Academic Minute: Imitation and the Creative Process

In today's Academic Minute, Robert Goldstone, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, explains that those who copy others' ideas play a crucial role in the overall creative process. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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New report suggests men with kids as disadvantaged as moms on academic job market

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Could having families now be as disadvantageous to men's academic careers as women's? Study raises possibility.

Essay on the problems created by students who are too informal with professors

I am not your friend; I am not “Miss.”

Is it just me, or are we witnessing an epidemic of familiarity among undergraduates?

They’re all calling me by my first name. Is this happening in your classroom too?

I’m not that much older than a lot of my students, generationally (I’m apparently just on the cusp between being an echo-boomer and a millennial, for those who keep track -- but old enough I don’t think they’re mistaking me for a fellow undergrad). However, I feel like their grandmother when I receive their emails, and clutch my pearls when I get a message addressed to “Hi Katrina” (or just “hi”) from students I haven’t even met.

Perhaps this has struck me particularly as I went from living in Germany, where even to colleagues I was “Frau Gulliver,” to teaching in Australia where students seem surprised I even have a last name.

As an undergraduate I never addressed my teachers by their first names (and I walked 10 miles a day, neck deep in snow ... believe me, I KNOW how fogeyish this all sounds); for me becoming a grad student and getting onto first names with my adviser was a big step. I’ve felt it sends a message to graduate students that they are more like colleagues than undergraduates.

I address my undergraduates as Ms. or Mr., in the classroom and when I reply to their emails. Some get the hint but many are apparently oblivious. I’ve tried joking about it when students use my first name in class, or writing in emails that I do not do first names with undergrads. It’s hard not to come off as uptight, and some students seem genuinely surprised. Other times it’s clearly an attempt to rile me with some disrespect (typically coming from male students who like to undermine female authority).

But I understand that students are often confused about how to approach their teachers at university. The world of academic ranks is all pretty confusing to anyone outside it, and the various titles on people’s doors doesn’t really help (Do any associate professors and vice presidents people get emails addressed to “Dear Associate” or “Dear Vice”?).

Add to that the fact that many undergraduates will be in classes led by T.A.s who tend to go by first names (and are themselves graduate students). I think this is where part of the confusion starts for undergraduates. They’re not clear on all of the respective statuses of the teachers they encounter.

Into this mix too there is of course a gender dimension. I’m often addressed in class as “Miss.” I recently asked students about this, and I was told it was a habit from high school, where they were used to addressing their teachers in high school as “Miss” or “Sir.” I pointed out that these terms are hardly equal, and that they are quite welcome to call me Sir (nobody took me up on that one).

I’ve always been of the view that I don’t want to undermine my own authority in the classroom by dressing like the students, inviting them to use my first name, or making any other gestures towards “being down with the kids.” I find many other female academics also take this approach.

To add to the confusion, in most departments there is the species of (white) male professor, who wants to be seen as “cool” (you know the one, who shows up dressed like he’s come to mow the lawn), who invites all the youngsters to “call me Dave,” resting safely in the comfort of assumed male authority. If you’re one of these guys: you are not helping the rest of us.

(For those who are going to slam me for being uptight, watch your privilege).

I also feel it’s our job to teach students how to behave in a professional setting, and not sending the kind of emails that are all lower-case is part of it. (Lisa Wade quoted the hilariously awful email she received from a student when she was visiting another university to give a talk -- read it here.) Addressing someone you don’t know by their first name is also something that won’t always win you any prizes in the real world.

So I’ll keep insisting on formality from my students, even if they make comments about my being pedantic or bossy on their student evaluations. And I thank goodness I’m not the friend of mine who received an email from a student that started “hello kitten.”


Katrina Gulliver teaches at the University of New South Wales.

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Academic Minute: The Potential Impact of Asteroids

In today's Academic Minute, David Trilling, assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Northern Arizona University, explains the options available if we ever find ourselves in the line of fire. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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Essay on how colleges can deal with shortages of nursing professors

Colleges need short- and long-term strategies to deal with a severe shortage, writes Regina M. Cusson.

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'Fabulous Fab' Won't Be Teaching Chicago Undergrads

Fabrice Tourre, the former Goldman Sachs trader known as "Fabulous Fab" and as someone found liable for defrauding investors, won't be teaching economics to undergraduates at the University of Chicago. While he had been scheduled to do so, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chicago has yanked that course away from him. Tourre is a Ph.D. student at the university, and he will instead fulfill his teaching assignments with graduate courses.


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Kennesaw State Urged to Restore Art Removed From Exhibit

The National Coalition Against Censorship -- which includes numerous academic groups -- has written to Kennesaw State University to demand the restoration of an installation that administrators ordered removed from an exhibit last week. The installation was about land once owned by Corra Harris (1869-1935), who was a prominent author and whose homestead the university accepted as a gift to preserve in 2009 -- over the objections of some faculty members. Part of the installation dealt with a racist letter Harris wrote -- a letter that launched her careers and that has had her identified ever since as an apologist for lynching. The university said that the installation was ordered removed from an exhibit in the new art museum at Kennesaw State because the work was "not aligned with the celebratory atmosphere of the museum’s opening."

The letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship says in part: "The removal of Ruth Stanford's [the artist's] work is not only a missed educational opportunity, it also raises serious constitutional concerns. As a public educational institution, Kennesaw State has an obligation under the First Amendment not to discriminate against particular ideas, no matter how controversial they might be."

A spokeswoman for the university said that she did not know of a response from the institution.


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Academic Minute: Predicting Storm Damage

In today's Academic Minute, Michael Bruno, dean and professor of engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, reveals how imaging technology can be used to educate and inform residence in the path of future storms. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Faculty Council wants Rutgers to rescind commencement invitation to Condoleezza Rice

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Annual debate over who is suitable to address graduates returns with vote by Rutgers faculty to rescind invitation to Condoleezza Rice. University stands by decision.

Bryan Wants Stricter Pledges on Bible as History

Some faculty members are concerned that Bryan College, a Christian institution in Tennessee, is making its required statement of faith so specific in its Biblical literalism that it may be difficult for them to teach there, The Times Free Press reported.

Like many Christian colleges, Bryan requires faculty members to sign and abide by a statement of faith, which has said in part that "the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death." That statement of faith has been broad enough that some faculty members have said they can believe in evolution and also sign the statement, arguing that they believe evolution was divinely inspired. But the Bryan board has adopted changes to make the statement more specific, and that's why some faculty members believe their beliefs are being declared unwelcome. The addition to the statement says: "We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms."

Bryan College's anti-evolution stance dates to its founding. The college was founded in 1930 in honor of William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer who crusaded against evolution in the Scopes trial.

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