Friday, May 09, 2008

Thrill of victory?

So I got this snippy e-mail from a student upset because I deducted major points from her final paper, which lacked sufficient reputable print sources. She claimed that she had searched for HOURS on our research databases and simply could not locate a single print source on her topic, so she had no choice but to rely on her trusty friend Google. "If you can find three print sources on my topic, I will accept the grade," she concluded.

For the benefit of any student who might be tempted to challenge an English professor to a no-holds-barred research duel, let me offer a word of advice: don't bother. You can't win. Anyone who has completed a dissertation, published articles in academic journals, taught the senior capstone class, and guided hordes of college freshpersons through the intricacies of JSTOR simply has an unbeatable edge. Pitting an undergrad against such an expert is like trying to win the Kentucky Derby on a hobby-horse: the odds are insurmountable.

I spent maybe 10 minutes searching the databases and found a dozen highly relevant and reliable sources, which I sent to the student with my humble regards. She has decided, wise student, that she is willing to accept the grade after all.

But such an unbalanced duel provides little satisfaction to the winner. Anyone want to try a title-formatting challenge using MLA Guides at 10 paces? How about a winner-take-all spelling smackdown? Ten rounds with apostrophes drawn? There's just no glory in winning a race against a hobby-horse!


Joy said...

But your spectators certainly enjoy it : )

Bardiac said...

Alas, maybe she'll learn to ask for help early on, from just the people who can find good sources? That would be one of my top wishes for every college student: learn to use the library, and that includes asking a librarian for help.