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Posts in category Interviews

Guitar Man – Gaurav Genani on his Graduation Project

One of my closest friends here in Delft, Gaurav Genani, has
been working on his graduation project as a Master’s student at the Faculty of
Industrial Design Engineering. We play in a band together and he’s one hell of
a guitarist. I was very intrigued by his topic of his graduation project. I
hope you guys will find it exciting too!

 

Q. So is it a graduation project or a thesis?

A. So how it works is that in the Industrial Design
Engineering Master Program there are 4 semesters and each semester is worth
thirty credits. So the final semester consists of a graduation project worth 30
credits. So strictly speaking, it’s not a thesis. But all other faculties here
have theses and Industrial Design has a graduation project. So the graduation
project will prove if you are capable and ‘good enough’ to graduate, like a
thesis.

 

Q. So what’s the graduation project like?

A. There are 3 main fields: Strategic Product Design, Design for
Interaction and Integrated Product Design. These three different fields have their own
demands. My field is Integrated Product Design and I have to demonstrate, through my
product, how the user perceives what works and what doesn’t in it.

 

Q. What’s YOUR graduation project about?

A. My graduation project deals with ergonomics of electric
guitars. I’m part of the ergonomics group so my graduation project should
somehow deal with ergonomics. So, I’m a guitarist and I wanted to bring that
into my work. I wanted to explore the injuries and the strains that revolve
around guitarists.

 

Q. It’s like your integrating your creative passion with you
work.

A. Yes, I’m a guitarist so the analysis was somewhat done in
my head already. Sometimes students get attached to projects that are
completely new for them like sustainability and they have to go through the
initial phase of getting used to the project. I could somewhat go past that
since I have an understanding of the subject. It allowed me to go into deeper
analysis of the project.

 

Q. So what’s the product you’re working on?

A. I wanted to explore how you attach the instrument to your
body. The most common and pretty much the only way for electric guitars is a
strap around the neck. But this has a lot of biomechanical problems. But as I’ve
found, it also turns out that you can attach it to your waist as well. So I’ve
made a belt and I’m thinking of an attachment to fasten the guitar to the belt.
So the link is based on zero-gravity tool holders which are used in assembly
lines. So due to that principle you don’t need to use much body strength to
hold it. From a musician’s perspective, the neutral position should not require
strain on any extra muscles. So the guitar should remain in position without
using extra force.  I’m currently working
on building it here using aluminium and steel brackets and springs. That’s the
main idea.

 

Q. So what’s next?

A. After building the prototype, I’ll be reviewed in a ‘Greenlight’
meeting. It’s a no go sort of a thing where it will be decided if I’m on the
right track to graduating.

 

Gaurav working on building the product 

Well, fingers crossed and I hope this works out well. Being
a somewhat of a guitar player myself, I think this is a much needed aspect of
the instrument.

Thanks For the interview Gaurav!
And I’ll be expecting the product once it’s one the market. Free of charge!

Tot Later

 

 

 

 

Robot Man- Aswin Chandarr on his Thesis

My company these days in Delft mainly comprises of my
friends who are in various Master tracks at the TU Delft. This is due to the
fact that most of my peers from my own faculty and Bachelor program have gone
back home for the summers. This leads to various conversations I have with my
older friends who are mostly completing their Thesis and are in the process of
graduating.

One such friend is Aswin Chandarr. He’s currently in the
process of writing his Master’s thesis and hopes to graduate soon. He has been
part of the faculty of Mechanical Engineering and is specializing in
Biorobotics. So here’s a little interview I conducted with him talking about
his Thesis and what it deals with and his graduation process. He was kind
enough to take out some time and answer my questions! Thank you Aswin J

 

Q. How would you describe your thesis to a layperson like
me with no background in Robotics?

A. To be short, I’d say it’s about bringing personal
robots in households. We have seen robots in science fiction films like Star
Wars etc.  But we haven’t seen robots
outside the laboratory. So the overall goal of my Thesis is to bring robots
outside the laboratory so they can be utilized practically.

