I was chatting with a colleague the other day who mentioned a course we had just converted that semester from a graded course to a pass/fail (at 70%) course. Apparently students had been harassing the course coordinator for a few points here and there, even though these students were already above a 70%. They couldn’t “pass” any more than they had, yet they were hassling this poor embattled new assistant professor.
My colleague asked me, “Don’t they realize they will want us to write letters of recommendation for them in a few years? Do they think we’ll have forgotten how they made our lives unnecessarily difficult?” I’m not saying vengeance will be taken or anything of the sort. I’m also not saying students shouldn’t ask polite questions of faculty members to improve their own understanding of a topic. But students who want an 89% instead of an 88% in a course which is pass/fail will be noticed. And remembered.
During vet school, you want to be quietly competent. Not invisible, but not obnoxious or difficult to work with. As always, aim for zero. Ideally, faculty members know more or less who you are and if you are a good student. “Good” in this context does not necessarily mean earning high grades. For a clinician educator like myself, a “good” vet student is one who tries to understand the clinical rationale for decisions and is not just memorizing data. If you are a club officer, hopefully the faculty mentor for the club knows you and you feel comfortable talking to them.
Focus on the big picture. I understand it’s easy to get swept along with your classmates who all want top grades, but ask what the important thing is about what you’re learning. Is the most important thing to get good grades, or is the most important things to become a competent clinician? I distinctly remember the #1 ranked student in a class got to clinics and one of my interns wondered, “How can they be so smart and so dumb at the same time?” They were academically gifted, but couldn’t handle clinical decision making. Don’t just memorize data. Understand concepts.
I don’t want any student to feel like they can’t talk to a faculty member and ask respectful questions intended to expand their own understanding. But when the questions are purely to get an extra point or two, ask yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish. And consider the collateral damage you may cause. Faculty members are, in general, fairly intelligent, with good memories. We will remember the grade grubbers. And they will not get good letters of recommendation.