Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Intelligence... not as great as one would assume

At a university one comes to expect certain things, like the high level of intelligence of the people teaching them, their compassion and the understanding that the majority of those working in the higher levels of the university were once students of a university. As such, one would assume, falsely, that the people in charge of their course, their degrees and in a perverse way, their lives would be filled with a level of understanding, as we have all at some point suffered under a power hungry jerk. Some people will always be corrupted by the power they wield. They suffered and as such, now someone else will also suffer. Some are altered over time, slowly but surely having their compassion removed at the same time they loose touch with reality. To some, power does not corrupt at all. They resist the temptation to do evil, remember how it feels to be at the mercy of someone and instead teach as they would have loved to be taught, taught with compassion.

Unfortunately, Biochemistry attracts the former over the latter.

Biochemistry as a subject is a component of my degree. I understand its inclusion. It is indeed very vital to understand and be able to apply in all facets of my qualifications. The problem does not lie in that it must be taught, but rather how it is taught.

The year I initially did biochemisty, it had a very strong metabolism focus which aided us all tremendously in the later year of our degree. However, the way it was graded and set up made it so intense many failed. There was a rumour that 80% of my compatriots failed that year. That was the rumoured fail rate for people in my stream of biochem. Painful, in fact so painful they decided to remodel the course for the next year. I was, unfortunately amongst the 80%, however I decided to skip redoing the subject the next year, picking to instead do it at the very end of my degree, allowing it to be my sole focus. The subject underwent a large change. Renamed, pre-requisites changed, locations, lecturers, etc, the whole works. And this appeared to work to a point as the fail rate was apparently not as high that next year. However, it was still too high and more was done to alter the course.

Enter the year I did it for the second time, this year. It was entirely different to the year I originally did it. I almost did not make it in the subject due to the pre-requisite change. To be honest, I never was told if I was permitted to do the subject without the new pre-requisites. That's a fight I am preparing for. It should have acted as a massive "watch out, people who run this don't know what they're doing". I noted it, but ignored the level of the stupidity which should have served as that warning of events to come.

This year was full of "radical" "new" ideas, ideas which other subjects have been using and refined for years, but to biochemistry were so amazingly new it hurt them to implement it. 2 exams instead of the 1 crippling event, making that 70% on the exam a little less painful. Practicals every second week, tutorials as written questions with a tutor to aid you. Revolutionary! 2 practical tests instead of the one fail worthy exercise. Almost seemed to good to be true. One lecturer even gave us appropriate questions to expect, and some of those questions were accurate! Such large changes, such evolution since that first year of fail. Too good to be true. They can't have actually learned from their mistakes. Surely not!

They hadn't. The first term of tutorials were full of problems. Tutorial questions which made no sense, the man who wrote them, our first lecturer and subject coordinator, repeatedly called a dickhead, arsehole and other unsavory terms by his appointed tutors. Entire questions were wiped out by the tutors who said they made no sense, and that only an idiot could have written them. The revision for the first exam was released and it lead people in the wrong direction. Told them to learn things which were not in the actual exam and based an entire question on a textbook which we were not supposed to have read. The actual exam came and the level of detail required was insane. It also contained far too many questions for the time slot and the practical exam afterwards even had a calculation no one had ever seen before, let alone known to learn.

It was horrible. Later that day I had an assessed practical to do, straight after my exam. It was a hard day. When we went to the tutorial the week after, we were given questions which would have aided us in our exam, had we received them earlier. When we asked why we were getting them now we were told a horrible reason; the subject coordinator has put them in to make sure he can use whatever material he wants in the next exam. You may be examined on the same stuff again.

The outcry was immense. Screaming could be heard across the university. Many in tutorials had walked out, refusing to play any part into the evil that had been unleashed. We had all suddenly realised we could not trust this mans word further than we could throw him.

Grades were released and we soon learned that 3/4 of my tutorial group had failed by a significant amount. The girl I knew was also repeating received around 30% on that exam. My 49% suddenly seemed like a badge of honour. I had almost passed it. It was one of the highest scores I knew. Brilliant.

We received the one lecturer in the course, our degree coordinator, the one person with compassion. She made her part of the subject easier, nicer, possible to pass. She struggled hard to ensure we were all happy, and all loved her. She released questions for the exam, revision questions but still, they were relevant! The second exam was not easy, but not as bad as the first.

So we assume.

I had thought for a moment there that I could put biochem behind me. Boy was I wrong.

The week after our exam (28th June) we were told a meeting was planned amongst faculty to discuss marks on the 12th July, and results would be released on the 13th-14th. So we waited. Come the 15th, still no results. On the 16th we receive an email from the one woman in the subject who cared, the one who taught us so nicely. She was saying by the end of day she would have our marks released. At 5pm we received another email bemoning her lack of power, saying at least the sup had been pushed back and we would get our results Monday, 19th. Monday came, no results. Tuesday brought a reason. So many had failed that marks had to be adjusted so we all had to wait a touch longer. So wait we did. Today, 7am, came an email which has shattered me. The woman who fights for us is loosing strength and has to leave the country for a conference. It makes me feel better to know I'm not the only one who is loosing sleep and health over this, but it hurts to see the desperation in her tone. She has decided there will be no supplementary exams for anyone. At least not at this time. Not even medical sups, simply because we have no grades. Her words say our next deadline the best;
"Last Friday, I said that I “hoped” you would have the marks by this Monday. Well, that hope has turned to fear."
Her own words, and she then goes on to state she doesn't expect our grades to be released by the time she comes back.

In August.

My hope has indeed turned to fear, for yet another reason. This is my final subject for this degree and I plan on getting another degree next year. For that I need an official transcript to prove I've done this degree and show what I exactly did.

Problem. In it's infinite wisdom, the university is shutting down the facilities to order, pay for and get official academic transcripts for an undisclosed amount of time. Starting, you guessed it, August. I need my grades before they close that facility.

Some people at university remember what it used to be like for students. Some are intelligent and have undergone university itself. To change our grades, all they must do is alter one or 2 numbers in a giant excel spreadsheet. I can do that in a minimal amount of time, 2 days at the absolute tops. How does changing a number in a spreadsheet take a month? Only one member of the faculty has cared enough to fight our cause. Only one has emailed us updates whenever she had them. One. No one else appeared to care enough to inform us of what was happening and still expected us to do a sup without grades. Now, other schools on the campus which are legendary for their lack of ability to give grades to their students will have grades well before we do, and that is simply not good enough.

Biochemistry, you are a disgusting subject. You pride yourself on your high fail rate, think yourself prestigious. You demand so much from students, yet give so little feedback in return. The entire subject needs to be burned to the ground and a completely fresh subject raised in its place. The people who manage this subject are a joke. The people who mark this subject are also laughable. The university where I did this abhorrent piece of shit is beyond a joke and trust me when I say they don't give a shit.

Loath is a hard word to use, a powerful word. I use it now. I loath this subject.

Never, ever trust universities or anything called biochemistry.

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