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Comments on the summer MAP form

Topics/tags: Rants, Grinnell, messages to administrators, things I was writing anyway

Grinnell’s Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) and Mentored Introductory Projects (MIPs) can form an important and useful [1] component of a Grinnell education. In a summer MAP, a student works full-time with a faculty member [2] on a substantial project, one which, if successful, likely warrants broader dissemination through a journal article or conference, talk, paper, or poster. Grinnell also has academic-year MAPs which are necessarily less substantial (12 hours per week for 14 weeks is 168 hours, less than half of the 400+ hours students work over the summer) but which also have some expectation of external presentation. MIPs can involve a similar amount of work [3], but do not carry the expectation of external presentation [4].

The summer MAP paperwork process is interesting [5]. The first piece of significant paperwork is a faculty members’ application for funding to the Committee for the Support of Faculty Scholarship (CSFS) which is due at the start of spring semester. In many cases, particularly in the sciences, the faculty member applies for funding before finding students. In other cases, the student finds and contacts the faculty member who then applies for funding [6]. We usually hear back about those applications a week or two before spring break, at which point we notify the student applicants and give them a relatively short time frame to decide [7]. Soon after spring break, we send a list of our selected students to the Dean’s office. A few weeks later (Monday of week 14, at least this semester), MAP students need to send a form to the Dean’s office describing the work. That form can either be an abbreviated description of the research project (Part A) or a complete description (Parts A and B). In the former case, students must also submit a complete description after a week or two of summer research.

I’ve never quite understood the purpose of the early Part A. In the old style of summer research, students spent the first week or two of summer research doing the background research necessary to write a proposal and wrote the proposal. That’s still the model I follow and I believe most of my colleagues in the sciences follow. If that’s what we’re planning, why do we need anything in advance of the summer? We don’t need anything for the MIP students or the 399 students [8]. We’ve already written a description of the project for CSFS. So why do we need something extra for the MAP students?

Nonetheless, I accept that paperwork is a necessary part of the system. I just wish this particular paperwork was better [9]. So I’m writing a letter to appropriate administrators. Here goes.

Dear Administrators,

I am writing to request a few comparatively minor changes to the current Summer MAP Form and to suggest a larger change.

  1. The question that reads Is this a continuation of a current/previous project? is easy to misinterpret. I’ve seen both faculty and students check Yes to indicate that it’s a multi-year project. However, my understanding is that the intent of the question is to determine whether the student is continuing on the project. I ask that we rephrase that question to make it clear what is being asked. Perhaps Have you worked on this project in a previous MAP?

  2. We use capital A and capital B twice on the form, once for parts A and B and once for two sections of part A. I’ve seen many students confused that they have to answer question B in part A when they are turning in only part A. Could we perhaps use different lettering for the A and B in part A. Perhaps i and ii or even a and b. (It might also be more sensible to name the two parts Part I and Part II. However, I expect that would also be more complicated.)

  3. The form assumes a gender binary (Approve her/his registration for these credits). I’d like to see us choosing gender-free language, such as Approve your advisee’s registration for these credits or just Approve registration for these credits.

  4. As an adviser, I often do not find it appropriate to sign something that says Your signature confirms that the proposed project conforms to the MAP regulations and to departmental policies. While I can confirm that a project conforms to CS department policies, many of my advisees participate in MAPs in other departments and I do not know the policies of those departments. I also don’t think it should be my responsibility to learn about the policies of other departments. Shouldn’t it be the Dean’s office’s responsibility to confirm that MAPs conform to MAP regulations and the Department Chair’s responsibility to confirm that MAPs conform to department regulations? I ask that you strike the whole parenthetical remark. Failing that, I ask that you strike and to departmental policies.

  5. The link at the top of the form is to I believe that the information is now at The link should be corrected.

In addition to those minor changes, I’d like to suggest one larger change. It is not at all clear how a student can answer the question of What makes this an advanced, integrative study without describing the project first. I’d suggest adding another question that asks the student to summarize the project in a paragraph or two.

Thanks for considering these suggestions.

Why am I complaining about these issues? In part, it’s that I see a lot of extra effort going into correcting student (and faculty) mis-readings of the form, particularly with regards to the continuation question and the duplication of a B. In part, it’s that I really do consider it inappropriate to sign something that is not true and I don’t think I should have to learn the policies of other departments, particularly since some of the policies may relate to information I may not have access to (e.g., that a student may only do a certain number of MAPs in a department).

Wait a minute. That number of MAPs issue probably means that I can’t sign a statement that the proposed project conforms to the MAP regulations either, since MAP policies officially limit the number of MAPs a faculty member does in a semester and I am unlikely to have access to information about the number of MAPs a faculty member is doing or to their teaching load that semester. I’ll try to remember that when I next sign the form. Should I just strike the phrase conforms to the MAP regulations or should I add an extended narrative of the form except for regulations about MAP limits; after all, I do not have access to the relevant data? That’s a question for another day.

Postscript: This musing was supposed to be short and quick. Then I decided to write the background text. Then I started exploring the College’s MAP site. Among other things, I was surprised to discover a list of all the MAPs and MIPs since Fall 2009 [10]. That allowed me to learn a number of things, such as that Elaine Marzluff supervised 58 MAPs and MIPs in that time [11,14]. I should turn those data into a more usable form and see what other insights I can gather [15].

[1] Although neither required nor necessary.

[2] And, in many cases, with a team of other students.

[3] Some faculty run five-week MIPs rather than ten-week MIPs.

[4] Particularly since my MAP and MIP students work together, I also expect that my MIP students will also develop work worthy of external presentation.

[5] Air quotes intentional.

[6] Note that the student-initiated MAP model requires that students are incredibly prepared; they need to propose the MAP to the faculty member about three months before student paperwork is due.

[7] I always have a long waiting list, so I want to be able to offer the position to someone else if one of my initial choices has another option.

[8] 399’s are something in-between MAPs (499s) and MIPs (299). Unlike MAPs, which must be compensated over the summer, 399’s and 299’s can be volunteer positions.

[9] Details follow in the next section.

[10] Why was I surprised to discover that? Because I didn’t think it was considered public information.

[11] Amazingly, that’s not the highest number. I think Mark Levandoski supervised 59 and Clark Lindgren supervised 60 [12].

[12] A reader points out that it appears that Steven Sieck has done 74.

[14] I’m a piker. I only supervised 50.

[15] It would be nice if they entered the data more consistently. For example, I see Clark Lindgren listed as Lindgren, Clark A., Clark Lindgren, and C. Lindgren.

Version 1.0 released 2018-05-08.

Version 1.1 of 2018-05-08.