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A heated debate June 16, 2008

Posted by mervatabuelkheir in Faculty Life.

There’s an ongoing heated debate among some of my colleagues (including me of course) about the issue of whether we should dedicate more time to help students at the expense of our own personal gains. Of course, there are two side in this debate (three if we count the “silent” majority who don’t care!) One side believes that we must do everything we can to help students, and it’s our primary and most important responsibility. The other side of course believes that our most important responsibility is to do our research and get our academic degrees; provided we don’t neglect our duties in the classes we’re assigned.

Two things to pinpoint here:

  1. The first side of the debate is strongly supported by Waleed; one of the very few colleagues that I genuinely respect.
  2. No one supports balance. It has to be a total division of time between the two activities; no mutual partnership between both.

Well, for the first point, it’s almost only Waleed really who supports total dedication to students’ needs. Waleed has sincere integrity, and he practices what he preaches one hundred percent. He’s totally devoted to attending to students classes and giving them extra effort; especially in programming. I don’t see him doing anything for himself; even if he’s developing his programming and scientific skills it’s for the greater benefit of those kids at the faculty. Maybe I’m wrong because I don’t see him all the time, but when I do see him, it’s always like this.

The second point is mainly true because at our faculty we’re in a situation where we can’t really divide the day or the week. That’s because:

  • We have limited spaces to give lectures and sections, so we kind of use the entire day,
  • We’re relatively outnumbered by a large number of courses that most of us aren’t specialized in, so we must study in whatever spare time we have to make sense of these new subjects and outsmart the students. There’s no easy way for someone to hold on to three or four course every year because we tend to change from year to year; some of us leave, and some of us take time off, and new colleagues are enrolled.

Someone may ask me this: On which front do you fight? Well, I’m all for balance (I never did practice it because of the two points I just stated) but I certainly don’t believe (anymore) that I should give my 100% effort to students. I gave more than a 100% effort to the faculty; I spent days and nights thinking and obsessing about all kinds of things related to my work. It was only when I received a request to present a status report about progress in my Master thesis that I stopped and asked: What the hell am I doing? Actually, I’m kind of fond of faculty work; I love studying new courses and helping students understand them. I love administrative work like preparing the academic year’s timetable, preparing course specifications, and exams related tasks. I do these things well and that gives me confidence in doing them more. But the bottom line was these things aren’t enough to make me advance in my career. They simply don’t count! The university won’t promote me based on an excellent history of classes and faculty work, the ONLY parameter that’s measured is whether I’ve finished my Master degree (and later of course my PhD). The Egyptian universities law regarding the duties of the teaching assistants states clearly (and ambiguously at the same time!!!) that the first and utmost important job of a TA is to get his or her Master and PhD degrees. Then classes come second with no stress except the stress that they mustn’t hinder the TA’s efforts to get the academic degrees.

I strongly applaud Waleed for being the most helpful he can be, and I don’t dare to put myself in his league of the most helpful people in the faculty. I can acknowledge that I have helped a lot, but not as much as he did. Maybe it’s not just because I found out that I have to do another task and do it as well as I can; it could be age as well, but this isn’t the point. But still I believe that it IS enough to give my 100% effort in the sections, dedicate 3 or 4 hours each week to help my students (but I strongly stress that they should first be willing to help themselves), but other than that, I have another job to tend to, and it’s not less important by all means.

Long story short, I found out the hard way that actually by dedicating my efforts to the day to day tasks of the faculty I was actually not doing my job; my real job; which is RESEARCH. That doesn’t mean at all that I support anyone neglecting his or her sections to pursue personal gains of any kind, but we have to put in mind that getting academic degrees isn’t just a personal gain, it’s also dedicated to the students, and to the country in general. Instead of being “academic policy executors” we get to be “academic policy makers.” If we’re good enough, then we’ll fix the problems that we have today and will create a better tomorrow. There’s nothing we can do for today except work hard to help as we can, but we must never forget that we have yet another noble goal to achieve; which is to make a better future and help our country progress.



1. kamasheto - June 22, 2008

Heh, I admire a person that pays attention to his/her punctuation. I also admire a person that takes good care of his/her blog. Nevertheless, I extremely admire a person that is capable of expressing situations in a similar manner. And although I don’t really like the kind of person that keeps the default WordPress about me page hanging around his/her blog, my admiration outweighs all your apparent cons.

I am a student, and I plan on many things one of which is having an academic career; and one of the many things I have on mind is being devoted to the students I will be assigned to – little did I know about the drawbacks of that. Regardless, I really think there has to be some sort of way to balance between both sides of the debate. There’s no such thing that your imagination can create and your mind cannot accomplish, I always believed.

Anyway, I sincerely wish I be assigned to one of your classes sometime during my stay at the university.

2. mfahmy78 - July 5, 2008

Thank you for the good points, and for the balance thing, it takes a really dedicated person to do it right, so I hope you really get the chance to try it.

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