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I feel like I waste too much time on the wrong parts of lab reports

  1. Sep 26, 2006 #1
    I feel like I waste too much time on the wrong parts of lab reports....

    So I have a tendency to write a ton in my lab reports in the theory sections...we're talking 5-6 pages or more on theory. I enjoy doing this because it gives me the chance to kinda explain the concepts in my own words to reinforce my understanding...I don't do it necessarily to get a good grade....but I a professor of mine came to me and said writing so much theory is unnecessary and I should put more time into my data analysis. This may be true, but it seems all of my profs just do not appreciate my in depth theory sections, and sometimes it feels like I am just wasting my time, when other people are putting in a quarter of the time in their lab reports and getting the same grades. Kinda dissappointing. I try my best to impress my profs and make a good impression, but sometimes I feel like I am not effective in this, despite my hard work.

    I also figure, if it is obvious from my report that I put a lot of effort into it and understand the concepts that the professor could cut me some slack when I make a typo here and there, or if I don't demonstrate a certain calculation.

    On my latest lab report, I recieved a 92%, but I spent about 8 hours spread over two days on it. I think my grade should be a 94% though, since he only took off 6 points throughout the report...I don't know where the other 2 points went....he either made a mistake, or he just feels I deserve a 92%, which I don't think is the case.

    I frequently feel like my GPA (~3.4) just doesn't reflect my effort and knowledge. I learn everything as thoroughly and deeply as possible and never come out ahead with anything. Quite depressing. I understand grades aren't everything, but if I want to go to grad school and my GPA doesn't reflect my knowledge, I get kinda frustrated.

    So, I guess I am just looking for people that have gone though this type of thing. Anyone out there feel that their grades just do not reflect their understanding and knowledge of their subject matter? I just hope things work out in the end for me, and sometimes I feel as if I am just going nowhere and it is frustrating.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2006 #2
    Well, its a lab report, not a text book. Stay true to what the purpose of a lab report is about, DATA!

    As my professor said, you are taking your left arm and going around your head to touch your right ear.....why??

    The purpose of your report is to interpret the data, not give a 5-6 page theory. If I was the TA, you would get alot lower than a 92 if you kept turning in reports like that.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2006
  4. Sep 26, 2006 #3
    You would give a 92 even if the data analysis section was strong, in addition to the long theory section? Seems unfair.
  5. Sep 26, 2006 #4
    It probably comes off as pompous as well.
  6. Sep 26, 2006 #5
    Perhaps, but when I understand the subject matter deeply I like the professor to know. The professor cannot know this simply from my ability to solve test problems. And it's not like I explain the subject in a very verbose way...I try to be very clear and consise with my explanations.

    I figure it will give the prof something memorable when I need a letter of recommendation.

    I told the prof that the reason I write so much is because it helps me more clearly understand the subject matter. He replied that he was the same way when he was in school, so maybe it's good that he can relate to it.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2006
  7. Sep 26, 2006 #6
    I sure would, because the purpose of the lab report is not to derive equation. Actually, if you did that the first time, I would say not to do it again. If you did it a second time, I would slam ur grade to a C-.
  8. Sep 26, 2006 #7
    Well, you're more of an engineer-type than me, because I can't stand seeing or writing equations without demonstrating the logical framework behind it. I know in engineering labs derivations are not as appreciated, but in physics labs I feel it is somewhat important.

    I suppose it's ok if you warned the student ahead of time that they would get a low grade on the next report if they kept it up, but even if they did keep it up I can't see a C- being justified given that their analysis was good and their data section was ok. That, imo, just isn't fair.

    If a student likes theory and likes to write about it in their reports they shouldn't be penalized for it.
  9. Sep 26, 2006 #8
    Why not? You were told not to do it, and you did not listen. No way would you expect myself, or anyone else, to read 5-6 pages of, let's face it, rambling on about deriving equations, that you were not supposed to put. Again, it's not what a lab reports about. And I would suspect your grades to decline if you don't stop this habit.

