Student Post: Dear PZ,

We, the students of BIOL 4003: Neurobiology have a proposal. We will clean your lab for extra credit. Think about it. That tank with the yellow stagnant water and other unidentifiable bits of matter? GONE. Those countless bottles of fruit fly carcasses? Sparkling clean and ready for next semester’s genetics class. We would also consider not having a final test an acceptable trade.

Respectfully awaiting your reply,
The Students


  1. inkadu says


    Good heavens, that tank is teeming with life! You should culture it for extra credit.

  2. says

    ah, the creative bargaining of students.

    Lisa: “Mom, we can make a deal.”
    Marge: “You don’t have anything I want.”

    You guys may have something he wants here, though.

  3. Michael says

    Good luck to you all. I know that I wish my professors would let me do manual labor instead of actually having to know what I’ve been told to learn over the semester.

    If PZ allows it I think he will become the ultimate professor.

  4. says

    one thing I also like seeing, I’m not the only teacher that has my students call me by my first name. (I actually insist on it.)

    It freaks me out and makes me feel old to be called “Professor”

  5. Christianjb says

    Depending on the state of the lab that sounds like an excellent deal to me.

    After all, cleanliness is next to… oh never mind.

  6. says

    I think PZ really wants a rare squid in an aquarium filled with the tears of children’s shattered dreams.

  7. J-Dog says

    This should definitely qualify for Xtra Credit.

    ps: I’m thinking that the person that wrote this is a lot like Dr. Peter Venkman…

  8. AtheistAcolyte says

    Christianjb (#8) –

    After all, cleanliness is next to…

    Nonexistence. After all, a clean surface is always marginally more cluttered than an nonexistent one. :-)

  9. Ex-drone says

    PZ, if they’re willing to clean your lab, they’re desperation is showing. They’ll go higher. Counter-offer an oral exam. They’ll haggle.

  10. Marc Buhler says

    Hi PZ, er, Professor PZ… long time!

    Let them have the deal!

    But – make them write a paper about it and have them submit it somewhere!!

  11. Louise Van Court says

    Don’t do it PZ! Show no mercy! Give them a good comprehensive exam with no hints as to what might be emphasized. Be sure it has a couple hundred fill in the blank questions and the spelling and terminology must be perfect. The room should be about 40 degrees and it should be given as the last final of the day on the last day before the Christmas break. It should count for 90% of their grade as well. Ah the good old days.

  12. says

    Haha, I like that it’s filed under “Politics.” This post could be an allegory for a lot of things that go on in our government.

  13. Great White Wonder says

    That tank with the yellow stagnant water and other unidentifiable bits of matter?

    PZ’s students are going to clean his toilet?

    That’s exceedingly generous of them.

  14. BaldApe says

    A student in one of my high school honors biology classes once asked me about extra credit after failing a test. I asked her if she would like to be represented by an attorney who got his degree by bringing in boxes of Kleenex.

    I don’t believe in extra credit.

    Just my 2cents

  15. Carlie says

    Hahahahaha! I love when students ask for extra credit. Then I get the chance to remind them that they’re asking to do more work, when all they had to do was the required work in the first place. And extra credit always makes more work for me, which is something I don’t want to do. So, no. Kudos for the creativity of putting it in a student blog post, though.

    My favorite finals week joke, not that I can tell it to any of my students:
    A studly young lad was in danger of failing his class and went to beg for mercy of the professor before the final exam. He sauntered into her office, batted his eyelashes at her, and said “I’ll do anything to get a higher grade in your class, ma’am.” She looked at him inquisitively, then shut her office door. “Anything?” she asked. “Anything,” he replied. She walked closer. “Anything at all?” “Absolutely anything,” he said, as sultry as he could manage. “Are you sure?” she asked, a smile beginning to cross her face. “Yes,” he said.
    She gazed at him again, stared him right in the eyes, and replied “Would you……study?”

  16. Triphesas says

    Carlie, I’ve heard the exact same joke many times in the past, but with the genders switched. I think it works better that way. It’s still a good joke, though.

  17. CalGeorge says

    PZ’s students are going to clean his toilet?

    Sparkling clean and ready for next semester’s genetics class.

  18. Carlie says

    Why should it be better with the genders switched? All switching it the other way does is to make it reminiscent of a time in the not-so-distant past when male professors actually were able to take advantage of the power imbalance to sleep their way through their students, and many did. I like my way better. :)

  19. says

    Godliness is next to voodooness, Cleanliness probably saves thousands of live a year. Millions if you roughly compare the precivilization death rates from infections.

  20. BaldApe says

    “Why should it be better with the genders switched?”

    Because a male teacher approached this way by a female student would be at least a little flattered. If he still turned her down, she would be unlikely to get in any trouble over the offer.

    A male student approaching a female teacher would get arrested.

    You may not like the gender inequality, but I strongly suspect it’s human nature.

  21. says

    Tell them you’ll “think about it” if they do it.

