Female/male Lab Dynamics

Cathy Quinones quinones at orchid.UCSC.EDU
Wed Sep 15 12:36:09 EST 1993

In article <9309151505.AA26439 at exnet.iastate.edu> i1sheri at EXNET.IASTATE.EDU (Sheri Huerd --) writes:
>L.M. Madsen's post prompts me to ask a question of my own along the 
>same lines:
>        I am a teaching ass't for a class of 31 students, 2 females and 
>29 males.  The class is in Weed Science, and most of these students are 
>doing fine.  But at least 10 people in the class could use some help in 
>the greenhouse IDing plants and pressing plants.  I have office hours 
>that all students said they can make at least one.  Nobody comes.  Lots 
>of questions are asked to me in the hall that would benefit the entire 
>class.  Is this a result of my being female and the class being almost 
>all men?  Should I be doing something (teaching-wise) differently?
>Sheri Huerd
>Ecologist--but in the Iowa State Agronomy Dept.
>Ames, IA--

Office hours are a joke!  Serioulsy, most students never go to talk to
their TAs or lecturers during office hours (although you may notice an
increase in traffic right before exams or assignments are due in).  In my
experience, there are students (very few) who will take advantage of
office hours and will sit with you for an hour or more (or make an
appointment) and ask you to go over material they simply aren't getting
from the lecture or the reading material.  Then there's the ones that stop
by right before the test with a series of questions, they get their
answers and go; there's also the ones that come in to try and get info as
to "what is going to be on the test??" [my answer is I try to go over the
exam before the students just to make sure the questions are fair, but not
before my office hours or before a review session or any such thing.  I am
fat too sympathetic and would hint too much!].  Also, there are classes
that are easy/straight-forward enough that the students really don't need to
get extra input from the TAs, and therefore office hours are really a time
for me to take a nap, grade papers, plan my sections, read the news in the
net :).

I can't really say how much of your student's lack of enthusiasm for
asking questions is due to the fact that they don't have that many and how
much is due to you being female.  I would like to say it's all in your
mind :) but then again, I got my undergraduate degree at Texas A&M and
remember taking courses in the Range Science Dept. and boys were boys and
girls were girls there (likewise, in my own Wildlife and Fisheries
Dept. it seemed like the women were all in the teaching/museum science
option and the men were doing the management curriculum).  I remember
never going to the TAs office hours because so many were such assholes
about it (a lot of people seem to have this attitude of "teaching and
office hours is nothing but a hindrance in my research career" in spite of
the fact that teaching IS 50% of their responsibility and is what pays
their tuition, car, rent, meals....).  A few were obvioulsy dedicated
teachers, and those were the approachable ones who I still remember.  In
any case, a lot of students are pretty shy for whatever reason and would
rather just ask you a quick question in the hallway or as you walk out of
the building than make time in their busy :) schedules to go find your
office, have to wander into some lab where scientists-at-work glare at
them as if they are undesirable pests... you get the picture.  What I do
is keep in mind those "good questions" students ask in private (ok, I
actually write them down) and at the start of the next section I'll say
"Joe/Jane came up with a really good question last time, and like I told
her...blah blah blah."  This does 2 things: gets the info out, and gives
public recognition to the student.  It may sound like a small thing, but
in doing that you gave Joe/Jane a lot of credibility, to him/herself and
the other students.

(Boy, am I full of advice today!)  As far as students who you know need
help, I try to keep in mind these people are adults and should be in
school because they want to better their educations.  This means I refuse
to feel bad for people who ignore all offers for help, act irresponsibly,
and then come crying to me right before the final.  My usual strategy is
on the first couple of meetings I give my students my name, office #,
office and home #, and list my office hours.  I tell them (and I actually
mean this) that I will be there during office hours, and that they can
call me or make an appointment to meet at another time if my schedule is
in conflict with theirs.  I tell them that if they walk by and have a
quick question they can pop in and ask and if I have teh time I will talk
to them on the spot.  Truth is I really go out of my way (and this
backfires, believe me, when I am teaching an intensive course with a lot
of very conscientious pre-med students... this is when teaching takes over
my life and research goes to hell).  THere's a happy medium somewhere,
I'm sure, and it's somewhere when you balanve your educational needs and
your own!

As far as having male faculty demand more from me because I am female, the
couple of courses when I felt really exploited the other TAs were also
female, and the faculty were all male, so I am not sure what that means. 
THere was one who had me in charge of getting a lot of stuff xeroxed and
so on, but I think this was my own doing by (1) having been so anal the
previous time I taught for him, so I knew where these handouts were and he
didn't (couldn't be bothered to look them up?) (2) me saying "oh, it's ok,
I'll do those" and not saying no to the others that followed.  In this
case there were other male TAs involved, but they were not really shying
away from anything and if I had delegated xeroxing to them they wouldn't
have complained.

Now I will shut up!

quinones at biology.ucsc.edu

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