Tuesday, 4 June 2013

You are now number three in line...

My students must think I am crazy when I tell them that I read their drafts on first-come-first-served basis. For each of them, their draft is the highest priority. But I cannot see any other way of dealing with it. I cannot take on the responsibility of deciding that any particular student's work is more urgent than any other. I cannot even say that masters' drafts are more important than PhDs or the other way round. So I just say, first-come-first-served, and I don't read drafts during the weekends (unless specifically agreed with the student).

Now, a draft is a relative concept. Some drafts are five pages, some are forty. Some offer a coherent argument, some are notes and quotes. The latter are the hardest to assess. What can I say beyond: “Carry on”? A full masters thesis draft – 20,000 words – takes anything between three and twenty hours to read and comment on. This year, I have six masters students, and if I read two drafts of each – well, some simple calculation. Further, I have PhD students who insist on producing their chapters drafts in sync with the masters, before the end of term. A chapter is also usually about 20,000 words, and it can also take any number of hours to read. Some students have complained that I don't give them enough feedback. When a chapter is really good, I typically say so, possibly offering some minor comments on structure or suggesting an additional source. But I can imagine that a student who has spent weeks upon weeks on a chapter is disappointed to merely hear: “Excellent – now go and write the next chapter”. Fine, I will give more feedback (there is always something you can say even about the most brilliant chapter), but it takes more time. Hmm... that's what I am paid for.

Of course I cannot read drafts ten hours non-stop. It would be unfair toward the student whose draft I read last on the day. I'd either be too grumpy and find faults or too tired to make sensible comments. Which means that I need breaks every now and then, and occasionally I need to eat. For breaks, I go out and do some gardening. It's tempting to stay in the garden and never return to those lovely drafts, but I have fantastic self-discipline. Yet finally I reach a stage when I don't understand what I am reading anymore, and then I need to stop and re-read the draft the next day to make sure I haven't missed anything. And correct the typos in my comments.

By the time I have read all lined-up drafts there will be more coming. And I write back to the student to acknowledge that the draft has arrived, saying: “You are now number three in line. I will deal with your draft as soon as I can”.

Mind, I love my job!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For all the problems that are involved in commenting on drafts, it really is so much more rewarding than marking exams or any other form of assessment when the process is over. At least with drafts there is a sense of dialogue. ... and yes, I did understand your point. Lydia