'Dear Forums ...': A Student Is Challenging Her Grade, but My Computer Ate My Records. Help!

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Questions …

Grant Proposals: How Do I Write for Both Generalists and Specialists? Q (from euro_trash): I have a big grant application due in 2 weeks. Any advice on writing for both generalists and specialists at the same time? I worry that if I spend too much time defining concepts that the specialists will see incompetence, whereas if I keep too much jargon it will seem incomprehensible to the generalists. How does one strike a balance? Is it possible?

I’ll add that those in my field at my uni think the proposal is acceptable for submission as is, though the generalists on my campus don't understand the approach and methods and tell me to "focus" more. But I'm certain the science is good.

The thing is that after peer review, generalists will make the final call. Advice?

... and Answers

Two-Location Problem. Eighteen months ago, I accepted a new position and picked up my family and moved to a different state. We listed our home, which has no repair needs and is located in a nice, quiet development. Unfortunately, it was in an area where the housing market was pretty flat. We are renting an apartment in our new location, which has a very active housing market. It's so active, in fact, that houses are usually under contract within 24 hours of the time they’re listed, in part because of the awesome school district. Homes in our new area are also substantially more expensive than they were in our old location. So, without selling our existing home, we can't afford to purchase a good home in our new location. We are now on our second sales agent and have reduced the price of our home substantially to the point where we cannot afford to reduce it any further. But it is still not selling, thanks to the flat market where we used to live. We toyed with renting out our old home, but our agent has recommended against it because the spring selling season is cranking up. We are starting to get concerned that, with the improving economy, we will soon be unable to afford the nicer homes in our new area and instead will end up chasing the market. I’d be interested in receiving advice from people who went through similar experiences. Did you rent your home? Did you wait the market out successfully? What recommendations can you offer us so that we make a wise financial decision moving forward?

A (from professor_pat): Not that your agent isn't trustworthy, but he or she stands to gain a lot by the sale of your house, and nothing by your renting it. So I'm not at all surprised that s/he recommends keeping it on the market. Is there someone else you could ask about renting prospects?

A (from monarda): We're in a similar situation. We're renting out our house in the old location because we're waiting for the market to recover a bit more before we try to sell. We have very good tenants, so there's no rush to sell. We actually lived in the house for only 2 years, and we’ve been renting it for 7 years now! Still waiting for the market, and making a nice profit in the meantime.

What do you think you could rent your house for? What are your mortgage payments? Will rents cover all your expenses to keep the house?

You can probably rent your old house month-to-month to new faculty at your old university, while they decide where to buy. Who knows? They might even buy your house.

A (from pedanterast): It sounds to me like you can't afford not to reduce the price, if it's not selling. Now, is the market really that slow or are you, like a lot of people, unrealistic about what your house is really worth? Because being an absentee landlord really sucks and the tax laws aren't real great for landlords now either.

A (from burnie): One of my colleagues used a local rental agency to lease his house. They handle the repairs and he gets the rent (and pays them a small stipend). It has worked out great. That might be an option if you choose to rent.

A (from brixton): Play on one of the many apps/sites that let you know what your house is worth and allow you to see what other houses are selling for in the area -- Zillow, Trulia, etc. Maybe the market will go up, but it also could go down or stay flat. I'd never consider renting out a house from a distance, unless I knew the renters well. There are just too many things that can go wrong. Renting also won't free up any equity (if you have any equity) in the house, which would help with a down payment. It also will put you at a disadvantage with regard to what you can borrow towards the new house. I wouldn't worry about chasing the market -- things go up; things go down. If your area is starting to feel hot and you're feeling pressure to buy in, that’s all the more reason to wait.

A Student Is Challenging Her Grade, But My Computer Ate My Records. Help! A grad student earned a 69 percent in my class, which I generously bumped up to a C on final grade submission. Now that she's seen the grade on her report card, she's angry, believing she earned a higher mark. She has emailed me asking for an explanation of the grade.

The problem is that last week—after I submitted my grades but before she emailed me—I had a computer problem that required reformatting my drive. I thought I'd put the grade spreadsheet file in my Dropbox, but evidently it was on the desktop, and now it's gone. I've tried using fancy undelete recovery software, searching previous versions of my Dropbox account, and everything else I can think of, but it's just gone, I'm afraid.

So how do I explain to her that she earned a D+, which I actually nudged in her favor, but that I don't have any evidence to prove this?

A (from figee): I’d have her bring all of her marked pieces of work in, with her grades on them and do the maths in front of her.

A (from alleyoxenfree): What figee said. Ask her to bring the graded work and agree to spend a limited amount of time talking about how she can improve.

You might also point out that, if she was unhappy with the grades on that work, or didn't understand the grades/comments, the time to discuss them would have been during the semester. Many students engage in wishful thinking (especially if they are not attending or meeting deadlines) that the pitiful amount of work they have done will somehow transform into an A.

And if it's not already on your syllabus, add wording to the effect that students must save all their graded work until the grade is posted. This puts the responsibility on them to save the evidence, rather than turning your office into a storehouse.

A (from untenured): This student is probably looking for a fight. If you disclose the data loss, she will likely only see weakness and try to exploit it. You could speak generally to how grades are evaluated (careful attention to rubrics, factors that were greatest challenge to students, grade weights), mention the final average (69 percent, which you know), and then say that you were generous and bumped to her to a C. You may also empathize with how hard this student worked, and it must be frustrating, etc., and that may mollify her.

But I wouldn't disclose the data loss. It's not relevant. The grades were evaluated and recorded as they should have been. Their loss afterwards is not ideal, but is also not grounds for a revision.

A (from larryc): "Dear Student: The grade I submitted for you was generous, considering your performance in this class. If you think I made an error in assigning your grade and want to appeal, please send me a 2-page memo explaining why you think I made an error. Include the grades your earned on all your assignments in the memo. It is your responsibility to make the case for a higher grade. When I have received your memo we can schedule an office appointment to discuss your grade."

Then just ignore any subsequent emails unless she produces the memo. Or resend the exact same message.

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