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Not the first time that I see academia teaching their students the wrong way of doing things. I had to work with some graduates with certain strange ideas about approaching the work and tried to teach them an alternative, at least open their eyes and consider the possibility that what they are doing might not be the right way. Tough job. Sometimes it feels easier to hire somebody with no programming skills and teach them from scratch than to change the mental pathways of stubborn graduates.

On that note, my experience has been that academic environment often does more damage than good to its students. It sometimes takes a monumental effort to make the graduates unlearn all the wrong things they learned in the academic environment before they can proceed further in their professional development without all that bad baggage that keeps pulling them in the wrong direction.

It's like children mistreated by their parents in their youth who will carry their psychological trauma from the childhood through the years and that would detrimentally affect their lives until they get some professional help from a skilled counselor.




I'd been programming for nearly 20 years when I made it to University, everything about the way they taught programming was pretty much hilariously wrong* (not the language choices or any of that, that's just noise in the grand scheme of things) but the approaches and the way they explained how to decompose a problem, write it, test it etc.

Not helped by lecturers who'd either always been lecturers or lecturers who'd left industry 15 years earlier (this was 2005 so they'd have left in 1990).

It was still a valuable experience since a lot of the other stuff was valid but I took all the programming stuff with a massive pinch of salt.

* Except Charlie, Charlie was an ex-telecomms C/Unix God he didn't like the way a lot of the programming stuff was taught but he did point us all to where we should be looking.


>> Not helped by lecturers who'd either always been lecturers or lecturers who'd left industry 15 years earlier (this was 2005 so they'd have left in 1990).

Exactly what I'm talking about. I've met graduates with very weird ideas about how to approach problem solving, and they would eventually confirm it had been taught to them at the university as the one true method of doing things. I remember that I myself had to "accept" some of the ideas being taught to us and recite them at the examination, pretending I agreed with them. Was the only way to get through some courses, and I recall many other students suffering from wrongful instruction. Some tried to argue with the academic staff and get those wrong things fixed, many of them would pay the price later by failing the examination. Apparently, those lecturers and professors didn't like their competence questioned.

About 15 years ago we had a new lecturer come to teach our group. I remember my thoughts after a couple of his lectures: this guy must have been thrown out of every shop that's out there. Was completely useless, even if senior by age (around 50 I believe). Tried to teach us about computers by reading aloud a book similar to the "Computers for dummies" series. Was not a good reader either. From the rumor that was circulating around he had a buddy in the hierarchy and used that to land a job at our university. Was truly pathetic.

As the common saying goes: Those who can do, do. Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, manage.


> It's like children mistreated by their parents in their youth who will carry their psychological trauma from the childhood through the years and that would detrimentally affect their lives until they get some professional help from a skilled counselor.

Please, your analogy just doesn't make any sense. Just because someone is stubborn and doesn't want to relearn something doesn't make it professor fault. Nor does it mean he/she suffered child mistreatment. Parents beating their children leads to mental illnesses if the right genes are present. You are reducing child abuse to banality.


I currently work in academia so I'm obviously biased, but I'll argue that wrong things learned in college is quite a bit different paradigm than child abuse. Hard to unlearn child abuse, it seems.


The long term effects may be just as devastating.

Consider that as a lecturer every your word will carry a meaning. Even an innocuous remark may turn out to be something that will stick with one of your pupils for years and will lead them to make a sequence of wrong decisions that will eventually ruin their life.

Having access to younger minds and influencing their personal and professional development is not a joke. It's that kind of a job which if not done properly may potentially produce the next tyrant.


Being taught the wrong thing for a couple months by a shitty professor when youre a young adult isnt comparable to your parents hitting you as a child. The professor is not your entire world, your brain is much more developed, and youre unlikely to consider all your waking actions in terms of your professional skills.


Your comment saddens me and only confirms what I've been suspecting: a lot of people including those working in academia don't take education seriously and do not comprehend the far-reaching repercussions of their actions.

Generally speaking, a person only begins to reach psychological maturity at around 30 years of age. Until that time all incoming ideas generally fall on a fertile ground, as the person is not yet capable of telling bad apples from the good ones apart and can't always discard the wrong ideas. Sometimes it's exactly those ideas that take and derail somebody's life, unnoticeably, one step at a time.


