Authority Bias: just another TA story of mine

Progress in civilization has shaped our society. ‘Authority’ becomes the building block of its structure. This also applies in academia. What makes a person authorized to stand in front of the class lecturing hundreds of students?

So there we made up a new role of human being in society. Let’s call it the professors. But, professor is human too. Sometimes he makes mistake, just like you (or me, the crappy PhD student).

Then, at this point, I am the teaching assistant. A lab technician once told me, I am the half-professor. It doesn’t matter how bad I am at this course, as long as I am the TA, I become the part of the so called authority.

A few weeks ago, I submitted some practice question. I meant to trick the student by using a straight-forward but concept-testing question. But then, I put the wrong answer. The professor picked it up. I apologized. He told me it is okay because we are human.

The professors are very busy people. They work till late night. It is not a surprise to receive email at 12 o’clock, even on Sunday. And while you just open your eyes in the morning, you look at your smartphone, and there would be some email instructing you to make some revision.

So, when I was told to set up a set of questions for the quiz, I put the same tricky question. After several days, the professor replied the email, removing some questions, but then he questioned my answer on the tricky question.

He said, “The answer is very very wrong.”

I was a bit trembled. Did I make just another mistake? Did I make the mistake twice? It can’t be.

Now, TA’s level of authorization is lower than the professor, the TA must be in doubt. He is the professor, he picked up many of my mistakes before. He might be right this time. Judging from the comments he sent, it seemed like he’s very confident.

If I were a loser, I would directly scrap the question in order to avoid conflict. But, I like to defend myself when I know I’m right, even though I know most of the time I am a crappy PhD student. It happened before. I defended myself. I won.

So I decided to keep the question. During the meeting I confronted him scientifically, mathematically proven. It’s just a simple question after all. All you need to do is to have one sharp eye to spot what kind of transformation it is, and whether you need to put it negative or positive. As simple as that.

But, even a professor can make mistake. He even made the same mistake like mine. Even though, he was the one who spotted that mistake in me a few weeks ago.

And you know what, it ended up with him keeping the question, saying he likes the question.

That’s it. It’s a story of authority bias. Even some people who we think as the authority can be wrong. But, the truth must reveal itself. Sooner or later.

*but then again.. when I was about to publish this post, I received an email from postdoc, spotting my mistakes LOL

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