The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The problem with Universities

Universities are often not the havens of academia that they are portrayed to be in movies and literature. There is a very profound problem with many of them.

A University may be of two kinds, in the pure sense: a teaching University and a research University. From what I have seen, it is often the latter kind of University that wins attention and praise and fame, and for which students all over the world compete for admission. I went to Cambridge University - a great research University. However, all research Universities suffer from a very human problem. The staff are researchers, not teachers.

At a research University, it is usual for the staff to have mixed duties: they have their research and they have their teaching duties. You might think that this could create a situation in which students benefit from "cutting-edge" thinking from their famous researcher/Professor. This is usually not the case. What is more common is that the famous researcher type is really only engaged by his research work and couldn't care less about his - or her - students. That was most certainly the impression left on me by my University. The research staff really were only concerned about their research: students were in most cases seemingly regarded as an inconvenience - a distraction from the purity of their research.

Thus, what is a student to do? Well, I would, if I had my life again, ignore all famous research Universities for an Undergraduate or First Degree. I would go somewhere that had, at its heart, a love of teaching (if such a University could be found). I would not even be tempted to attend somewhere famous for its research - for such a place would tend to ignore its student base, for its own inward looking research work.

Perhaps a new norm should be established. Students should attend specialized teaching Universities for their first degrees - and only later, should they go to a research University - when they are doing a research degree. No-one should have to suffer the experience of being ignored by research staff intent on their personal research, at the expense of their teaching duties. That is a terrible experience that usually destroys the student's love of learning. So many people that I know who went to famous research Universities were very disappointed with the experience. It often destroyed the lives they had planned, in a very profound way.

So, if you have a bright child, I would suggest that you look beyond the famed Universities. Sometimes the less famous, more teaching based institution may be a far more welcoming place, than a place that has built its reputation on research, but not on teaching.

In many ways, this is one of my more important posts.

(If you would like to read of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and no months, or Tiarnan, seventeen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:30 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of universities! As an undergraduate, I decided to attend a small liberal arts college which strongly emphasized teaching. The thing that makes this college so special, though, is that the professors ARE engaged in research and students are invited to participate in that research! So Linfield College actually teaches its student to do research! I highly recommend this type of college.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your corroboration of my experiences and observations. Universities, in general, need to be so much more focussed on teaching, than they are.

I shall look up Linfield and see what it is all about.

I am glad you, for one, got the right kind of University experience.

Best wishes

8:33 AM  
Blogger ^^saza^^ said...

hi. how would i know if a university is known as research or teaching university. thanks

10:57 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

It will tend to have a reputation for one or the ask around.

Cambridge, for instance, is very famous...for its research. However, I think it is a terrible university if you want to learn anything: the teaching, in my experienced opinion, really sucks. (They don't care about the students).

Ask teachers, and people in education what your target university is known for.

I hope that helps.

Kind regards


10:16 AM  
Blogger EbTech said...

Thanks, this actually explains a lot!

In the university I go to, there was once an associate professor known for great teaching. However, he was never promoted to full professorship because he did not acquire sufficient research credentials.

Nowadays, good teachers gain more recognition. For example, a major faculty building was recently named after the aforementioned professor. Is this trend reflected in other parts of the world?

3:29 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Yes. It is ironic that teaching should not be as valued as it should be, in many Universities...because teaching is what the STUDENTS go there for. It is rather ignorant of University administrations to fail to value it, properly, therefore.

I am glad that my post has made the situation clear to you.

I am gladder still that your University has recognized your great teacher by a building.

2:00 PM  
Blogger EbTech said...

There is a funny twist to this story. You see the professor, who our department website refers to as "one of the founding fathers of the Department", was named Hugh Dempster. Thus, our new building became colloquially known by some students as "the dumpster".

10:07 AM  

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