This is not a belated April Fool’s joke, though I’ll admit to having sat on this since Wednesday so that my readers wouldn’t think I was making this up. Here is the correspondence I found in my email account on Wednesday morning:
I’ve been reading your blog now for the past 18 months- and love it. Thanks so much for sharing!
I’d just like to say how much it really helped me, as I’m at the same stage as you. Last July, I went from being a post-doc to a faculty member. Your comments about applying for jobs, how the process worked were of great assistance… And it’s great reading how you are settling in to the job, and how you’re having similar issues with work to me. (Though life for me is less complicated, as there’s no husband or kid in tow, yet!).
Anyway! Last week, I gave my first quiz to my students, all 198 of them. And the usual excuses for not attending came out- flu, panic attacks, sore throat, etc. Along with the dead grandmother. My father (who took a huge introductory science class at a large Canadian university) used to joke that he should put an advert in the newspapers before his tests, warning grandmothers of impending death, and undertakers of a surge in business. He was impressed with the numbers of grandmothers that some students appeared to have.
This got me wondering – why is it always dead grandmothers? Why do they die more frequently than grandfathers? Is it because the students think we will have more sympathy if their grandmother is dead? Or is it because the grandfathers are already dead before the students reach university (because men die younger)? (In which case, do high school teachers see a dead grandfather epidemic?)
So I wondered if you saw the same phenomenon with your classes- and if anyone out there had a good explanation for it, or had even got some statistics (e.g. asked students for death certificates for exemptions for exams, and could tally them up, comparing grandfathers with grandmothers) to see if the dead grandmother story was actually true. As the readers of your blog would be a great way to figure out if the dead grandmother epidemic was real, or just imaginary!
Glad you are enjoying the blog and that it was helpful to you in the job search process. It might be comforting to know that I’ve found the second year faculty experience to be much less insane than the first year experience.
Now, on to your question. Are there more dead grandmothers? I don’t know, but off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of dead grandmothers and no dead grandfathers that have been offered up as excuses. In my large intro classes, I do ask for some sort of documentation before I allow make-up exams and quizzes, so all of my students dead grandmothers were really dead. (My poor students!)
What do our readers think? Is Kanga on to something in observing a higher prevalence of dead grandmums than grandpas? Do her hypotheses make sense to you? Can you offer up others? Does anyone actually know of any statistics on this?
In any case, give your surviving grandparents a call this weekend and ask them to tell you what sort of excuses they gave for missing school when they were kids. I’d like to hear those stories too.