Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Early Thirsty: Contemplative Cynic gets capped(stoned)

Like many departments, our department requires our seniors to do a capstone project that encapsulates the skills for their emphasis in the major. The students pick an adviser, who guides their project. This entails meeting once a week (one-on-one) with the seniors to guide them through their process and to give feedback on the product. Then before students can graduate, they do a big presentation of their project to the department.

Often, the projects are evenly distributed among the faculty, but this year, due to the students' emphases and choice of topics, I ended up being the default adviser for 75% of the students. This was a huge extra burden to me. While I enjoyed directing these independent works, it was also really taxing to keep up with my teaching load while helping these seniors.

Advisers of projects are not paid extra, nor do they get load credit; it's just a part of our jobs. And usually, when I only have one or two to direct, I am fine. But having the bulk of the responsibility for these creative projects this year was tough for me.

Not only that, but one of my colleagues seemed 'put out' that so many of the students had chosen me as their adviser rather than her; however, given that I am the only one in the department who could have advised them based on my area, it made sense for me to agree to direct their projects.

...And now I'm left having to grade all of these, as well.

How does your department deal with such duties? Do you get anything extra for directing an undergrad project (i.e. a reduction in load?)? Any advice on how to do this BETTER?



  1. Whenever I got stuck with something like that, and expressed my concerns, if not outright discontent, the typical response was: "That's what you get paid the big bucks for". The one department administrator who usually gave me that answer was the laziest twit I ever met. He had a habit of dumping his work on other people's desks and spent much of the day sitting around on his backside, usually parked in someone else's office and chewing the rag for hours on end.

    I didn't have much of a case. The way the workloads were distributed, my colleagues and I were usually well below the allowed threshold. It wasn't that there was so little for everyone to do but that we had at least one body too many. How that managed to get by the bean-counters must have taken some creative accounting on the part of my department head or his schmoozing the right people in the right offices to allow it.

    1. You mean you were all not teaching a full load b/c you had extra personnel? Wow... I wish that were our case. We are down two full time positions (people retired and no one replaced them, and in one case, someone passed away and wasn't replaced).

    2. Your situation sucks, CC. That pouty colleague deserves a good swift kick.

      We don't get any compensation for independent studies or undergraduate projects. They don't count towards our teaching load at all. We can use them as "supplemental hours" that are required as part of our contract, so I suppose we could resign from committees when we're supervising student projects, but the committee work takes up far less time.

      You asked for suggestions. Since your department requires capstone projects every year, it could decide on a policy for future years where active (non-sabbatical) faculty each get x number of projects, proportionate to the number of seniors that year. At the same meeting, the department should put Professor Pouty Kickface in charge of putting together a rubric for grading the projects.

      Seniors would apply to proffies by a deadline. Proffies would choose x applicants on the basis of project fit or previously demonstrated student non-flakiness. You, Contemplative Cynic, could take on more students at your discretion, but would also have right of refusal because your supervision (and sanity) can be spread only so thin before your value diminishes to the students you have taken on.

      Presumably all department faculty could supervise certain projects that relate to core concepts of the discipline. And the topic of the capstone project isn't really the point. The point is to choose a project, apply the methods of the discipline, follow through, troubleshoot, and write and present the report. If some seniors have to pick a different topic because you, CC, have taken on your allotment of students, then tough cookies.

    3. I bow to you, Proffie Galore, for your elegant improvement to the proceedings... Too bad most departments are too scatterbrained to implement something so well thought through!

    4. Thanks. I am raising this issue at our next meeting to at least get an equitable load distributed. The challenge is that our department has three emphases that are very different (think the difference between writing a play and performing a play). I and Prof. Pouty Kickface (love that moniker) teach one emphasis, so it makes sense that we would direct projects in that arena. But I am all FOR the idea of others in the dept. sharing the workload by setting caps (i.e. first 3 students to approach me get my expertise and none after that). My ego can stand having a student in "my emphasis" ask someone else to direct their project if it means less work for me.

  2. We don't get any compensation for directing independent studies. I have done it twice--once during summer for two students whose literature class--the one I didn't put on the schedule but somehow it was there, being offered--was canceled for low enrollment. They were good students, but it was extra work for me, for which I didn't even get a thank you from the adminiflakes who caused the problem in the first place. The second was for a student who wanted to do a project I was interested in. In retrospect, the work he completed wasn't worth the three credits he earned, but oh well. It's not like I got paid. I've been approached a few times since then, and when I approached the provost about getting even a small stipend, I was told that doing these is voluntary, and that there wouldn't be any compensation. So I've been saying no, as part of my pushback against a system that relies on our unpaid labor to function.

    1. Are these required independent studies, or just fun things students want to do? If they're not required, why would anyone say yes?

  3. I believe we have very few majors who choose to write senior theses or capstone projects (neither is a requirement.) There is no extra compensation for faculty advising undergraduates on such projects. However, this year our head started giving a token amount of summer pay for people working with Masters' or PhD students on their dissertations.

    In your case, I agree with the above: have students pick an advisor early, and either set a cap for each faculty member (say 3 or 4), or give a course reduction for anyone advising 5 or more students for capstone projects.