Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Individual Excursions

I teach a Master's class on research methodology in Basket Weaving. Some of the components involve forcing the students to visit a library (Whaaat, you mean there's stuff that's not online???) and to prepare and present a journal club and a talk and all sorts of goodies. I also require that they attend a scientific conference.

In past semesters I've been lucky that there was some kind of basket weaving conference in town during the semester, so I had them all attend for free, although we have money budgeted to pay the student fees for them to attend the conference (aren't we generous?). We even scored a conference one semester with Big Company sponsoring a free food AND free beer event after the conference.

This semester I only had a few students, and there were no free conferences in town. There were a few with hefty fees (no student discount) and some free-for-students ones out of town. So I divided the amount in the budget by the number of students and told them we could refund a part of their fees.

Each attended a different conference. I had them submit expenses with a cover letter including details on the conference, etc. I had to return a few to be completed with details such as their name, their account number, a signature, etc. I paid them out, and then I put together a packet of documentation for reimbursement, the department head signed, and I handed it in.

I got the packet returned from Finances with a form for buying cookies to entertain guests. I sent that back with a polite letter saying that I didn't buy cookies, but was reimbursing the students for attending conferences.

We don't have a booking number for that. We do have cookies...

I wrote to the administrative assistant. Could he help? Sure, he had a great idea. I now need to fill out excursion forms for each conference. List the place, date, names of the students attending, etc. etc. Then they are insured when the attend the conference. I pointed out that they have already attended, and that they also managed to go to the public library all by their very own selves and I didn't fill out an excursion form for that.

Mistake. I should have filled out an excursion form for that. What if one fell down and broke their leg while getting a book from the bookshelf for class and they are not insured? We'd be liable and .....

So I've asked for the packet of paper back. I will be filling out individual excursion forms, probably back-dating them, and will have spent at least three hours dealing with this that I could have spent preparing lessons or speaking with students about things they find in books or going to the library myself....

My question for the dear readers: What do I do in the fall? Dare I send them out to a Real World (

-- Suzy from Square State
tm) conference and try and reimburse them? Or shall I just play some YouTube videos of conferences and serve bad coffee in paper cups?


  1. TPS Reports are part of the Real Word, in both industry and academia.

  2. Aargh. Would the situation be different if you *didn't* reimburse their expenses? My institution is near a major city with some pretty good resources, and we've been known to require excursions at students' expense, which basically means the same public-transit fare they'd pay to go clubbing in the big city, without the cover charge (and certainly pretty inexpensive in comparison to a STEM textbook). I don't remember any paperwork (which maybe just means I should have been doing paperwork, and haven't). What happens if I assign them to go count how many cars stop at a crosswalk on campus, so they have some simple original data to write up, and a car jumps the curb and hits them? Maybe I'd better look into personal liability insurance. Anyway, you have my sympathies; we're told to give students real-world-relevant experience, but then we're supposed to enclose them (and the university) in cotton wool, lest there be any danger.

    P.S. What's a journal club?

    1. Each student selects a scientific paper from the area they are writing their thesis on (around 10 pages, max.). They are put in groups of 5 or 6, and everyone has to read all of the papers. Then we sit all afternoon and the person choosing the paper has to present it (without slides!) and everyone critiques the paper, looking for logic holes, buzzword-bingo, incomprehensible diagrams, etc. etc. They learn to read a paper closely on this exercise.

  3. A free beer even after the conference for students? I'm amazed this didn't blow up long ago.

    1. Our Master's students tend to be of drinking age, and apparently, no one complained about me forcing them to go. Only the two who skipped out to prove that I couldn't force them to go were put out when the rest told them about the free beer.