12 June 2014

How do you test persistance?

A new article at Nature Jobs takes a hatchet to the general GRE test. It closes out with:

If we diminish reliance on GRE and instead augment current admissions practices with proven markers of achievement, such as grit and diligence, we will make our PhD programmes more inclusive and will more efficiently identify applicants with potential for long-term success as researchers.

I am not sure how you can get a sense of those.

Typically, faculty want grad students who have performed at consistently high academic levels in their undergraduate career. This means high grade point average (GPA). As I’ve noted before, these students are often so bright that they have never struggled academically. I’ve heard of many students who hit post-graduate study, either in sciences or health professions, who struggle because they are getting something other than As for the first time ever.

How can you assess persistence in those high-performing individuals? I’m not sure there is a clear way to do this.

Some might try to assess persistence by stressing applicants. Some job interviews do this with “stress tests.” I tend to agree with this piece: they’re worse than useless.

People who behave like that are either naturally jerks, or they’re “manufactured” jerks who behave that way because someone told them it was a cool way to interview people, by abusing them. None of it is acceptable.

The Nature Jobs talks about extensive interviews. Personal interviews have their own bizarre quirks that may also introduce systematic biases. It is easy to talk about screening students for their grad school potential based on their personalities, but I suspect it is rather difficult to implement in practice. This is not to say we should just give in and just use the GRE, mind you.

I’m also puzzled by the continued references in the Nature Jobs article to the 800 point scale, which the GRE hasb’t had for a couple of years now.

Hat tip to Jacquelyn Gill.

1 comment:

Becca said...

It's not impossible to measure persistence. It's not not always incentivized in the current educational climate, but there are exceptions.
When you came to grad school, how many things did you sustain interest in and effort toward for over a decade?
Of course, that is going to be heavily biased toward people with the SES Privilege to have enough stability to foster this kind of thing. But the popularity of "homeless teen goes to ivy league" stories on the internet makes it pretty clear you *can* factor in the inherent adversity of someone's circumstances.

I agree interviews can reflect biases, but anti-bias education can work better when people are making it a priority to see individuals. I think asking grad schools to look at persistence makes sense, though we need to avoid the same fixed mindset trap that we have with intelligence. Grad school is an *opportunity* to develop/demonstrate grit... and we need to support people in that process in a much more pro-social way.