The lives of others

“In case you thought this is going to be a film review of the German film of the same name, think again. I’m talking about something a little closer to home, the bane of our existence, or so it seems, the people who seem to have made it their lives mission to make life as difficult as possible for anyone trying to do well in school – that’s right folks, I’m talking about our lecturers.

Professors, instructors, teachers, tutors, educators… whatever you want to call them, or just generally speaking, the person who stands in front of you and tries, with varying degrees of success, to impart some knowledge into your little brain.
Now obviously, the degree of success depends on many things, like the lecturer’s ability to get the message across, the subject’s degree of difficulty, how naturally gifted you are, and, of course, how much sleep you got the night before. I am not here however to discuss any of those things. I’m more interested in the other, more human elements of the people who decide that what they really want to do is teach you all about, for instance, Multivariate Normal Distribution. 

Ignoring the obvious question of, ‘why would you want to do that?’, instead think about the smaller details, like how, despite this being TU Delft, home of the country’s best and brightest engineering minds, most lecturers seem to have a really hard time figuring out how to work a light switch. You wouldn’t expect it would you? But it’s the truth: whenever the occasion calls for lights to be dimmed in a lecture hall, well, what usually follows is about five minutes of the lecturer pondering over which button to push. Or how there seems to exist a certain inter-faculty rivalry. Or maybe certain lecturers are just very, very proud to be aerospace engineers, if their comments are anything to go by. Because there seems to be no other reason for the rampant ‘Bouwkunde Bashing’ that often occurred during certain lectures. You wouldn’t go a week without hearing at least one ‘if this is too hard for you, go study architecture’ type comment. But I remember the good old days, back when Bouwkunde still had a building and one aerospace lecture was moved there. Students and lecturer arrived only to find that there wasn’t actually a blackboard in the entire faculty! The professor had to resort to standing on a table and writing on a 2×1 meter whiteboard, which you couldn’t read from five rows back.  But if you’re reading this and are an architecture student, don’t worry, your faculty wasn’t the only one bashed at aerospace. Civil engineers didn’t escape either. While they ranked perhaps slightly higher on the inter-faculty totem pole, they still didn’t come anywhere close to us aerospace engineers. Because you see, a civil engineer can make their structures as big and heavy as they need to, but we in aerospace do not have such freedom: everything we design must be as small and lightweight as we can make it. Anecdotal evidence from older students clearly backs up the claim that we are indeed the smartest faculty in the university, which is why when 30% of first-years get their propedeuse in one year, it’s considered a huge success!
After being at TU Delft for a while, one begins to understand certain things like ‘professor speak’, which involves lots of euphemisms. So if you read that the grades for a particular exam ‘have been based on the best 4 out of 5 questions answered’, you know what that means. It’s the same story when you read ‘and X amount of points was added to the total mark’. What this is telling you, if you don’t already know, is that everybody who sat that exam did so badly that if the professors didn’t give us some points, not only would they have a pass rate of about 10%, but they’d be back there in two months time marking all those re-take exams again.
Which all leads me to wonder whether there is a little black book of ‘professor etiquette’ somewhere, containing all the unspoken rules of what to do and what not to do. Clearly there is one lecturer who never received his copy, if the reaction of his colleagues is anything to go by. Apparently not wiping the board at the end of the lecture is quite the faux pas – who knew?”

Lucia Wamiti, from Kenya, is a BSc student studying aerospace engineering.

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