    Then don’t give then the credit :D

    I’d be singing a different tune in their shoes of course. Good thing I test well…

  22. Sven DiMilo says

    No grad students at UM Morris. That’s probably why the lab’s a mess. Yoiu just can’t instill that same research-slave mentality into undergrads. They seem to think that just because they’re paying to work in your lab that they should be able to do something interesting.

  23. leeG says

    hmmm…. I thought this course was bio, not economics! Your students certainly seem to have mastered the concept of collective bargaining…

  24. says

    Ah, that point in the semester, quite desperation with the realization that there isn’t enough time to finish everything.

  25. says

    Last time my students asked for extra credit it was the best two students in the class that asked. They wanted a field trip or something they could do a report on. They didn’t even need the extra credit. This was just after midterms so I had a pretty good idea who would and would not do well. Since this was basic college physics it was a tad difficult to come up with something. Only one of the students in the class was a Physics major.

    As it turns out… there was a free exhibition at the New York Public Library on Newton and his work.

    So I allowed them to take a trip, on their own time, and they had to submit a bus or train ticket receipt and do a report on what they saw and learned (my college is 40 miles from midtown). I gave them a bump up of one grade on the test of their choice except the final.

    I went to the exhibit with one group of them and it was quite good. Judging from the reports that were handed in most of them got something out of it. None of the exhibit was Newtons work (difficult to read even after it is translated from Latin) but it was all about the impact Newton had at the time and afterwards. The main message of the exhibit was that Newtons followers made science “popular”. They brought it out of the ivory tower which was, IMO, a major step for the Enlightenment. One display mentioned that it was necessary for a young man of that time who was courting to be conversant in the Newtons theories in order to be of any interest to the object of his desires.

    I would not mind offering such an option again. It is difficult to enrich a course in Physics and show how it is relevant and interesting in the usual classroom setting.

    As far as cleaning up the lab is concerned… I don’t want the students touching my work (or mess)… I just want them to clean up after themselves! Wish I could drop them a grade for NOT cleaning up >:)


  26. Carlie says

    But that doesn’t make it funny. It just makes it the girl’s the slut, the guy’s the smart one, just like every stupid girl joke since the beginning of time. Those silly females! Always trying to use their bodies to get ahead! Good thing the men are there to keep them in line. Blech.
    Most of the male faculty I know wouldn’t be flattered, they’d be scared shitless and would refuse to be in a room alone with said student from that point forward for fear of a lawsuit.

    But back on topic from the derail, the best argument I give against extra credit is that it’s not fair to everyone else. It’s not fair to the other students in the class if one person gets extra and they don’t, it’s not fair to students in previous semesters if I suddenly start handing out extra points like candy when they had to work for their grade. Most students understand that concept and then quit asking, with the exception of one girl last year who stayed in my office for two hours alternately crying, begging, and insulting me as to why I wouldn’t simply give her a higher grade (two letter grades higher than she earned, in fact) three weeks after the semester was over. It actually got to the point of me incredulously saying “I have integrity in what I do and I want to make sure my evaluations have meaning” and her yelling “Your morals make no difference, it’s my grade and I deserve a higher grade because I’m asking for it”. That didn’t end well.

  27. Jon H says

    Carlie wrote: ” it’s not fair to students in previous semesters if I suddenly start handing out extra points like candy when they had to work for their grade.’

    What’s wrong with extra credit that they have to work for? (I mean, work that is relevant to the course, not chores as cheekily proposed in this post.)

    And, what if you realize, mid-semester, that your approach to teaching is sub-optimal, adjust it, and the students start doing better as a result. You’re then faced with a portion of the semester in which the students might have done better but for your (hypothetical) sub-optimal teaching. Seems to me that in such a situation it would only be fair to give the students some optional extra credit opportunities.

  28. says

    I think extra credit is fair as long as everyone has an equal opportunity to get it and the extra credit is a challenge beyond the normal scope of the class. Then again, I’m biased because I’m a student.

  29. Rey Fox says

    Carlie’s version of the joke is better. Partly for the reasons Carlie outlined, and partly because cockblocking is always funny.

  30. Byte Reader says

    Carlie at #37
    “Your morals make no difference, it’s my grade and I deserve a higher grade because I’m asking for it”. That didn’t end well.

    Yikes. Gotta love the sense of false entitlement in that. When I was in college, I accepted that a bad grade was generally a sign that I did not try hard enough, and was therefore my fault.

    My question is, how do profs not go nuts with students like this?

  31. says

    I would find this funny if it weren’t for the fact that I have to beg my bio teacher for extra credit/more time. :(

    I’d love to see PZ’s response, though.

  32. RevPJ says

    Byte Reader at #41
    I generally say no and then have another shot of espresso. It’s a win-win situation, the students get to carp about me, and I get more coffee. In the end everyone is happy. :)

  33. Jeb, FCD says

    Those countless bottles of fruit fly carcasses?

    You guys who work with invertebrates are so lucky.

  34. Holly says

    @ #16 A car wash?! Not for four or five months. Not unless PZ has a thing for freezing his doors shut. I remember well the winters in Morris!