 

Q. Don’t robots for households already exist?

A. There are some robots, say, like a dishwasher. But real
personal robots are still not there. We’re targeting at personal robots in
hospitals that will help patients in need or at airports to help lost
passengers and guide directions.

 

Q. So this is the general idea. What is your Thesis specifically
focussing on?

A. Object recognition. The whole group is targeting ‘perception’
as in objects, faces and sounds. My colleague’s thesis focuses on facial
recognition but mine focuses on object recognition. And this will be set in a
small indoor environment with everyday small usable objects which can be
grasped by the robots. For example if I ask the robot to grab me a can of cola
it will get me a can of cola and not a carton of milk. A lot of algorithms are
present that work only in laboratory conditions. For instance, you click a
photo of the object and then the robot will only identify that object. But my goal is to get the robot to
identify differences within similar looking objects as well. The problem with current
recognition is that it will identify the same object as two different objects
depending on what side it ‘sees’.

 

Q. When are you due with your Thesis?

A. Basically I’m done. I’m just writing the report right
now and my defence is on August 28.

 

Q. Do you hope to carry on with this research after you’re
done with you Masters here?

A. I’m starting my PhD from September and it will
basically be an extension of this current project. Right now the concept is
more robust than before but still not robust enough. So I’d like to continue to
that further.

 

Q. So did you guys actually make a robot?

A. Yes as a group we did and we went to Mexico for a
competition. The team comprised of four Master’s students doing their thesis on
it, three bachelor’s students and a PhD researcher leading the team.

 

Thank you again Aswin! It was great to get your insight into
the world of a student completing his Master’s Thesis. I’ll hopefully get a
picture of the root when it’s back from Mexico.

 

Aswin with his fuel- Coffee 

 

And there will be more of these interviews to follow!

 

Tot Later

 

Professor Interviews- Dr. Arvind Gangoli Rao

So here’s the second interview of my ‘Professor Interviews’
series. This one’s with the professor of my ‘Propulsion and Power’ course. It
doesn’t really get more Aerospace than this. Propulsion and Power deals with,
well, mainly engines.  And the professor
I had a liking to teaches the Aircraft Engine part of the course. Now it’s kind
of a wonder that he’s one of my favourite professors since I’m not really
inclined towards the aircraft side of things. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s
the fact that he’s Indian. Maybe it’s because I’ve actually got everything in his lectures. Maybe it’s
because he once famously quoted on a vocally tiring day ‘Women speak 7000 words
on average in a day. Men speak about 2000. This is my fifth lecture today so
bear with me.’

And now, Dr. Arving Gangoli Rao! (Warning: He doesn’t like details much)

 

Q1.
Let’s start with the beginning. Where and what did you study during your higher
education?
Ans:- I did my M.Tech
(Master of Technology) and PhD in Aeropsace engineering at IIT Bombay, India.

 

Q2.
Since you’ve mentioned India, what are the major differences you can see in the
higher education back home and over here in Delft. Though your experience here
has mostly been from the professor’s point of view.

Ans:-
I am not sure if I can answer this question correctly. I think that here the
freedom in  choosing your courses and
defining your individual track is more than in India.  Also we use more active teaching techniques
over here.

 

Q3.
The course you teach me, ‘Propulsion and Power’, is a very typical Aerospace Engineering
course dealing with aircraft and spacecraft engines. What drew you to this
particular field of study?

Ans:-
I was fascinated by aircrafts from an early age in my life. During my masters,
I choose the propulsion track. I found aero engine as a fantastic piece of
engineering.  I was amazed by the amount
of thrust which these engines produce. 
As Frederick Rentschler, the founder of Pratt & Whitney once said, “
The
best airplanes can only be designed around the best engines
”.

Q4. Which would you consider
as your favourite aircraft engine and why?

