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Kopp's Weekly - Constructive Criticism‏

Kopp's Weekly - Constructive Criticism‏

Sometimes we need someone to point out our mistakes so that we can progress.

Dear students,

While many of us welcome praise and compliments, few of us like to be criticized. We often experience criticism as an attempt to put us down or separate us from our desired peer group.

But receiving criticism and integrating feedback into our work is a necessary skill. Critiques of our derivations or proofs can improve the logic of our arguments. Criticism of written work or presentations can help us improve clarity or focus. Even heeding the critique of our study habits from an experienced faculty member can alter our academic and personal path.

Beyond academics, wise leaders deliberately seek criticism of their ideas to test their vailidity and improve their utility. Why? Because as author Kathryn Schulz wrote, often our own biases prevent us from seeing the fallacies in our work. Feedback mechanisms are so fundamental for progress that they are built into the very structure of the scientific process – whether it is in the form of questions following a scientific seminar, peer review of a paper before publication in a journal, or peer review of a research proposal seeking support from a funding agency.

As a member of a community of scholars, we also have an obligation around the manner in which we offer criticism. Criticism is not just a form of summative evaluation (eg: "that was the worst movie ever!"). It can be formative, when the reviewer offers the investment of assistance. Phrases like "I see what you are trying to do here, but the argument would be more focused if...." are far greater service than "this is totally unclear..." Criticism offered well conveys respect for the receiver and also for the higher objective they seek. Even if someone has not found a cure for cancer or found evidence for supersymmetric particles, we as members of the scholarly community can support their scientific cause by investing ourselves in thoughtful critique.

Critical review is inherent in being a scientist, as well as a member of society. If done well, it involves asking respectful questions, having empathy for all parties, and accepting the potential fallacy of our ideas.

Here's to both giving and receiving criticism well,
Sacha Kopp
Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education
College of Natural Sciences

PS: Some items of note for the coming week:

The Catalyst: The Natural Sciences Council brings to you each month your College's electronic newspaper. Here is the February issue: http://utcatalyst.tumblr.com/

Health Professions Fair: Wed. March 6 10am-2:30pm in the Texas Union Ballroom. This is your opportunity to meet and talk with admissions representatives from practically every health professions school in the state and many from across the country. Business Casual attire is required.

Scholarships: The College of Natural Sciences provides numerous scholarships recognizing student excellence at all levels (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior). The online application is here: https://www.utexas.edu/cns/scholap. The deadline is April 15, 2013. Please contact Adrianne Chacon at adrianne.chacon@cns.utexas.edu with questions.

ScienceWatch Online: The College and the UT Libraries join together to bring you a streaming broadcast of a conference on science communications. March 7 at 5:30pm in PAI 4.42. Food will be served. Learn about science communications, outreach, educating the public, and the complexities of the internet. Students will vote on which sessions to stream that night. For more information and the voting form, see this link.

Careers in Federal Government: Sarah Lynch, Director for Communications in the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, will speak on how you can use your degree for a variety of careers in the federal government including communications, outreach, research operations, and policy. Thursday, February 28th, 6:15 pm, JGB 2.216. RSVP at this link (we need to know how much food to order).

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Tuesday, 18 January 2022

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