Everyone Gets An “A”!

, , , , , | Learning | September 12, 2017

(We’re coming up to the first exam of a summer class, for which I’m a TA. We’ve been discussing the importance of study design and accidental influence.)

Professor: “Often, these kinds of things can be hard to predict. Let’s look at a real-life example: when you take exams, there’s always an empty seat between each student. But here in this classroom, you’re all packed in. So, we split you into two rooms. We do this by randomly assigning each student to room A or B. There’s no room actually called, “Room A,” you see, it’s just what we call the two rooms. As you might recognize, both those letters are grades you can get on a test, and we were worried that this might influence the outcomes of the exam. What do you think we found?”

Student #1: “Well… if you’re primed to think you’re going to do well, maybe you’re more relaxed, more confident. So, better exams in room A?”

Professor: “Good! Any other ideas?”

Student #2: “If I’m coming into an exam thinking I’m already in the worse-off group, I’m going to read all the questions carefully, double-check my work, and so on. But if I think, ‘Look at me; I already got an A,’ then maybe I’ll be sloppy.”

Professor: “Also good! Both make sense, both are intuitive. So, [Other Professor] and I got together to study this. We looked up all the grades by room assignment to see what the difference was. We isolated students to switch rooms between midterms and finals to see if they improved or worsened. We even looked into how long they knew their room assignment to see if there was a dose effect. And what do you think we found?”

(There’s pandemonium for a while, while the students argue. Finally, we put it to a vote: 42% think A did better, 14% think B, and the rest don’t think there was a difference.)

Professor: “Despite your votes, the room B students had a higher average! Now… how many of you are checking your emails right now to see who’s in what room tomorrow?”

(Most students sheepishly raise their hands. The rest are too caught up in their laptops.)

Professor: “[Student #3], which are you in tomorrow?”

Student #3: “Uh… 1102? Is that A or…”

Professor: “See, we forgot that the students are just sent the room numbers, and not our little A/B system. So, here’s my last two pieces of information: statistically, flukes do happen occasionally, and we’ve gotten rid of our A/B system entirely!”

(On exam day, I saw that the A/B column I was used to now sorts students into group “A” and group “Other A.”)

Professor Omnomnom

, , , , , | Learning | September 12, 2017

(I’m a TA and PhD student. The undergrads are taking summer classes, and most them are new and confused. I’m hurrying to class, and eating a burrito at the same time. Just as I stuff the last of the burrito into my mouth, a lost-looking student stops me.)

Student: “Excuse me, Professor… uh…”

(I look down and notice that my ID card has flipped around. I try to tell him I’m not a professor, but with my mouth full…)

Me: “Mnahprofshr.”

Student: “Oh! I’m looking for Professor Smith. Sorry to bother you, Professor Naprofsher!”

(I tried to correct him, but he escaped while I was laughing and choking on burrito.)

Bigotry Is Impatient

, , , , , | Friendly | September 11, 2017

(I live an a pretty diverse neighborhood. I have just gotten into the line at the DMV, when a woman gets in line behind me. We are the only two white people in the short line, which we will get through within five minutes.)

Her: *whispering to me* “Don’t you just wish that immigration control would storm in and shorten this line up for us?”

(I turn to see her smiling at me, waiting for me to respond in agreement.)

Me: “I’m not too concerned about how long the line is. I’m just bothered I have to deal with a racist old bag while I wait.”

(She scoffed and looked away. She spent the remainder of the wait muttering to herself about how she would have to pay for all the insurance for THOSE people, and that they were just going to end up running over white kids.)

Art Always Gets A Pass

, , , | Hopeless | September 4, 2017

(It is about seven pm and I have just walked into a museum in NYC that has my favorite painting in it. I did not know this previously, and found out after spending the day with my parents at another museum. We are tired, weary, and a tad short on funds. I approach the ticket desk to see how much it will be for one student and two seniors to enter.)

Employee: “Senior tickets are $17 each and students are $12.”

Me: *sullenly turns to my parents, who are sitting down*

Mom: “You go, we will sit here.”

Me: *turns to employee* “One student, please.”

Employee: *accepts my payment and looks thoughtful* “You know, I get free passes that I don’t use. Why don’t you all go?” *hands me three tickets*

Me: *tearfully and excitedly* “Thank you so much!”

(This was about five years ago, but I’ve never forgotten the act of kindness. I was able to see that painting with my family and take a photo with it. We really enjoyed the museum, all thanks to a kind employee!)

An Unhealthy Way To Wake Up

, , , , , | Working | September 4, 2017

(My boss is a funny guy, and the other day he was thinking about cross-merchandising our two-liter sodas with our chips. One of our soda vendors comes in, and my boss and the vendor notice there is a space between the two-liter Coke bottles and the two-liter Mountain Dew bottles. This is how the conversation goes.)

Vendor: “So, what are we going to put there?”

Boss: *thinking* “What about Cheese-Doodles? So it’ll be Coke, a Doodle, Dew!”