Ans:-
this is a very difficult question
J because every engine
is customised to meet the requirements of the aircraft. In civil engines, I
find GE90 as a good engine. It has the world record of being the highest thrust
producing engines. In military engines, I find Pratt and Whitney, F119 engine,
used in F22 facinating.

 

Q5.
Having attended your lectures, I’ve noticed that you quite often ask students
questions during the lectures. This is not very common with some other lectures
I have attended. How important do you think it is to have this kind of
interaction during a lecture ?

 Ans:-
yes, you are right.
  I like to interact
with students. I like when students ask question. When I teach, my goal is not
to finish a given chapter but to make the students understand the underlying
physical principles.
  That is also the
reason why many a times I am not able to finish the slides that I had planned
for.
  I believe that quality is more
important than quantity and that’s also the reason why every year the contents
of the course is updated or modified.
  I
also like to use videos/ clips/ animations. It has been my experience that the
students understand the physical principles better. 

 

Q6. What would you call the most memorable time of your life as a student
and/or working professionally?

Well that went better than expected! And to all you cynics
out there, I got an extra bonus point. Go write a blog sometimes. It might help
you academically.

Thank you Dr. Rao!

 

Tot Later!

 

 

Professor Interviews- Christos Kassapoglou (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the second part of the interview with Mr
Christos Kassapoglou. When I had approached him about the interview, he had
asked me what I was going to ask him. Not having thought of any questions yet,
I said ‘you’ll see’. I think he probably saw right through me and suggested I
ask him about his cat. So I did.

 

Q. Structural
Analysis and Design is a rather ‘unfunny’ course. You still manage to somehow
capture the students in your lectures with subtle humorous anecdotes. I
personally find it a lot easier to get through a rather complicated lecture if
the professor is at the same level as the student and makes it interesting with
humorous examples. Do you think adding a touch of humour to the lectures is
effective in teaching young undergraduate students?

A. I do.  Not every student finds everything in a
lecture fascinating to stay focused and I do not presume even for a minute I am
such a good lecturer to keep everybody’s attention.
  Breaking up the pace with some anecdote can
be very helpful.  Anecdotes definitely help me relax and prepare for the rest of the
lecture.
  It is important to have
anecdotes that are related to the topic discussed at the moment.  It
makes the topic more real and reminds people that the subject is not always an
abstraction without relation to real life.
 
What is interesting is that I
never plan the anecdotes
.  So
sometimes no anecdote comes to mind and others more than once during a
lecture.  But I try to keep them to no more than one (two maybe if there is an
evening lecture).  After all, the purpose
of the lecture is to explain the course material.
  Anecdotes should be kept to a minimum.

 

 

Q. What’s the deal
with your cat?

A. My cat is quite a
character.
  But then again, this is
probably what every pet lover will say about their pet(s).  Her
name is Barbarossa (Red Beard).  Because
she is red/orange, and 90% of red/orange cats are male, we (my wife and I)
thought when she was very young that she was a he, hence the name. 
Yes, we could have checked in detail to
find out her gender but we thought we knew what we were doing and did not check
very closely.  Barbarossa grew up being in charge of the house until our son was
born.  Now she is dethroned but she does
not mind.  She is very docile with our
son (he is 3 years old) and does not defend herself when, in a mixture of
overwhelming love and vengeful jealousy, our son tries to choke her.
 We have to keep an eye and save her every once
in a while. 

Our cat will fetch
things when you throw them as long as they are reasonably small and light.  She understands a lot of Greek words.  We are trying to teach her some Dutch words
but with little success.  I think our
Dutch is still of very poor quality and she 
prefers more qualified teachers.

 

 

 

Q. What’s been the most memorable moment
of your academic and professional career?

A. It is too early for me to pick a memorable moment in my
(short) academic career (4 years).  There
are many memorable moments but none sticks out as most memorable.  In
my professional career, (26 years in industry), there is one that I will never
forget.  It was two years after I finished
my studies at the university and I was working in a small company in the US
developing one of the first all-composite airplanes.  In and of itself, that project was one of the
best things that happened to me in my professional life.
 The experience, the people, the attitude, the
challenge, was something unsurpassed ever since. 

