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In the program of CS, in which I am currently working, we have a group of students that for ending their Honour´s degree they should submit and present a research in the field; limited to their undergraduate knowledge. The process is that they get an adviser, read some papers, ending up with an article that describe their experiments and discuss their results. After that, they should make a small dissertation about their research findings. Before going to this stage, their research work is revised by two lecturers to give their insights about this work. Regarding this procedure I have found, that in some occasions, the following occur:

  1. The adviser of the student agrees that the current research work is adequate to the educational level, that is an undergraduate level. It is not a master´s or a PhD.
  2. One of the reviewers asks for modifications in the research made by the student, that in the majority of the cases, would imply to make deep modifications in the research work that would take more effort and, of course, time allotted for the student.
    1. In some cases, and this usually occurs in the dissertation, the questions asked from some of the other lecturers are very biased to their expert field. Making the student to feel discouraged of their work.

I mean how to deal with these situations, in this cases the adviser feel bad for the student also, but there are so many details that in my personal opinion is hard for the student to cope at this level. For example, imagine that a student X has chosen the topic of using neural networks for predicting diabetes treatment outcome. The student has made a literature review, obtained some datasets and perform some tests with the build model. Then, according to the adviser the paper is fine, and in the dissertation this happens:

  • Lecturer X suggest to use GA for feature selection instead of PCA. If this observation is not raised the student can pass, but with a minimum grade.
  • Lecturer Y, to test the knowledge of the student, starts to ask specific details of the architecture of the neural network. Lets suppose that Y is a mathematician, then he will start asking about what is the reason of the vanishing gradient issue and how to solve it. So this was a detail that the student has not considered, and according to this lecturer the student should fail.

So, what can we do to ameliorate this situation? Because at the end is bringing discomfort to either students, advisers and lecturers.

Thanks

  • Are you the teacher? Or what other role? – Buffy Aug 3 '18 at 17:17
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I think you have built a counterproductive structure into the course and you should probably change it, perhaps radically.

But there are some lesser things that you could, perhaps, do to make the problem go away. Maybe this isn't possible, but your staff should discuss these and all other options.

First, is that you can decouple the "advice" given by the reviewers from the grading/marking of the work. The actual marking and assigning of grades should be someone with an overall perspective on the course and its students, not the parochial views of some specialist, no matter how skilled.

The second thing is to have a session before the work goes out to the reviewers in which you are clear to the students about the marking (if you can get it changed) but also that they are likely to get weird, even hostile reviews. The students should be clear that while they need to be respectful and to consider any proposed changes or extensions that such things won't affect their marks. But of course, if project revision is part of the exercise the students will need to show that they have considered suggestions even when they must be rejected.

Another thing you might be able to do is to give the reviewers some training. Perhaps they don't understand the requirements at the level the students are at - undergraduate. Perhaps they don't understand their role - helping, not abusing, students. You can probably do this with written material given to potential advisors at the time of selection. A face to face meeting of all reviewers would be preferable if possible. That way you get feedback on the attitudes of the individuals. If you can fiddle with the grading scheme, you can make it clear to the reviewers that while their reviews will be considered in grading, they won't be definitive.

Finally, you may need to do a better job of matching students and reviewers as well as rejecting reviewers who have behaved badly in the past.

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Assumption In my department academics get hostile(not all, but most of them) if they consider themselves expert about a topic and kept out of the loop of any research done by any student. They will contest the adviser by ambushing students during dissertations.

As a student even if Lecturer Y or X was not my formal adviser, I would ask for feedback from Lecturer Y and X before dissertation. Because they knew the topic better than me and I don't like being ambushed during a dissertation.

Before going to this stage, their research work is revised by two lecturers to give their insights about this work.

I am assuming Lecturer X or Lecturer Y are not the advisers in your example. Their questions are directed to the undergrad students, but it looks like they don't appreciate not being asked for their input about the quality of research before dissertation thus they are reflecting their anger towards the poor undergrad students.

So, what can we do to ameliorate this situation? Because at the end is bringing discomfort to either students, advisers and lecturers.

In my experience either adviser steps in and explains the topic to the lecturer X and Y in front of everyone because undergraduate students get petrified against hostile lecturers and they cause more damage or advisers meet with lecturer X and Y behind closed doors to explain why the research is good enough for an undergrad student.

From my point of view Lecturer X and Y should have been in the loop before the dissertation either by making them advisers of the undergrad student or by asking their input before dissertation.

Keep in mind if a lecturer thinks that he/she is an expert about a topic most likely he/she will get hostile if you keep them out of the loop until dissertation. They are simply challenging advisers about the topic.

If this is the case, protect your undergraduate students. They do not have to learn politics yet.

edit: this is only a workaround not a complete solution to your problem.

  • 2
    In my view, anyone that would "ambush" a student should be fired. Terminated with prejudice. Asking tough questions isn't ambush, of course. – Buffy Aug 3 '18 at 17:20
  • +1 "protect your undergraduate students. They do not have to learn politics yet. – Fomite Aug 3 '18 at 23:26

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