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After reading their work, most professors think their students are borderline incompetent

Reuters/Kacper Pempel
C’mon—it can’t be that hard.
By Amy X. Wang
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The bane of many a professor’s existence is having to read shoddy undergraduate work. With research-based assignments in particular, professors need a lot of coffee and aspirin.

massive new study reveals that more than half of US faculty members think their undergraduates “have poor skills related to locating and evaluating scholarly information.” Basically, they’re horrible at research.

Conducted by nonprofit consulting and research company Ithaka S+R to examine communication within academic fields at large, the study polled 9,203 faculty members at four-year US universities. The percentage of professors describing their students’ research skills as “poor” in the new survey is even higher than it was in 2012, when the company ran its last survey. Those teaching in the humanities were especially harsh: 60% in that field said their students struggle, versus 54% across all the disciplines (humanities, social sciences, sciences, and medical).

Maybe it’s not entirely students’ fault they’re so bad at finding and analyzing scholarly information. Scientific research, at least, is not always reputable and can easily mislead. And it’s not like most undergrads get a lot of guidance.

Two-thirds of faculty members in the study did say they see improving undergraduates’ research skills as an “important educational goal” in their courses—so at least they’re trying to right those grievous wrongs.

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