What factors influence whether “Professors on Parade” courses are useful?

Last week, I did a poll asking about readers’ experiences with courses where faculty (and/or grad students and/or folks outside academia) meet with students in a format that is often called “professors on parade” (because lots of faculty rotate through the course during the semester). I was curious to know whether people find these courses useful, and whether they like certain styles of them more than others.

tl;dr: Most people seem to find these courses useful, but a substantial minority do not. People seem to find these courses especially useful if they include presenters who come from outside academia, discussion of classic or important papers, and/or discussion of papers by department faculty. They seem to find them less useful if they include basic research skills (such as how to extract DNA), though that comes with the caveat that only 5 respondents were involved in that sort of course. (There were 100 respondents total, though 2 didn’t answer the last question about whether they found the course useful.)

More results below the break.

In terms of whether people find these courses useful: the answer was a solid “yes”, though with a notable minority who disagree.


Those results don’t change much when you split it out the students (68% “yes”) vs. the people who’d been on parade (74% “yes”).

I was curious about whether there would be factors that influenced whether people found the course useful or not. As I’ve done with analyses before, I semi-arbitrarily decided ahead of time that a difference of 10% would be notable; anything less than that would seem unimportant (to me, at least).

One thing I found interesting was an impact of whether the presenters included someone from outside academia. This comes with the very large caveat that the sample size for this was small – only 7 respondents (7%) said their course included someone from outside academia. 6 of those 7 people found the course useful, making for a notably higher percentage (86%) compared to the versions with just faculty (68%) or faculty and grad students (67%). It doesn’t surprise me that students might find that sort of course more useful, and I’d love to know more about what sorts of people were brought in and what students liked.

Respondents also seemed to find courses more useful if they included discussion of papers by department faculty. 77% of respondents who said their course included this component found the course useful (vs. 66% of those whose course did not include this component). And, to an even greater extent, they were more likely to say the course was useful if it included discussion of classic or important papers (83%) than if it did not (64%).

There also seemed to be an influence of whether the course included basic research skills, such as how to extract DNA. Only 5 respondents said their course included this component; of those only 3 liked the course. In other words: only 60% of respondents found the course useful if it included basic research skills, compared to 70% of respondents whose course did not include basic research skills. But, again, this is a very small sample size for this sort of course, so I’m not sure how much to make of it. (I think there are more valid reasons for not having this be the goal of a PoP-style course, including that there are few research techniques that all incoming grad students need to know.)

People seemed to find the courses for undergrads somewhat more useful (79% “yes”) than for grad students (68% “yes”). No one responded related to a course that combined undergrads and grad students. I imagine there could be lots of interesting sub-analyses (e.g., are undergrads more likely to find courses that contain component X useful?) to do, but I haven’t done them. (As usual, you get what you pay for around here!)

The other things I looked at (including whether the course included a research presentation component, a science skills component, career advice) didn’t meet my 10% threshold for being of interest. If you want to look things over yourself (including to look at factors and/or combinations I didn’t address), the data and code are available here.

I still like the idea of a scicomm PoP course, but it remains to be seen whether my department will create a PoP course and, if so, what form it will take. Thanks for helping me think through the options!

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