For a new airplane design, one of the things you have to
demonstrate is that, with the worst expected damage present at the worst
possible location in the structure, the structure can still meet the highest
load expected in service without failing. 
So I was given the task of
selecting what types of damage and at what locations we should put them.  At the time defining the type and size of
damage was a little hazier than what it is today (it is still quite hazy).
  So I took all the detailed results we had
from maximum stresses in the fuselage and wing (these were results from
multiple finite element runs representing the different flight manoeuvres the
aircraft would go through in its lifetime) and found the most highly loaded locations of the wing and fuselage for different
manoeuvres.  For the rest of the story we
will concentrate on the wing because it was the one that was tested first and
is responsible for the memorable experience.
  There were about 15 different critical
locations on the wing.  On each location, I decided how big of a
crack we would create or how big of an impact (simulating hail storm damage for
example) we had to apply
.  At the
three most critical locations (the ones with the lowest safety margins), I
decided to put two types of damage next to each other (crack and impact) to
simulate worst case scenarios which may be improbable but not impossible.

Up to that point I
had viewed this as an academic exercise.
 
After all, I had only been out of
university for two years and did not easily understand the implications of some
of my work.
 The full scale test of
the wing, however, was one of the two most important tests for the entire
program (the other being the fuselage) and, literally, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of work depended on successful
completion of this test.
  So,
naturally, my recommendations for damage locations, types and sizes, had to be
approved by the chief of structures.  A
brilliant British engineer in his late 40s to whom I really owe a lot.  As
soon as he saw my report he “blew a gasket”. 
He screamed my name and I had to immediately go in an emergency meeting
with him.  He said: “Do you realize how
aggressive your scenarios are?  This is
too much damage and at the worst locations nonetheless!  Are you trying to sink the entire program?”
  I explained that my selections were still
within the limits of what the entire group had discussed.  Granted
on the very edge of the worst case scenarios but wasn’t that what we were
supposed to demonstrate?”  He was not
convinced but he was willing to listen (a trait fast disappearing from industry
and academia these days). 
He thought
for a moment and finally said: “OK.  We will go with your recommendations.  But if anything goes wrong with this test, it
is your behind!
  (He actually used a
slightly different and less appropriate word here).  And I want you up there on the wiffle tree
during the limit load!  I want cameras
monitoring the three worst locations with you standing next to the most
critical one holding the “abort” button! 
If you see even the tiniest
growth of damage, you stop the test

The “wiffle” tree is
the scaffolding and fixturing used to hold the wing during the test and apply
the loads.
  It is a large complex
structure clamped on the floor and the ceiling with all kinds of arms, frames
and brackets, holding the wing at different locations and applying prescribed
loads using actuators.  I was to climb up next to the worst
critical location with my eyes glued to the three cameras and the most critical
location next to me.
  I was to wear
some protective equipment (helmet etc). 
I was to hold the “abort” button. 
And I was to pray and hope that nothing went wrong.  If a
wing breaks during a test like that, the amount of energy released is
enormous.  Things tend to fly far and
fast obliterating anything they find along the way.  This is why you don’t go to the full-scale
test without being 110% sure you will pass it. 
You do all kinds of detailed analysis and testing of sub-components
to prove to yourself you are ready for the real thing.

Needless to say, that meeting ruined all my days after that
until the day of the test.  I was forced to realize that we are dealing
with real structures here, that people’s lives will depend on them in the
future and that our design decisions had better be as good as possible. 

In the days leading up to the day of the test, I checked and
double checked all my calculations.  Never before or since have I scrutinized my
work in more detail.  And I did not get
much sleep during those days either.
 
