Marking with Memes


Here in what has now been awkwardly titled “The Chemistry Academic Unit”, we have to provide feedback for students. Part of the upshot of this is that postgraduates get drafted in (literally- we have a mandated number of hours work that we have to do as part of the Ph. D. experience) to mark the lab reports.

Which is an enlightening experience, I assure you.

All the time, we are looking for innovative ways to ensure that students do not make the same mistakes again. Trying desperately to ensure that our feedback is returned in a manner that people will identify with and understand. At the same time, the popular Southampton Uni Memes facebook page has not gone un-noticed. So here is my thought: feedback in the medium of meme.

To illustrate, I have taken some of the most common mistakes our dear undergraduates make that could so easily be avoided. In so doing I hope that I am contributing to your overall feedback experience.

Why you no show working?

This is my biggest peeve- because I know you have this information. You have written an answer to a question, or the result of a calculation. You might even have included a margin of error. You might, if you are particularly sharp, have mentioned that the margin was calculated using a “worst case scenario”. This is a sure fire way to haemorrhage marks, because I, your marker who did not do the practical work, and have only 20 minutes to mark each lab script, have no idea how you came to get that number, and cannot to re-do the calculation for each of the 120-odd reports in my to-do pile.

This meme could also equally have use for

  • Doing the further work questions (they carry marks you know…)
  • Labelling your graph axes
  • Demonstrating the margins of error on your graph
  • Including your raw data
  • Performing the step so your values have the right number of significant figures

Yes it seems petty, yes it is time consuming- but that is why there are so many marks up for grabs- if you just tell the examiner what it was you did (heck, you took the time to do it)!

And when I say you should include these things. I mean fully. You know –

Show All the Working

On an unrelated note:

Jackie Chan Meme Face

I know you are trying to to tell me something. I know you are trying hard at your course. But you have given me this… thing. This block of text with no punctuation, or a confusingly laid out diagram, or just a total absence of whitespace. More key, I know that some people do struggle with this important skill. And I want to help you. But I need you to ask for help before you hand in your report- rather than leaving me to contend with this strange item set before me…

By the by, the equation editor in your word processor is your friend. Use it.

I don't always word process equations

Comic Sans Signs

It’s a science report. Really, please don’t do this. Then there’s always the joker who thinks papyrus is a good idea. I’ll leave you with this thought:

Do not use papyrus in your report...

All of this assumes of course, that you are trying, that you want to be here and that you are just hoping for the day when the only meme that will apply will be:

Not Bad Obama MemeAnd you people, you people make the marking worthwhile. You people who worry about your progress in life, who get wound up and a little stressed when the feedback you recieve isn’t what you want. For you, there is hope. You will get better- and we are here to help you. So ask.

There are of course, certain others. You turned up to the lab hungover. You left your lab notebook at an acquaintances house in a stupor the night before and when it came to hand in your lab report, you decided to only do half the required analysis and didn’t answer any of the extended questions. For you, we have this meme.

Bill Nye and Niel Degrasse Tyson question your willingness to do science.

Because this stuff is the most key part to your scientific learning, and if you don’t care, nor will we. But if you are going to show a bit of pro-activeness, come talk to the staff, get a handle on what you need to do to personally improve, then your grade will be good- because you will know how to do the work properly. And I’ll say it once more for good measure: if you are stuck, ask. We are here to help.

True Story Meme


Philip Adler is a Ph. D. Student of Crystallography, studying in Chemistry.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. avatar
    A fellow chem grader

    Good article, I find that most points are lost by not showing work or following the script to the letter. Just the other week, while demonstrating, I had a student asking whether they *really* had to follow what was written on the script in order to do the experiment. Come on people!

    My favourite reports are the ones that are half-blank because their printer ran out of ink. It happens particularly often to people using colour printing, so their figures tend to be all axes and no plot.

    On the subject of plots, at least 90% of the data students are asked to graph can be done using scatter plots. Learn to use them, and keep the point sizes sensible. Seriously, pie charts and bar graphs are the stuff of A-levels and Economics students.

    Finally, I tend to feel bad for the people who write half a page to answer a question and get it so wrong I can’t even award partial points. At least they are trying!

    I’m glad I’m not the only one noticing these issues.

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