Thursday 9 July 2020

Mastering Science

Late in my working life, I started a full-time, full-on, job at The Institute. Late in my time at The Institute, I started supervising /mentoring research theses for the MSc in Pharmaceutical Regulatory Affairs. The students are a normal distribution, some earnest, some clever, some both, some neither. Some of them are still in touch and some have gone back to their own lives with whatever they got from the degree.

You be sure that only a tiny fraction of whatever they got from the degree ever appeared on the Syllabus or Learning Outcomes. Almost all the stuff you try to cram into your head to pass the final exams pops out over the next week because of elastic rebound. You never really wanted to store that information and it gets displaced by the next hot girl's telephone number; the location of the car-keys; or how to spell paraphernalia depending on your age and priorities.

When the thesis was finally submitted one of my recent mentees heaved sigh and wrote "Hope I’ll get the good mark for my work"

Which was a bit of a trigger for me, because the thing I hate most about teaching is giving marks out of 100. It seems absurd to reduce the tangled weft of the journey to a single number. Let alone a 68%.  Some of my colleagues are super confident at the reproducibility of their assessments: giving 6.8/10 for a lab report presumably in the belief that it's neither 6.7 nor 6.9/10. The somewhat pompous gist of my reply was: Marks are someone else's opinion of your work and they are relevant. But for me the most important thing is for you to recognise that you've done something original and creative, that you have worked hard and revealed something interesting that nobody really nailed down before. When we started this journey 8 months ago, you knew no statistics and had never scraped data from a PharmRegs website. There are only 6 people in Co Carlow tonight who know or care what a Yates Correction is - it's a very select club. By Christmas you will have forgotten about Chi.Sq. (and Yates Corrections) and you may never need to use that test again, but I hope there will always be a warm glow from having learned something new, that seemed difficult, and that you mastered it.
That's why it's called Master of Science.

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