And the big moment came.  After
the technicians set up and verified everything, they pushed the “start” button
and left the room.  I was all alone up on
a scaffolding with a monster wing below me slowly building up load.  The
whole test, lasted for about 30 seconds. 
The  30 hardest, most hectic,
perhaps heroic, and, definitely, nerve wracking seconds of my life.  I have done quite a few dangerous things in
my life not the least of which was hang-gliding including some reasonably
spectacular crashes.  But this was by far
the scariest.
 Here you have an
entire wing coming at you.  And you can
hear all kinds of noises as the structure relaxes, the scaffolding eases into position,
bolts move slightly, metal and composite rub against each other.  And you have to be careful to differentiate
typical noises from the beginning of failure. 

Half way through the test I hid behind a big I-beam of the
scaffolding, with my eyes glued at the critical location still relentlessly
approaching me.  (This was a wing
up-bending test).  Every second or so I
would look at the cameras to monitor the other locations and then back to the
critical site still moving towards me.  Did I hold my breath?  I do not know.  I know that after the test my heart rate
probably hit the fastest it ever did in my life.  Finally, the wing reached the highest point
and highest load, at about a meter away from my face.  No change in damage size.  No extra noise.  No explosion. 
Then, as slowly as it came up, it started moving away from me until it
reached its original (level flight) position. 
We had passed the test!  I was
right all along! (And perhaps a bit lucky?).

I climbed down the scaffolding, and joined the others in an
adjoining room.  So how did the test go? asked the chief of structures (as if he did not
know already) with a smile from one ear to the next.  Oh, no problem at all, I responded trying to
keep my voice steady and pretend to be a seasoned engineer during just another
day at work.

I kept the shirt I
was worrying that day as a memento of my first and most difficult challenge in
my professional life.  This was one of
the most educational days of my life.  In
fact, if you normalize it by the time duration of the 30 seconds of the test,
it was the densest educational content I have ever experienced.

 

Q. Finally, does conducting this
interview make me eligible for a bonus point? Please? Pretty please?

A. Unfortunately, not
for structural analysis and design.  If
this were a journalism course, then definitely. 
But I doubt they would ever let me teach a journalism course.

 

I would sincerely like to thank Mr. Kassapoglou for his
swift yet detailed answers to my questions. I hope you guys enjoyed reading it!
Personally, I found it quite educational and interesting.  Let’s hope we all encounter  ‘wiffle tree’ moments in our life.

Tot Later

Professor Interviews- Christos Kassapoglou (Part 1)

Quite
recently, I decided to start a series of blogs interviewing some of my favorite
professors. I had this ‘epiphany’ during one of my ‘Structural Analysis and
Design’ lectures (so much for paying full attention in class). Naturally, I
decided to start with the lecturer of that course, since he is one of my
favorites (and trust me the list isn’t very long).

Now let me
remind you, that Structural Analysis and Design is the most challenging course
I have encountered in my Aerospace program yet. So it’s only fair to give the
man a chance to answer some questions that I think you’d enjoy knowing the
answers to.

I’ve split
this interview of 8 questions into two parts, since he was nice enough to
answer my questions in quite some
detail. Though I have his permission to shorten the interview answers, I prefer
not to since it wouldn’t really be fair. So without further due, here’s Mr.
Christos Kassapoglou!

 

Q. Since the readership of this blog consists
of many prospective students, we’ll start with the course you teach me (and 400
other students). So how would you describe ‘Structural Analysis and Design’ to
the average person?

A. Any
structure must be able to withstand the forces that will be exerted to it
during its lifetime without failing. 
This is even more important for an airplane where any failure can be a
major disaster in terms of lives of people in the airplane and on the
ground.  An airplane is not like an automobile which, if it breaks down you park
to the side of the road and arrange for it to be picked up and driven to the
garage shop for repairs.  If a wing
breaks or a fuselage punctures, you cannot just “park” the airplane and arrange
for another one to come and pick up the passengers.  So coming up with the geometry (dimensions,
thicknesses) and material (Aluminum, Titanium, steel, composite, etc) such that
the structure performs its “duty” (lift off the ground and fly) without
breaking apart for 20 or 30 years is extremely important.  This is what structural design is about.
  In order to design a structure one must
determine how the externally applied loads (forces) are transmitted internally
through the structure and make sure the local loads (stresses and strains) that
develop do not lead to failure.  This course is about determining the
internal loads and setting the groundwork for selecting the geometry and
materials that guarantee there is no failure under the externally applied
loads.

