Like many of you who are university professors in the US, I have recently been poring over grad applications. These applications typically include various forms containing data of varying usefulness, a cover letter or statement of interest/purpose, the infamous Letters of Reference, and transcripts.
Some years I read only a subset of applications to my department, some years I read every application to my department, and some years I also read applications to other departments at my university. I am fortunate that this year is a subset-of-applications year.
Nevertheless, I've managed to gaze at quite a few applications recently, and the fun will surely continue for a while yet.
Transcripts are interesting to read because you can see a student's evolution of interests. Did they take an intro course in Science their very first term and immediately dive into the major? Did they meander around for a year or so, sampling a wide variety of courses before focusing? To me, it doesn't matter if a student has known since they were 3 that they wanted to be a Scientist or whether they discovered this late in their undergraduate studies; it's just interesting to see the academic trail as indicated by course titles over the years.
In yesterday's post, I mentioned something about the unusual courses that a character in a novel was taking at a large midwestern university. In fact, it is not unusual to see a few strangely titled classes scattered about an undergraduate transcript. Presumably some of these courses were taken to fulfill a graduate requirement or to fill out a course load with a 1-2 credit course that fits a busy schedule and would not be too onerous.
I am not surprised or alarmed to see Aerobics or Yoga or Introduction to Badminton or even INTRO BONSAI on a transcript. I think it is a little strange, though, when there is an actual grade for this type of course. Many universities evaluate this type of course as pass/fail or satisfactory/not-satisfactory; I suppose at others the students can choose whether to get a grade or a pass/fail score.
What does it mean if a student gets a C in Kundalini Yoga or Intermediate Ping Pong or Self-Awareness? They are not flexible, have poor hand-eye coordination, and/or are oblivious? More likely, the student put little time or effort into a low-credit course that was just an additional thing they had to do. Even so, I personally would have taken Building Self-Esteem as a pass/fail course so that I didn't have to feel bad about getting a B or a C. It would be devastating to fail a self-esteem course.
I prefer transcripts that have the entire course name typed out or that use only unambiguous abbreviations: ADV INT IND LIT INTRO PRINC LIN ALG DIFF EQ ENV MOD EUR. Some less ambiguous abbreviations can be figured out from context or from the course designation; i.e., whether COMP is Computer or Composition or Composers, or whether DIG is Digital or Digestive.
The strangest abbreviations tend to be for specialized seminars or upper level courses with technical names. For example: CONC FUND MAGN. Surely it is Concentrated Fundamentals of Magnesium. Or Magnolias..? Or something.
And what about this?: RESI PHYS. Residues of Physics? Residences of Physicians? Resilient Physiognomy?
It doesn't really matter. The names of the essential courses (for the grad app) are typically unambiguous, and if there are some unusual specialized courses or seminars that are relevant, the applicant or reference letter writers typically highlight them in their prose. The strange course names provide a bit of entertainment to a transcript-reader, as I hope the course itself did to the student when they took it.
10 years ago