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Academic Structure and Issues-Relations with Students

Many graduates of the department mentioned the accessibility of faculty–a fact suddenly appreciated when, on arrival at graduate school, they find it no longer the case. Former students particularly point to the accessibility of their thesis advisors at Reed with retrospective gratitude, and mention that the detailed letters of recommendations they received – possible because of the relationships developed in the process – were, in a number of instances, crucial in their careers.

In addition, the department makes a point of maintaining other traditions that bring faculty and students together. A year-end picnic has been an annual event for at least the last 45 years. Weekly Wednesday seminars, designed to bring the entire department together, are another tradition. Outside speakers are brought in for these, and sometimes students are invited to dinner with them afterwards.

The department hires advanced students to grade papers and manage the introductory labs. Summer internships are often available. In total, around 25 students are hired by the department per year. Beverly Hartline ’71 (who later became the Chief of Staff for the director of the Jefferson Lab when it was under construction, later an Associate Director), also remembers "lots of out-of-class interactions between students and teachers, including climbing and hiking trips and dinners at professors’ houses. I also babysat for several faculty."

In addition to encouraging open, collegial relationships with students, the department works to encourage similar relationships between students. "We consciously foster cooperation rather than competition," says Mary James. "In the introductory classes I stress the importance of collaboration in research, in the lab, etc. The only place we don’t want them to collaborate is exams. The material is challenging enough; often they will learn more from each other than from us."

This attitude has been institutionalized to the degree that for freshman, a Help Room staffed by upper classmen is available in the evenings, and informal study groups are encouraged. The faculty fought vigorously for a lounge to encourage other informal interactions, and were given a portion of the old library space when it became available. Juniors tend to take it over. Seniors have their thesis offices concentrated in the sub-basement, and, says James, tend to cohere into a group to a greater or lesser degree depending on the social abilities of some of the better students, with stronger leadership providing more cohesion.

The Reed Physics Department
The Era of Experimentalists: 1911-1963
The Era of Theoretical Physics: 1963-1897
Achieving Balance: 1987-Present
Academic Structure and Issues
Junior Qual
Senior Thesis
The Role of Research and the Integration of Research and Teaching
The Curriculum
Relations with Students
Teaching Style
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