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The Market Test

What’s the easiest way to know that future Dean Karen Merrill is a great professor? Count up the number of students (3) who have chosen her as a thesis advisor, more than any other professor in the department. With luck, she will find time for advising theses even while serving as Dean.

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#1 Comment By Anonymous On February 2, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

Um, I believe History assigns students to professors in most cases. I don’t disagree with your conclusion, but it may not follow from your evidence.

#2 Comment By Ronit On February 2, 2007 @ 7:29 pm

Assigned thesis advisors? I doubt it.

Many departments assign general-purpose advisors for course selection and such (Econ does this)… but I’d be very surprised if people were working on their thesis with someone they didn’t choose.

#3 Comment By Anonymous On February 2, 2007 @ 7:53 pm

You may doubt it, but it is the case. I’m sure if students object to working with a particular faculty member, then that is taken into account. Also, students will obviously work with someone whose research area is close enough to their own to function well as an advisor. Just because the they are not assigned randomly, does not mean they are not assigned.

There are other problems with assuming that the number of thesis students represents some kind of market decision about the quality of the professor. There are more students at Williams working on American history than on Japanese history. Clearly that does NOT indicate the the professor teaching Japanese history is worse than those teaching American history. As usual, Kane has trouble with complexity.

#4 Comment By Ronit On February 2, 2007 @ 8:00 pm

Well, too bad for History majors then, I guess.

(other departments usually let you choose advisors)

#5 Comment By Anonymous On February 2, 2007 @ 9:00 pm

Again, it’s not random. And most history majors will probably end up working with the prof. of their choice. But the profs can only advise so many theses. I would say that 3 is definitely the limit and in most humanities dept. it’s very unusual to do more than two or three. If you assume that most advisors (should) meet with their students once a week for about an hour, then 3 students is already approaching an additional class in terms of in-class commitment (though not in preparation). It’s great that Professor Merril is advising 3 theses and I’m sure she’s both an excellent prof. (though I’ve not taken a class with her) and advisor. But that’s not proven or even indicated by the fact that she’s advising three students.

#6 Comment By Ananda Burra 07 On February 2, 2007 @ 9:06 pm

Mr. anonymous

Ummm. you are wrong. the history department does not assign thesis students to advisors. how do I know? because I am one of Prof. Merrill’s thesis students. and I asked her to be my advisor. and so did all the other students who got advisors in the history department. no one was ‘assigned’. true, if a professor was asked by more than 3 students she would probably have to say no. but as far as I know that didnt happen. and Prof. Merrill has the largest number of thesis students in the department. get your facts straight

#7 Comment By ananda On February 2, 2007 @ 9:11 pm

also, a) there are several americanists at Williams.

b) Prof. Merrill’s three thesis students are doing three thesis that are completely different
-Yiddish art theatre in New York in the 1920s
-Nantucket and the war of 1812
-Decolonization discourse in the US in the 1940s

c)none of them are related to her own field of interest. at the most, the last topic touches on her expertise in American foreign policy but thats about it

#8 Comment By Anonymous On February 2, 2007 @ 9:31 pm

That’s great, Ananda. You’re lucky to be working with her. And as I said, “most history majors will probably end up working with the prof. of their choice.” Of course student choice is a key factor. But there have been many profs who have been asked to be an advisor to more students then they actually ended up advising in many departments. That Prof. Merril agreed to take on so many students is to her great credit and is further demonstration of her quality as a professor and her dedication. There’s no need to defend her in this case as I certainly neither stated nor implied she’s anything but excellent. But don’t assume that a prof. who has fewer students was necessarily requested by fewer students.

And it’s Ms. Anonymous, thank you very much.