Month: September 2011

“Sleeping” Your Way Into Graduate School

Note the quotation marks around the first word in the title. They are there because the topic today is NOT how to stay in bed until late morning, snooze at the back of the lecture hall during classes, and still get into grad school.

Many college or university students enjoy getting to know certain professors on a personal level. It can have payoffs, such as providing opportunities for professional or academic mentoring. It can also be critically helpful for students who later need letters of recommendation to support applications to graduate school, for scholarships, or for job applications. A good rapport and significant interaction is necessary if someone is to get to know some of the important things about your character and personality.

Some professors are known for keeping a distance from their students, whereas others are more sociable. Students also vary along the same dimensions. There is nothing wrong with this variation, of course. There is no “right way” or “best policy” that should apply to all students and professors when it comes to the kinds of interpersonal relationships they should maintain – as long as there are no breaches of any student or faculty code of conduct, no laws are broken, no one abuses power or authority, or otherwise behaves unethically. College-aged students are adults, and so are their professors. It is not surprising, therefore, that some students and professors will occasionally find themselves in “adult situations”, which provide certain opportunities and temptations.

Whether or not either person’s behavior violates the abovementioned conditions for an acceptable relationship is not the issue I want to address. Instead, I want to comment on whether a student could conceivably use sexual charming to manipulate certain situations in a way that helps him or her get into graduate school.

Frankly, I have no doubt that it can be done and it has been done many times. There are hundreds of thousands of college students out there and tens of thousands of professors. With such numbers, it’s safe to assume that some of those students engage in extreme flirting and even unabashed seduction of professors. There can be all sorts of motives (including love) but can sex actually be used as a tactic for getting a good reference letter, or even just a good grade?

Using such unscrupulous tactics to get ahead in the academic world fails in the vast majority of cases; in fact, it often backfires. I have seen it happen more than once. Not the successful attempt to get ahead by screwing the right person – I mean the destruction of a student’s chances of getting into grad school because of promiscuous behavior around professors. In each case, the student was not even trying to use sex to manipulate anything, such as a grade or a letter of recommendation, and there was no clearly unethical behavior by either professor or student. Still, the student’s reputation was trashed because other people either witnessed inappropriate behavior, or else heard gossip.

Some professors may be disdainful of colleagues who get involved romantically with students, but the truth is that there are usually no significant long-term consequences for a professor who engages in mild indiscretions, as long as he or she stays within certain ethical boundaries (never messing with your own students, for example).

For students who openly flirt with professors, on the other hand, the damage it causes to their reputation is usually severe and lasting. Some people might wonder whether the student manipulates people this way in order to gain some personal advantage; others just assume the student has bad judgment. Invariably, those students’ tarnished reputations overshadow any real academic or scholarly strengths they possess, so no one ever really gets a strong and positive impression. Without the respect and support of professors who know them, most students have little chance of receiving effective letters of recommendation and being accepted into a good graduate program.

The take-home message is: Licentious behavior can color a student’s reputation, which may be a significant problem when it comes to asking professors for letters of recommendation. My advice to students who like to flirt: You have too much to lose by playing promiscuous games with professors, so you really should limit that kind of thing to your fantasies.

Article is courtesy of Dave G. Mumby, Ph.D. : http://mygraduateschool.com/author.html

Image courtesy of Sarah G…’s : http://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/with/4069322681/

Guest Blog: The benefits of attending a smaller University or College

I teach at one of the smallest universities in Canada (and certainly at the smallest one in my province).  We have about 1200 full time students in our whole school.  A big department like mine, has five faculty members.   (To put that in some perspective, the lab I was in while doing my PhD had five members).   I know my students are getting a good education, I have evidence of that.  Heck, we even recently hired one of our former students (once she went off and got a PhD) in our department.  Each year we send off a few students to grad school in psychology, but also to law school, med school etc.

Why do I mention these things?  Well, there is a perception out there that one is somehow at a disadvantage if one’s degree is from a small school when applying for graduate work.   I can tell you that, in my experience, this is completely and utterly untrue.

What do graduate admissions committees care about?  They care about grades, GRE scores, experience, cover letters (or personal statements) and letters of recommendation.   The letters of recommendation are key.  (I have been on graduate admissions committees before, and at a big university).  You will get a much more insightful letter if the prof knows you.  He or she will know you pretty darned well if you have taken 5 classes over your undergrad career with him or her.  What do they want to see in these letters?  Well it varies, but most of us would like to see words like ‘maturity’ and ‘independence’ and such.  Well, at a small school someone will easily see those things in you.

Once you get to a grad program, your work at a smaller university will stand you in good stead.  You see, graduate seminars and classes tend to be small, but you have been in small classes since day one of your undergrad career.  The idea of speaking your mind is a lot easier if you have been doing it already for a few years.

I have heard many students of mine say that they are concerned when they apply to grad school that ‘nobody will have ever heard of our school’ or ‘they think we are some small time place’.   I did my PhD at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but, when I look at the faculty, and where they did their undergrad degrees, I can see that many went to small schools ‘nobody has ever heard of’.

In our fourth year capstone seminar course on the last day I tell my students this:

‘If anyone ever tells you that your education here was second rate, or that your degree is somehow worth less than theirs, feel free to tell them to go to hell, and tell them that was from me.’

Dr. Dave Brodbeck is an experimental psychologist at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie ON, Canada where he teaches and studies the evolution of cognition.  Dave can be found talking science, video games, sports, politics etc at davebrodbeck.com or on twitter @dbrodbeck.  All of his lectures are podcasted and available on iTunes