Getting better

This is the actual hat I use....

This is the actual hat I use in class…….

I like students answering questions I pose in class, but it tends to be the same minority who stick up their hands. I have tried cold-calling people, but that terrifies some and is unfair to those with speech disabilities. So this year I decided to offer up to 2% extra credit for students who opted-in to have their names in a hat for me to pick at random.

A little under a third of the class opted in. I was pretty pleased with that — it gives me 100 or so people, more than enough to make a classroom work. But it was amazing to me that >60% of the class doesn’t want 2% extra credit just for answering a question or two (and I made clear that ‘I don’t know’ would be a perfectly reasonable answer). I don’t know of too many professions where public speaking of some sort is not essential. And public speaking is something to practice. Answering questions in class is a safe, easy way to practice. I tell my grad students to try to ask a question in each research seminar they go to — even the exercise of trying to come up with a question sharpens the mind.

download-34So many of the skills that employers want can be easily honed by students themselves. The shy and under confident have it in their hands to become good public speakers. I have known several students who began their PhDs so terrified of public speaking, they would vomit before giving research talks. One of them solved the problem this way: she took up stand-up comedy. No kidding. In open-mic comedy clubs, with drunk people in the audience. Even more, she took up stand-up comedy about scienceBallsy or what?

She will surely go far.

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