I mean Im just having trouble understanding a substantial link between wrong information learned in an acedemic envirnment (diverse peer group, diverse set of professors, bulk of learning being self directed, having already developed a worldview thats slightly more robust than "mommy knows everything") and trauma. Yes, it has negative economic reprecussions. Sure, in very rare and extreme cases, doing some wrong due to something you learned in college miight lose you a job (I say rare because it should be obvious that most work processes are wrong or out of date and there aint alot of firing done because of it.) But to equate that one source of incorrect knowledge (as opposed to everything else you hear or see which is true somehow?) with your whole fucking world regularly hitting you, telling you youre worthless, being absent in your life, etc, doesnt really gel with my understanding of childhood trauma.


As a solid example of this... A fellow student was working on a problem that had a key-value mapping, but instead of storing them in a hash table/map/whatever the language wants to call it, he was storing them as pairs in a list and complaining about the performance on a large data set.

I asked him why he wasn't just storing it in a hash table instead. His answer: "Because I sometimes need to iterate over it and get both the key and the value"

My brain had to sit and parse what he'd said for a few moments, before I realized what the heck he was talking about. In all of the data structure courses, he'd been taught "A hash table hashes the key, and stores the value in the corresponding slot". In that mental model, there's no way to retrieve the key, only to retrieve the value given the key.

I explained to him that real-world implementations do do that, but also store the key along-side the value, so that you can still iterate across it. You could see the look of amazement wash over him, and then he frustratingly declared "Why the hell didn't they mention that?!"


What does that have to do with academia? That's just having an overly simplified mental model of something, which all humans do when learning any new thing, whether through a lecture, a random stack overflow question, the compiler manual, or through pure experimentation.


Academia carries with it a larger amount of authority than a random programming forum. Students have the expectation that the academic staff is generally knowledgeable and wise and what they say in all probability is very important, has to be remembered and followed (even if you don't quite understand why yet but perhaps you will in the future).


I don't think "Academia" that doesn't teach critical thinking and only practices its authority over students should be called academic institution.


I agree. And yet, this seems to be the rare type. Often it's just a few people in the staff that are trying to do things the right way, for the others it's simply a nice job (with few responsibilities and seemingly no obligations). That's what I've been trying to get across. Teaching is a sensitive job with far-reaching consequences, yet more often than not people don't take it seriously and don't care what their students will carry with them into the life when they leave the walls of that academic institution.


They probably did mention that, perhaps he wasn't paying attention? Besides, unless you have perfect hashing, you're bound to have a hash collision at some point. How did he expect a hashmap to work in that case, without also keeping track of the key? If he never asked that question he doesn't understand hashing either.


I was in the same lecture, it definitely wasn't mentioned. I'd been hacking on Perl for years before starting school, so I already "knew it in my heart" how it worked in practice. Just one of those little but critical details where something important got missed.

And yes, when you've got a complete understanding, it seems quite obvious that the key has to be stored with it. That's why I got it. He'd just learned it though, and there were still those gaps in his knowledge that he would have carried for a long time until someone else helped point out the missing piece (or he had decided to sit through and make sure he understood everything)


If one thing a STEM professor says can lead to ruining your life, then you probably have a lot worse things going wrong in your life.

DISCLAIMER IAMA academic


"You should apply to graduate school!" Didn't ruin my life, but it did waste 3 years and $30k.


Ok thats a decent point lol..


And apparently hard for the GP to unlearn his academic abuse.


What/who does "GP" refer to?


>> What/who does "GP" refer to?

Grandparent. Two posts up the hierarchy from the person who used the term "GP".


Thank you.

So this is a personal attack then. Frankly, I expected better from the HN community. It looked more evolved when I was just an occasional visitor prior to joining. Rather disappointing.


>> So this is a personal attack then. Frankly, I expected better from the HN community.

It seemed like a bit of a snipe maybe (or a joke where they forgot the smiley). I went back and re-read your original "GP" comment and it seemed like you had encountered a number of students who had trouble as a result of such teaching. The snipe implied your experience was just your own personal problem, which seems false in looking at it again. Relax, it's just people you don't know responding to someone they don't know.


You have some pretty bold claims here and not much to back them up. If you gave us some examples or studies you'd be highly upvoted, in my experience.

Anyway, I appreciate your viewpoint.


>On that note, my experience has been that academic environment often does more damage than good to its students.

How bad are we talking? My small bubble doesn't constitute mountains of data, but I have friends across the US from top-tier and not-so-top-tier schools that aren't damaged goods from academia.

Better yet, are you sure it's academia that screwed up or stubborn individuals who worship the ground their professors walk on? Those are the types of people that see academia as the end all, be all of what's right.




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