There comes a point in every relationship when one suddenly comes to the brutal realization that his or her significant other is actually not perfect. As a result, dissatisfaction ensues, and the outcome? Conflict.
Interestingly, in many cases, this is very similar to what happens in the academic world: somehow I’ve always felt like by choosing to take a course, I commit myself to a semester-long academic “relationship” with it. Like in a relationship, the beginning of the course is often filled with anticipation, excitement, and a certain curiosity for knowledge (unless it’s chemistry, my nemesis). If it turns out to be a bad choice, then by the time you finally realize what a rut you’ve gotten yourself into by merely choosing to commit, it’s usually no longer worth it to call it quits. You try to convince yourself that since you’ve put so much effort into it already, it’s better to just stick with it–who knows, maybe if you strategically maneuver your way through the problems, it could be…a learning experience?
Alas, life is never that simple. Fate decides to interfere, deals a few of its cards, and BAM! Next thing you know, there’s an ugly grade on your transcript that totally makes you cringe every time you look at it, and thus you are no longer able to see the course or the prof in a positive light.
The other day, I contemplated about dissatisfaction in general. Everybody hates to feel dissatisfied, whether it’s in a relationship or in a course at school. We feel like we really do deserve better, but somehow our efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated. How is the standard of evaluation constructed? How fair is it anyway? And how can we, often the victims of such injustice, voice our views and opinions?
Conflict is defined as the process in which the party perceives that its interests are being opposed or negatively affected by another party, and often arises due to differences in goals, values or beliefs, or, it could be due to simple miscommunication. In relationships, open communication and empathy are necessary for any constructive conflict resolution to take place. Similarly, when you don’t end up receiving the mark that you deserve on an essay or an assignment, it’s critical to first put yourself in the evaluator’s shoes, and try to see things from his or her point of view. Take the initiative, go to their office hours, and discuss face-to-face with them why they gave you the mark they did, while humbly asking for what could be improved. Sharing your thoughts not only lessens the potential for animosity to arise, but can also help you to spot any of your own arguments that might actually be unreasonable. Sometimes even just talking about it with the professor or TA would make you feel a lot better, regardless of whether or not your mark was changed as a result of this.
If you truly feel that you deserved a higher mark, do not get defensive. Marks are so important to so many of us that we could go great lengths fighting for that extra 1%. This however does not give us the right to negatively approach grade-sensitive topics. After all, professors are also human and deserve to be respected. Moreover, often the issue lies with the fact that they don’t know what the problem is, rather than that they know yet don’t care. Before asking for a mark increase, carefully structure your arguments so that they maximally benefit you. Be logical and don’t whine–desperate students usually leave a very bad impression on professors, and, if the argument was not effective, it could potentially create tension between you and the evaluator and really burn bridges.
In extreme cases, such as where students of an entire course had has their final course grade bell-curved downwards, it’s important to know your rights. For last year’s PSL302 (Human Physiology), for example, the entire class’s average was linearly lowered by 4% (more information on the issue can be found here). The process of appeal used in this particular case offers great insight as to what we can do should we encounter similar situations in the future. Potential sources of help include but are not limited to:
- Glenn Loney: Arts and Science Assistant Dean/Faculty of Registrar and Secretary
- Susan Howson: Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Education and Teaching
- Unversity Ombudsperson
- Filing a petition
No matter what kind of ugly situation you end up encountering, at the end of the day, what you really need is to come to terms with yourself. Is a couple of marks really worth all that time and effort? Greatness does not only entail that one fights for what he or she believes in, but also in acknowledging when to let go. Those who have the courage to shrug and say “que sera sera” might not have the best marks or the most lengthy relationships, but they might just be the happiest bunch.