  35. Carlie says

    And, what if you realize, mid-semester, that your approach to teaching is sub-optimal, adjust it, and the students start doing better as a result. You’re then faced with a portion of the semester in which the students might have done better but for your (hypothetical) sub-optimal teaching.

    Oh, absolutely. I have a lot of ways to deal with that possible problem. One of the reasons that I have such a hard line against extra credit is that I have so much of it built into the class to start with (shhh, it’s secret, don’t tell my students!) There’s always a question on each test that’s a complete giveaway (along the lines of “tell me something else you’ve learned”), several of the questions on the test are directly answered in the text of other questions if you pay attention, I don’t curve at the end of the semester, but I do grade by clusters so most people on the edge end up with a boost up to the next grade anyway, there are in-class activity points that randomly reward attendance, the few times the first exam has been particularly heinous I let them fix the answers for partial credit.

  36. AllanW says

    Well I LOLed at the post; most entertaining but I suspect the petitioners have no chance for the reasons mentioned before.

    The letter would, however, if the description of the state of the lab were true make me get on the backs of the people who should be cleaning it up …..

    I guess you can tell I’m not a student.

  37. Elf Eye says

    I provide extra questions on daily quizzes, and students who attempt those questions can strengthen their averages and ‘bank’ points for emergencies. On a particular quiz, I might ask eight questions, inform the students that I’m scoring on the basis of their choice of four, and tell them that they can attempt as many as six. Since building these ‘extra credit’ opportunities into quizzes, I have been able to get out of the business of adjudicating whether a particular student had a valid reason for missing class or whether I should make allowances for a student who performed marginally on a few quizzes but did well on others. It is totally up to the students to cover their absences or compensate for poor quizzes by accumulating those extra points, which I tell them they should start doing from the very beginning of the semester. Similarly, students must turn in twelve logs, but they have fourteen opportunities to do so. I warn them not to skip logs early on for trivial reasons because if they waste their skips and then run into trouble later in the semester, no further skips will be forthcoming. Given the quiz and log make-up policy, it is so patently obvious that students have adequate opportunities to demonstrate that they know the material that even the most brazen students don’t try to argue over their averages.

  38. bobg says

    When I teach, I’m rather fond of giving extra credit opportunities. My goal in the teaching is for the students at the end of the term to know something about the subject. The things that I choose to test on (the fact that it’s a written test as well) are good, of course, but the subject is large, there is a lot more to it than I can ask on a time-limited test, and there are more ways of showing an understanding than a written test. So, if students do something else to show they understand the subject, fine by me. (Perhaps this is colored by the fact that I’ve only taught intro level courses.)

    Cleaning toxic yellow build-up, however, doesn’t seem much in the vein of demonstrating an understanding of the subject. Now if they were to inject the unidentifiable bits into a neurological system and trace the effects on the critter, perhaps there’d be an argument. Surely one of the students would volunteer to be the test subject.

  39. Carlie says

    It would be really interesting to see a thread on just how many ways people evaluate classes. I’ve often gotten some really good ideas on how to structure points and assignments from other people. I was just thinking the other day that it might be interesting to do a take-home final in which the assignment was to write a final exam.

    Surely one of the students would volunteer to be the test subject.
    In my intro bio class back in the Pleistocene, we did a lab on the effects of different compounds on kidney function. Yes, students were the test subjects. Yes, it was exactly what it sounds like. The students who volunteered to be the subjects didn’t get extra credit, but did get out of doing the lab write-up for that week.

  40. Brigit says

    In my undergrad lab courses cleaning the lab (the whole thing- not just your bench) was part of the evaluation. I wish somebody would do that in my lab now. The hoods- with a mixture of unknown salts and gunky hydrophobic stuff among the hazardous waste- just makes me want to kill myself any time I have to use them.

  41. MikeM says

    We will clean the lab
    If you give us some credits
    We may not deserve.

    (It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.)

    (And yes, I apologize.)

  42. says

    Perhaps the students should volunteer for PZ’s Squid/Human hybrid experiments?

    Extra credit AND extra limbs! It’s a win/win situation!

  43. Sven DiMilo says

    I’m with Carlie. I’ve always felt that “extra credit” was a silly concept. It’s only fair if everybody gets the same opportunity, and in that case it can just be built into the course as required. Nothing prevents students from opting out of required assignments if they’re willing to take a zero. What’s the difference?

  44. Doug Rozell says

    RE #50. Here’s an idea for you. When I was in Doctoral studies in Philosophy of Science, for our final exam we opened the test papers at the signal. Therein we found instructions telling us what our existing final grade would be if we did not write the exam, that we could write or not write it, and that if we did write it our performance on it would be factored into our final, final grade, up or down from the existing grade. This was in a room of about 1000 students from many courses. To the astonishment of everyone else there (including the proctors), and each of us having comprehended the situation at the same time, as one person we score of students rose from our desks, handed in our papers, and left the room, suppressing laughter until we were outside. What was so funny was that our Prof had accurately predicted our response, and thus saved himself a lot of work! Clever, clever man.