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“B”学生搞科研不比“A”学生差 精选

已有 18639 次阅读 2011-12-19 04:43 |系统分类:教学心得| 科研, 学习, 态度, A学生, B学生

这个学期我负责一门生化专业本科生的阅读写作课BMB511。明天中午就是给学生打分并公布成绩的最后期限,可是其中一个非常聪明且学习成绩几乎全A的学生还没有把我交待的作业交上来。为啥?她竟然是因为感觉作业不够完美,不想让我看。换句话说就是,不怕得F,但怕得B!碰到这样的学生真要命,给F感觉对不起她的聪明努力,但给A凭什么啊?

由此想到关于“A”学生和“B”学生长久以来的争议。“B”学生一般属于那种对什么都不够精通但都知道一点儿的学生。这种学生一般还能按时完成任务,虽然很多时候有这样或那样的缺陷。换句话说,“B”学生很多时候不能把所有事情做到尽善尽美,但可以做到足够好(到可以得B)。“B”学生可以在还没完全弄清楚实验原理的情况下,敢于先动手试试,在实验中积累经验并取得成功。

反之,“A”学生一般会对所做的事情非常非常精通,比如学习、考试、或将来要从事的某些职业。而且他们想把所有的事情都做到完美。如果不能做到非常完美,他们通常会很烦恼。严重的会分不清主次,像我碰到的这个学生一样,感觉作业不够好就不交,即便是Deadline就在眼前。对搞科研来讲,这个品质很多时候是成功的绊脚石。

之所以有此番感慨,是因为还有另外一个“A”学生在实验室的表现。这个学生非常认真,也像本文开头的那个一样是追求完美的人。如果你看他的笔记,你会感到非常吃惊,那个仔细,那个完美,没话说!当他把实验结果拿给我看的时候,我就纳闷怎么本来应该处理1小时的实验看上去怎么变的象是处理5小时的啊?反复几次后我才发现他为了一丝不差地实施实验步骤和记录实验细节,把本来一个小时的实验处理不得不延长到5个小时。第一次实验这样还有情可原,可他次次都这么做!当然了我不是想说这种态度完全不对,我想说的是“A”学生们一定要在任务质量、任务要求、任务期限等之间掌握好平衡。因为留下完美笔记而不顾实验要求就走得太偏了。

网上看到一篇FemaleScienceProfessor写的文章:In Praise of B Students。感觉对想搞科研的“A”学生和“B”学生都有些帮助,原文如下。在读此英文文章之前先把这个女“A”学生的事情做个了断:为尽一个老师的职责,我只能把学生约到办公室进行面试,以便了解她的学习情况。虽然我会根据她的表现打分,但我现在倾向于最多给B,大家说有没有道理啊?

Supervising undergraduates in research is of course different in many ways from supervising graduate students -- e.g., expectations, scope of project, amount and type of interaction between student and advisor -- but there are also some similarities.

For example, selecting undergraduates as research assistants or advisees based on their grades in classes does not automatically lead to a fulfilling research experience for all concerned. This is a hazard of the admissions process for graduate school, but it also afflicts the selection of students for undergraduate research experiences, even when we have taught these students in our very own classes.

This is (mostly) not a rant about supposedly smart students who can't or won't do research, or who can do research but are such incredibly high maintenance that the research experience becomes a serious burden for everyone within a 5 kilometer radius of their research project. This is instead a prose poem of praise for the hard-working B students who excel at research and with whom it can be very enjoyable to work.

Some of my undergraduate research assistants are chosen after a competitive application process. Summer interns, for example, are from a highly-selective pool comprised of the top students from the top universities in the country. In this case, "top student" is typically defined as the students with the highest GPA. Most of these students are in fact excellent interns, but some of them are mediocre and some of them are abysmal.

It is fascinating in a semi-disturbing kind of way that the same situation applies for selecting students from my own institution. These are students I have met in person before I hire them as undergraduate research assistants or sign on as their advisor for a thesis or research project. In some cases these are the students who got top grades in rigorous courses taught by me and others, yet some of them, however bright, are not so smart when it comes to research.

When choosing undergrad research students from my own university, I don't always select the A students. Don't worry -- the hard-working and talented A students are not going without research experiences. In fact, every student who wants such an experience can find an advisor. But sometimes I select a B student who seems to be motivated and smart, but who just doesn't do as well in some classes as some other students.

In my experience, the success or failure of these B students at undergraduate research projects is indistinguishable from that of A students -- I have had experiences ranging from outstanding to ghastly with both -- but there are some mutual benefits to working with B students.

For the student, a successful research experience as an undergraduate may in some cases offset a modest GPA in graduate admissions efforts.

For the advisor, the B student might be easier to work with in some ways. An unscientific hypothesis some of my colleagues and I have recently discussed is that many B students might have the advantage of being less high-maintenance than some A students because they tend not to be so anxious. I think we are perhaps not the first to propose this; for example, see the cartoon in the 9 January 2009 
Chronicle Review by V Hixson. In the cartoon, one professor says to another "Actually, I like the B+ students best.. bright, but still humble."

And many B students do just as well as A students in research. Reasons for this include:

Doing well in a classes, even really difficult ones, does not mean that someone has the skills necessary to do research. 

Of course we don't expect that students, however stratospheric their GPA, will automatically know how to do research -- as advisors we try to teach this -- but some students learn and thrive as a project evolves, and others do not, no matter how 'smart' they are. The same is true of graduate students.

Random example: An apparently top student with A's in difficult courses worked with me on a straightforward bit of research, but it quickly became clear that he had no ability to make connections between different observations or thoughts, could not visualize phenomena, and only understood basic concepts if they were repeated to him many times. He had a great attitude about the work and eked out some results (with lots of help), but he never really understood what he was doing and never went beyond a 'problem set' kind of approach to the research.

Doing research as a student typically means you have to be willing to interact with at least one other person (the advisor) and possibly others as well (other students, other faculty, postdocs, technicians). Some people can do this well and some people can't, even with experience, no matter how high their GPA.

Random example: One of my A-student interns needed to learn and use a not-complicated technique. Others in the group were experienced with this technique, and several of us were available to answer her questions. After a day or so, A-student came to me, clearly upset, and said "I had some questions and X (an undergrad) and Y (a grad student) helped me a lot, but it is obvious that they care more about 
their own research than they do about mine." I replied "Well, I should hope so", a comment that shocked her. Her voice quavered as she said "But what about me?".

Heroically resisting saying something sarcastic and/or insensitive, I gave her a gentle mini-lecture about being a part of a community of researchers driven by individual curiosity and working together but also independently etc. etc. She was not happy to learn that the major focus of all our efforts and interests was not her. Alas, this realization did not change her world view, but we somehow got through the rest of the summer and she returned in the fall to her home institution and the professors who wrote her rave letters of recommendation and later admitted to me that they didn't like working with her either.

It would save a lot of time, money, stress, and grief if we could predict in advance which students would do well in a research experience, but in the absence of a reliable method of prediction, we'll just have to continue with the classic trial-and-error approach. Most of the time this works out well, especially if the students are mostly sane.

James Franco. 图片来自网络。


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