Observation from the sidelines


(Almost) Daily Academentia –

“Audit some classes” they said. “It’ll be fun” they said.

Although in this case it was myself who said these things, so for the fact that I am in a weekly class on Tuesdays from 1830h to 2130h (and inevitably run over until around the 10pm mark, when everybody looks like they’re wilting a little bit), I can only thank/blame myself. It is a class for postgraduate researchers developing a topic where each week half of us present progress we have made on our work, and offer up any problems encountered or questions raised for debate. This renders it like a mixture of researcher development and also a nice, contributory working environment. Great!*

Yesterday, we discussed the communication of failure. (This is where I mentally made some note about the virtues of trial and improvement over trial and failure. I also coupled this with research into risk communication, and information regarding uncertainties in scientific research.) In my experience, the Chinese as a whole, is a country that favours the communication of successes (who doesn’t prefer this though, really). As a child, I was told not to show any weaknesses at any time. I see this reflected in my fellow students in that they are extremely prepared for all classes: anything requiring a form of presentation will be accompanied by several pages of handouts, and a rehearsed speech, no matter the degree of formality.

I can find this quite intimidating sometimes, but mainly feel that I should be equally prepared when it is my turn to present, which is all good.

The class leader certainly doesn’t think twice before raising their voice, or cutting somebody off mid-sentence. Another friend, who took this class in past years and is graduating in a month, suggests that the reason said leader cuts people off is because he has failed to see value in what they are saying, and does not want to waste any time listening to the next five minutes of speech. While I can understand the friend’s argument, a train of thought is a train of thought (only in China it is a 思路 -si1lu4 – a “thought road”), and as prepared as these students are, I feel fairly certain that there is something of a narrative in their presentations. Ergo, it may be frustrating to listen to a perceived “pointless” presentation, but it is equally disruptive to even a follower of a presentation when the presenter is cut off every 15 seconds. The constant cutting off makes it difficult to weigh in at the end, considering it is usually the thought process and topic approach that makes a difference to the successful development of a project. Fragmented renditions are harder to piece together for the purpose of providing feedback.

What this actually results in, is the fact that my fellow students, whenever I mention any research-based insecurities of my own, will say “but the teacher never shouts at you“, seemingly implying that my immunity (because I’m a visiting student or otherwise) to verbal admonishment from the teacher is a strength (as opposed to, dare I say, any presentation or research skills I may possess as somebody further along at university). The race is on to be the least scolded pupil in class, like in primary school. As far as I am concerned, this is entirely beside the point of what the class is actually trying to achieve, which is strengthening the abilities of young researchers through a small project before letting them loose on the big, bad masters thesis.

Otherwise, I am continuing the week with contemporary collection strategies in science museums and science centres; and also with getting an emergency measles jab, because there has been an outbreak in my building. Consider this your forceful reminder to GET THAT SECOND MMR INJECTION even though it’s easy to forget six months after the first shot.

Finally, to take the edge off this, for me, serious post:

Holla! (=/= Halal? Yes. Yes? No.)
Holla! (~ Halal? Yes. Yes? No.)

Very on point. Like a good presentation. (In the interest of full disclosure, those are chicken sausages.)

*Off the academic record, a social event with a bunch of international students brought up the topic of how “great” with a British accent cannot sound anything other than sarcastic, bar ironic. Unfortunately, I am finding this to be true. Sad times.



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