of his (or her) mind that his grade will be determined by how well they can anticipate what is on an exam compared to his peers - which makes having information from previous semesters "waaaaaay" more important than an effort to learn. Having "word" throughout college guarantees an improvement in grades like absolutely nothing else can. Forget about learning the material, we are at war with our peers for academic excellence. And about "a chance to learn," does anyone consider the first three years of engineering classes anything but painful? Isn't this why math theory majors are considered such weird people? The first years are necessary to be sure, but certainly not enjoyable. This will naturally bring out those who have almost no discipline.

The extreme cases generally shared are simply irresponsible people begging for a reprieve. We encounter these people everywhere, not simply as college students wanting an undeserved grade. They exist as teachers, politicians, co-workers, prisoners, friends, family, etc. The majority, or middle-of-the-pack, of college students that have experienced much of what has been discussed gets no mention. These students are the dedicated ones we should be concerned with -- the people who mostly represent any school in the real world. And as everyone knows, the alumni of Georgia Tech have represented the school very well.

It's just another type of smarts and work that keeps students coming to teachers to "wheedle" for a grade. The ability to influence people is probably more important in the real world anyway. If you have no ability to push others to do what you desire, get ready for no promotions or raises. When a teacher feels uncomfortable because of a student pushing for a grade, that is darn close to success. Besides, why some of the professors who complain practice what they write on their students? At the end of next semester, sit in for office hours all day. When the students come to complain, tell them unequivocally how you feel. It creates only more problems when you lie low until the next quarter starts.

This is a battle for students, not an exercise in academic ideals. All of the idealistic arguments are flawed. There's the endless tried and true: "If they're good at getting partial credit but not at getting the answer right, then the new bridge breaks or the new drug doesn't work." That's fair. So, to make it more like the real world, next time test us in groups and stop giving us a one hour deadline. Also, for any complex calculation, give us a computer program to put it in. You cannot compare school with the real world in that respect.

In conclusion, next time you teachers out there feel like complaining about your engineering students, consider that they are in a world where only the strong-willed, extremely intelligent, and dedicated survive. Also consider that you aren't graded, and the last time you were, competition wasn't nearly what it is today.

This page is not a publication of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology has not edited or examined the content. The author of this page is solely responsible for the content. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

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