    Side: Well, we do go into depth on the logical framework behind equations as engineers. It's not just 'here is an equation' plug it in and solve. :smile:
  10. Sep 26, 2006 #9
    In the vein of Pascal: shorter is better.

    College is not about grading for effort. It probably was in high school, but it's not the same now. Effort is certainly a prerequisite for high grades in college, but it also certainly won't guarantee them either.

    For example, some of my professors will mark off points for excessive work shown. Clear and concise work is highly preferred, with good reason. Even a completely correct solution might not receieve full points if the solution is drawn out or sloppy.

    Part of being an engineer is successful communication skills, and that involves being "crisp" and clear with the way you present solutions.

    Also, spending excessive time on lab reports and homework might be what's bringing down your GPA; a 92% or 94% isn't bad, it most certainly is what I would call an A. If you take away from study time to work on this (unnecessary) stuff, then at some point your grade will start to suffer. College is also about the art of the minimum necessary work :)
  11. Sep 26, 2006 #10
    Well, while my reports are long, I do not find anything sloppy and it's clear and consise, imo.
  12. Sep 26, 2006 #11
    Perhaps you could post one of your reports here and we could give you direct feedback on it?
  13. Sep 26, 2006 #12
    sure thing. Give me a sec.

    How should I go about doing this?
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2006
  14. Sep 26, 2006 #13
    Use imageshack or some other upload hosting site. If you attach it, it will be eons before someone approves it.
  15. Sep 26, 2006 #14
    If I were to, say, walk around in a life sciences building, or a physics building or any lab building and look at the posters on the walls which have bassically lab reports on them (well, research reports...this still applies though) and it was extremely long, I would probably not spend time reading it (especially if it was either a subject I knew a lot about, or if the first few words weren't interesting).
  16. Sep 26, 2006 #15
    I dunno...I figure the lab reports give me a chance to demonstrate to the prof that I know something....I don't feel tests really demonstrate this.
  17. Sep 26, 2006 #16
    Performance is based on your test scores. The least any test has ever counted in a course I have taken is about 55% total. The most, being 100% of your grade based on tests.

    The lab report means you can apply what you know. The background is expected of you to know walking in. That's why there is prelab write-ups.

    I can appreciate the effort, but you are diverging from a lab report and going into a text book. You are writing to people in your field, not students.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2006
  18. Sep 26, 2006 #17
    Well, any actual experimental study will have an in-depth theory section. If you present things correctly and clearly, then I don't know why you'd explicitly lose credit for having more theory (unless someone has told you not to do it or you'll lose credit).

    However, if you are actually missing certain calculations or making errors elsewhere in your report (as you suggested), I wouldn't expect anyone to "cut you some slack" just because your theory section is more extensive.
  19. Sep 27, 2006 #18


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    Writing a report is a skill which can't be taught but which students must learn through doing it.

    Your professor is right in discouraging you from writing massive introductions into the theory.

    You need to learn how to use least amount of information in order to get your, for example, model description across.

    Like others have said, look at academic posters and journal papers - the don't go over theory everytime, why should you?

    Importantly, remember to cite any source which you use.

    edit: In reply to above - when marking a dissertation (final version), I would look down on too much theory.
  20. Sep 27, 2006 #19
    I think one of the keys here is that you shouldn't be trying to impress your professor, if your knowledgable and you mae coments in class than that will get his attention, but people know when someone is tryig to impress the, and they tend not to like it.
  21. Sep 27, 2006 #20
    "long" and "concise" do not really work well together. "concise" merely means that it uses the minimum words to precisely state what you're trying to say; if a report goes beyond what is necessary, then it's no longer concise, even if it's not "sloppy".

    I would not be suprised if a significant percentage (maybe even a majority) of scientific papers submitted for publication include some form of comment in the review that a particular section is not "concise" enough, or something along those lines. Conciseness is critical in science and engineering.

    I also agree that writing excessively in lab reports is not the best way to impress professors. The way to impress professors is to go to their office hours and talk with them in person, and ask/answer questions during class. No professor is going to remember students based on grading work (unless perhaps you present a novel solution to a problem)
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