Saturday, December 12, 2009

Master Master Lee

In case you haven't heard the news (or the legends for that matter) I recently had the good luck to encounter a great Master, Master Lee. Master Lee is actually a double master, in the ancient arts of Environmental Management and Environmental Engineering. And her first name is Veronica.

This past Friday, December 11th, Veronica successfully defended her dual Masters' Degree thesis before a panel that included faculty members from both Tsinghua University and Mines ParisTECH (formerly Ecole de Mines), along with representatives from her internship and her company's parent company. The defense was held in the Sino-Italian Environmental Sciences building on Tsinghua's Campus at 8:45am.

Since I work on a time-shifted schedule, I was able to attend. We arrived, through the blustery cold, to see life sized stand-ups of each students' thesis abstract, accompanied by a headshot picture posted in the lobby. Clearly I had to take a picture.

Veronica's defense was impressive. And I don't say that simply because I'm an adoring boyfriend. Really. If she were selling theses, I'd have bought one. I mean, look at her there with her powerpoint clicker assessing Energy and Resources and Mitigation thingies. I clearly didn't understand everything she presented, but the faculty seemed pretty impressed.

In my time here, I've heard many differing views on the state of the Chinese education system. In general, sentiment seems to be that standards are trending upwards and a greater emphasis is being placed on creating and inquisitive thought as opposed to rote memorization. This was not demonstrated particularly well during the first few minutes of questions posed to Veronica about her thesis.

The first two professors literally grilled her on the FORMATTING of her thesis. I'll elaborate on some specifics, because it bears repeating:
1: Thesis was printed with a medium light green cover, should have been a very light green cover.
2: Chinese title of thesis used one word for "valley", but abstract used a different word. The word chosen for the abstract (of the many possible "valley" words in Chinese) should have been used in the title as well.
3: Some charts used commas to separate thousands and others didn't
4: Some charts included differing number of decimal places
5: Inserted figures should not be surrounded by borders.

Granted, they did provide students with a FIFTEEN PAGE document outlining the format they wanted. But the fact that the first handful of questions indicated that some people may have been providing grades based on very superficial, "rule-following" aspects of the students' work.

The remainder of the questions dealt with substantive issues, almost all of which were addressed in the thesis itself and for which Veronica had elegant and excellent answers. The deliberations didn't take long and as of about 9:30am, December 11th 2009, Veronica Lee has two masters degrees. In May, after a retooling of the thesis for University of Pennsylvania, she'll have three.

I don't have a single masters degree, but my last name totally has, like, nine more letters than her's. She may have more letters to put after her name, but at least I have more letters IN my name.

Congratulations Veronica!