 

Q. I’m very interested about the academic
origins of professors, so where and what did you study during your university
years?  

A. After finishing high school in Greece, I
went to the US at MIT to do my BS degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics.  After that, I did two MS degrees, again at
MIT, one in Mechanical Engineering and one in Aeronautics and
Astronautics.  I majored in structures
and, in particular composite materials.
There is a somewhat interesting
story related to that.
  After my second year as an undergraduate I
had decided I wanted to work in aerodynamics, in particular turbulence.
 I was interested in the fact that other than
very time consuming solutions obtained by the computer, and very few closed
form solutions for special cases, the governing equations (Navier-Stokes) were
very difficult to solve in more general cases.
 
Keep in mind I was a naïve second
year student at the time.
  I am a bit
less naïve now and have a lot more respect for the Navier-Stokes
equations.
  One day, I was talking to a professor during lunch and  I mentioned I was really interested in
aerodynamics.  One thing brought another
and, at some point, he said:  “Do you
know Werner Heisenberg who came up with the uncertainty principle in physics?”  Of course I knew him.
  We had covered some simplified versions of
his work both in high school and in the university.
  And I had a lot of respect for someone who
was capable of such tremendous contributions in physics
.  “Well”, said the professor,
“Heisenberg also was interested in turbulence. 
He started working on that and decided it was too hard.  Switched to physics and got the Nobel prize
for coming up with the uncertainty principle”.
  So I told myself: “What am I doing even
thinking about turbulence if guys like Heisenberg gave up”?
  This
of course was not the only reason I switched to structures but was one of them.

 

Q. What brought you to teaching, and in
particular teaching at TU Delft?
 

A. For the longest time, I was very much
against any type of involvement in teaching. 
As a student I had had professors in courses who were brilliant
researchers but terrible teachers. 
And
I also had professors who were brilliant researchers but also superb
communicators and I learned so much in their courses.  This comparison between the two made me appreciate how hard it is to
explain something to someone especially if it is not a simple concept, no
matter how well you may understand it or think you understand it yourself.
  I had and have tremendous respect for people
who can explain things well to others. 
And I am still very concerned that I have a responsibility towards the
average student that steps in the classroom with the expectation to learn
something from me.

So for the
longest time, I would refuse to even
consider such a possibility.  Besides I
was having too much fun working in industry.
  Until, four years ago, a good friend of mine
who is much more far-sighted than I am, started pestering me about coming to
TUDelft.  Now TUDelft is not just any university. 
If you spend some time in the field of structures for example, you come
across quite a few big names who have made tremendous contributions in the
field and they were all at one time or another associated with TUDelft.
  So, my inherent concern about the
difficulties in teaching and my appreciation of the fact that TUDelft is not
the University of Southwestern Beach somewhere, made me very skeptical.  He insisted and he finally convinced me to
give it a try.  Part time at first.  I was
impressed (and still am) by the academic standards here.  Some of the students here would shine in any
university of the planet.
  As some of
the professors.  I was very worried at
the beginning about teaching and getting my point across.  I still am. 
Each lecture is a test for me and
I don’t always pass the test.  But I
stuck with it because I liked it and I hope to stick with it for quite some
time longer.

 

Q. We’ve all heard and you yourself have
famously put up the ‘angry comments’ of students’ reactions to your exams. How
do you deal with that?

A. The exam is not hard.  I could make it so hard that I could not
solve it.  But it is not easy either.  The purpose of the exam is to determine which
students have learned the material and to what extent.
 

