When traveling in an unfamiliar place, it can be helpful to have a guidebook, preferably the kind that also attempts to explain cultural traditions and local customs. I wonder if a similar concept could be used to facilitate communication between professors and students.
Example: During a meeting to discuss a student's research, if the student's only response to a professor's comments, explanations, or questions (such as "So, what do you think?" or "What are your thoughts/ideas/opinions?") is of the mono-word sort -- e.g. "Sweet" -- some assistance with the cultural/age divide might be useful for both professor and student.
A guidebook for professors could explain that this is a normal expression used to indicate a positive response (synonyms: awesome, cool, nice) and could be interpreted to indicate comprehension on the part of the student and therefore does not necessarily mean that the student is inarticulate and/or did not really understand what the professor said. The expectation of a more specific response that includes complete sentences may be unrealistic without further attempts at conversation and gentle encouragement of the student to express an opinion or ask questions. If these further attempts fail to elicit even a question such as "Could you repeat that in a way that makes sense?", or even "What did you just say?", then it might be reasonable to conclude that the student has no further thoughts on -- or interest in -- the issue at hand.
A guidebook for students could explain that the professor can probably handle an expression such as "Sweet" as an initial response, but it is likely that additional words are like totally expected owing to the professor's long immersion in academia and possible inability to interpret speech that sounds like a text message. Many (but not all) professors adhere to the quaint custom of speaking in complete sentences, whether or not these sentences are intelligible. If the mono-word response is the result of lack of comprehension of any/all or what the professor just said, perhaps a professor-student phrasebook would be useful. That is, just as when traveling in a foreign country, phrases such as "I don't understand. I don't speak much/any professorese. Could you please repeat that?" might come in handy and could be memorized before visiting Professorland.
I hope this doesn't sound patronizing. I am writing about this because I have been encountering this "Sweet" response a lot recently. When I encounter "Sweet" and words of that ilk in response to attempts at discussions with students about their research, it has briefly stopped me in my professorial tracks each time. Each time I wonder what the
mono-response signifies -- interest or lack of interest? lack of ideas? lack of an ability to converse? none of the above? And each time I conclude that I have no idea, but that I should find a friendly but firm way to indicate that a one word response, however awesome, does not a discussion make.
6 months ago