Thursday, June 30, 2005

Addendum (plus whining)

NB: this is actually being written much later. But I like an organized blog, and this is too long for a comment on June 21, yet it makes no sense as a contemporary post. Anyone who gives a crap about this will want to see it here. Logical progression and such, you know.

For the record, when we got back our phthalate papers, The Prof pretty much hated the comparison to cyanide. I thought at the time I read her comments that hey, they're both ingestible/ ingested, and allegedly both poisonous, so if I were writing for TIME magazine's health section, they would totally let me argue from that perspective. And it's a powerful statement of what's being asserted, plus a nice punchy way to illustrate that there's a way to come at the issue and derive some facts. I liked it; I believe I did mention that she freakin' HATED it.

I have since learned something important. The key idea is, as much as that whole cyanide thing might be totally true and valid, strictly in terms of its being a helpful way for the non-scientist to come toward the ideas, here in Chemtown we don't cotton to that sort o' talk, mister. There are sufficient differences in the two chemical processes that I look like a dweeb if I try to talk even a little outside the scope of the problem under consideration. And it's my own fault for even going there, because I had a perfectly good science paper without it*. Cue head shaking and uncapping of the red pen.

Which is cool, and helpful to someone like me who's a parallel thinker, and a right-brain interactive learner, working to establish a contextual framework and hang a shitload of information from it. I appreciate the chance to bump up against things, make mistakes, and learn from them. It's good to work these things out and arrive at an individualized, personally meaningful understanding, one which will stay with me as I continue my studies. It's great to have a supportive, nurturing environment for these little bumps in the road to come up, without a need to freak out because every tiny little thing is under scrutiny and a potential source for bad grades, or the cocking-up of otherwise good grades...

Oh, crap.

Yeah, as will shock no one who knows me well: this style of learning, interacting with my own historically-favored style of thinking, is maybe not the best combination for this particular... um... life. I am sitting here for ten weeks at an all-you-can-learn buffet, and at times I've been trying to eat soup with a fork.

It's happened several times. I mis-typed "cytosol" as "cortisol" and got busted for it. Unlike out there in the world before, my knowing how to correctly spell both words gets me no points. In fact, with that instructor and in that instance it actually made it look like I meant to use the obviously wrong word; presumably the thinking would be that they're totally different things, but both exist and are within the realm of the topic. Again presumably, it never occurs to the evaluator that it was just a mental misfire, a neuron over in the verbal section grabbing the wrong term. Science people are, like, so literal, dude.

Plus people with PhDs can sometimes seem as though it's been a long time since they skied the bunny hill. Mixing the metaphor, newbies like us would prefer a quick sketch of the big picture, and a little arrow saying "YOU ARE HERE." This is not something that is often thought of as an advanced skill, but trust me, my experience on both sides of adult education confirms it is. One instructor said, on more than one occasion (and this is paraphrasing) "yeah, I realize this all makes no sense to you guys, and for the moment it's a litany of vocabulary words without meaning. But it'll make sense soon, trust me, so hang in there." The implication being, work on the information now, and find the knowledge later, on your own time.

The good news is things have already improved dramatically on that front. The material is different, the instructors have changed more than once, and most importantly, we are learning. We're not non-science students anymore. I'm surviving the Summer term well, and really have absorbed a lot. Plus I've been continually improving my own storage and retrieval system.

My war is not with The Man, and it's not with The System, and actually it's not even a war. It's an aggravating disconnect between how well I'm internalizing what is in many ways an excellent understanding of the most important points of the material, and how poorly I'm performing on certain measures, which are widely considered to show learning.

Okay, the gripe session is amusing but it's done now. Moving on, just after I say this. There are days I'd like to go back to some of the instructors I had in my arts education, who stressed the "flail until you fly" method of learning, and I swear to god just punch 'em right in the nose.

* No fun to read, if you ask me, but I'm a pre-med student now, and fun is calculating the formal charges on atoms in a molecule. Fun is naming alkenes. Fun is blowing stuff up in the lab (actually, that one really is fun). Anytime flair, style, or expression comes into it, that's great but it's probably not helping me.

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