The second
year structures course is the first course where the student is asked to use
the majority of what he/she has learned up to that point: Calculus,
differential equations, statics, mechanics, and so on.  And it
is not a matter of “having seen” these topics before.  It is a matter of having understood them in
depth and being able to use them.
  The course also gives the students (or
tries to) a flavor of real life.
In
real life you will not always be given a problem that is similar to what you
have solved before.  And you will not be
told what assumptions to make.  In real
life those giving you the problem usually have no clue what the answer is.  It is up to you to come up with an approach
that can simplify the problem, reach an answer or, usually more than one
answers, and then decide if the answer is acceptable or not.  Or, among multiple answers, pick the
“best”. 

So the exams
are a tiny attempt to give students a taste of real life.  First
and foremost, I make a big effort to make sure that each exam is different than
any previous exam.  Not just in terms of
the questions being dissimilar but the type of questions being very different
from those in previous exams.
  Even
though the material is the same, the problems in the exam are “turned around” in
ways that give different perspectives of how the material is applied
Second, all the basic topics covered in the course are examined in the
exam. 
This means there are at least four
problems.  Third, the aim is to see if the students understand the basics and not
if they have learned how to follow procedures or recipes for solution methods.
  To learn procedures, you do not need to go to
a university, definitely not TU Delft in any case.  Fourth,
there is usually an easy question and a hard question.  The easy question gives the students
confidence in what they are doing.  The
hard question gives me an idea if I did a reasonable job during the lectures.
  The more students answer it correctly the
happier I am.  It also gives me an idea
of which students are capable of solving the more challenging engineering
problems.  All other questions are
in-between.
 

There is another aspect that makes the exams
unattractive to some students.
  At least one of the
problems is taken directly from something I mentioned in the lecture.  After
the first few lectures, more than half of the students elect not to attend
lectures and, most of them, rely on collegerama.  But following collegerama is not the same as
being in the lecture.
  Unless you
really focus, you miss a lot of things. 
Sitting on a couch at home with all kinds of other things in your mind,
it is hard to focus enough to grasp concepts in detail.  So a lot of students are surprised with a
question that they did not expect because it is not exactly covered in the textbook
or they missed it in collegerama.  Most of the time, I can tell when I grade
the exam who was paying attention and who was not by checking how they did on
that question. 

In addition,
there is always one question based on the studio classroom work (application
sessions).  In the first year, many
students elected not to do the application sessions because they were not
mandatory.  This year, most of them are
trying to attend even though they are still not mandatory.  The rumor that one question in the exam is
related to that material has gone around.

So how do I deal with students’ angry
comments about the exam?  First, if
possible, I check on how many students are angry (at least were angry enough to
comment).  So far, the number has been
less than 8%
and, even
if I double that to include students that were afraid or otherwise unwilling to
express their negative views, that is too low to consider the exam too
hard.  Unfortunately, more recently,
students refrain from expressing the comments in venues (e.g. aerostudents.com)
to which I have access so I do not have any recent detailed data.  Second,
I read the comments and try to understand, behind the frustration, what went
wrong.  If the complaint is realistic, I
try to make changes next time.  Finally,
I also check if the person making the complaint actually had studied for the
exam.  Since I do not know their names I
can only go by what they say.  If they
say that they started studying two days before the exam or they looked at 4
previous exams and were able to do them so they are surprised now that they did
not do well in this exam, I am not worried at all.  You do not learn structural analysis and
design by studying for two days.
  And
you do not learn the material by studying previous exams (you only practice
that way whatever that means when it comes to learning new material).  And, in cases of complaints about the exam
being different, I get the feeling I succeeded in what I wanted to do in the
first place: create a completely different exam for exactly the same material.

I should say
that all this has some really positive results. 
A couple of the students that
were quite vocal about their complaints and dissatisfaction with the exam years
ago are now doing their MS thesis with me. 
They do an excellent job and there is a lot of mutual respect between
us.  Interestingly enough, they do not
feel the same way about that exam they took years ago as they felt back then.

 

Stay tuned for the second part of this interview! It will be up tomorrow.

 

Tot Later 

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