In this section, Professor Ketterle shares his insights about assessing students’ writing.
We ask students to write a term paper on a topic of their choice. The only requirement is that the topic be somewhat related to the course material. Alternatively, if a student is motivated to write about a topic that is inspired by the course, but not directly related, we welcome that, as well.
A teaching assistant and I read each paper. Together, we provide the student with comments about the accuracy of his or her paper, but also about the structure and scope of the work. For example, some students may select a rather straightforward topic and end up merely summarizing the literature without adding value to what is in the literature. We tell students this. Other students summarize what is state of the art in the literature, but also provide an insightful synthesis, and perhaps their own thoughts about what would be interesting next steps to take in research. We try to comment positively when students have gone beyond just repeating what they have read in the literature.
The grade we give for the term paper reflects the quality of their writing, the scope of their paper, and the style of the paper.