Graduate attributes me arse

DCU is committed to its students acquiring six attributes on graduation. Each graduate should be:

Creative and Enterprising

Committed to Continuous Learning


Effective Communicators

Globally Engaged

Active Leaders

I’m sure the other Universities have similar stuff on their websites and in their strategic plans. Honestly, this kind of thing makes me weep. There is a massive disconnect between the language of the educational strategist and reality. How about these attributes instead?

1. Being able to write grammatically correct and appropriate sentences

2. Being IT-literate

3. Being practiced at actually thinking rather than regurgitating

4. Being competent at oral communication

5. Having a good grasp of the basics of the discipline

6. Understanding that education does not stop on graduation

Here are some extracts (transcribed exactly) from just a dozen laboratory reports that I have recently marked. The heading in each case indicates the section of the report from which the extract is taken.

Aims and Objectives

The plan is to set up dilutions ranging from 0-600g/L. This will be the making of our standard curve.

Using all the data obtained from conducting the experiments, we plotted graphs to evaluate certain parameters of the equations.

Summary of Findings

The results we obtained show that as time went on there were an increase of my yeast concentration in the reactor.

The results we obtained for r0 seemed about right.

This filtration time of the yeast, protein mixture took a long time.

Both equations gave us linear graphs when plotting the correct equations and the slopes were accurate.

Overall I am very pleased with the results from our experiment.

The filtration of whey proteins in isolation took a very long time, as did the yeast-whey mixture from before.

From running the experiments were able to see the different effects on flowrate from the different mixtures used.


Recording the kla, r0 and cell count for each run, then compiling all the results together at the end of the experiment to give and overall view of how the experiment progressed throughout the 7 runs.

Data from the experiment were recorded in order to graph the results.

Figure 3 shows a more or less exponential growth in cells over a period in time.


All in all we were happy with this experiment getting a few linear points and learning the operations of a batch evaporator.

I felt that all measurements taken in regards to mass and volume during the experiment where sufficiently accurate.

Analyzing the above graph, there is a problem.

From researching in-between data collection we found that there are a number of factors effecting kla.

This hints that the growth of cells may be entering the stationary.

The results of the slopes are slightly off but this is just due to human error.

However the data points recorded were not that bad as the R-squared values are close to 1 showing that they are nearly straight line graphs.

After linearising and plotting our mass balance equations we achieved very positive results.


It is clear that students are deficient in a number of ways:

1. A poor grasp of grammar

2. Imprecision with language

3. Use of inappropriately colloquial language

4. Inclusion of material that is inconsistent with the section heading

5. A shocking lack of attention to detail


These are relatively low-level skills that one would expect to be a ‘given’ at this level – third year of an honours programme. The ability to think at all, never mind critically, is another level altogether.

We really need to face the challenges ahead openly and honestly. Instead we obsess about ‘online this’ and ‘problem-based that’.

We need to ask ourselves how it has come to this. Is it an inevitable consequence of the technological and social changes of the last 25 years? Or, are we, as educators, guilty of gross negligence?


About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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One Response to Graduate attributes me arse

  1. Pingback: Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » Graduate attributes me arse

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