Cornell's language interview??

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muke
Posts: 20
Joined: Mon Nov 02, 2015 1:26 am

Cornell's language interview??

Postby muke » Sat Feb 06, 2016 10:15 am

Got an email from Cornell saying "We are actively considering your application to the Physics Ph.D. program at Cornell University. Despite your TOEFL score, our past experience informs us that we must also carry out a language interview to assess your ability to teach Physics at Cornell. " with a new video interview form in applyweb.
Anyone knows what kind of questions might be asked? I guess I'll be asked to explain some physics concepts but honestly I barely have any teaching experience even in my native language! So how can I prepare for this interview? Will I get a rejection or just less TA funding if I screw it up? Super nervous now because Cornell is my dream school!!

spectral_flow
Posts: 14
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2015 8:15 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby spectral_flow » Sat Feb 06, 2016 12:56 pm

What was your TOEFL score?

muke
Posts: 20
Joined: Mon Nov 02, 2015 1:26 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby muke » Sat Feb 06, 2016 1:03 pm

spectral_flow wrote:What was your TOEFL score?


24, but I guess this kind of interview is quite common for international applicants. I know an Indian guy with 110 TOEFL received the same requirement.

spectral_flow
Posts: 14
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2015 8:15 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby spectral_flow » Sat Feb 06, 2016 1:17 pm

muke wrote:
spectral_flow wrote:What was your TOEFL score?


24, but I guess this kind of interview is quite common for international applicants. I know an Indian guy with 110 TOEFL received the same requirement.


Oh! So this means that the people who have not received this kind of mail are screwed :(

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby TakeruK » Sat Feb 06, 2016 2:13 pm

Interesting. I personally think language interviews in admissions can be very tricky to conduct fairly. I don't think it's fair to conduct these for only a small subset of applicants where the committee "thinks" the candidate needs one based on "past experience". For example, I think it's fair if they do this with everyone they want to accept, or with everyone who scored below X on some metric. However, since domestic students do not take TOEFL or other tests, I don't think it's fair to target students who score below a certain score on the TOEFL because only (some) international students take this test. It puts extra scrutiny on some students that is unfair!

The language interview at my current school takes place during Orientation week. It's the same interview for all students, regardless of what program you are in. The interviewer is not a scientist. The conversation is just a casual, everyday talk, asking you stuff about yourself, like "what kind of food do you like?" etc. etc. If you do not "pass" the interview, you are not kicked out. Instead, you are required to take some remedial evening English classes to improve your conversation skills. I think this process is a lot more fair and actually aims to help students who need extra practice to get the extra practice, instead of punishing students!

broo
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2015 7:23 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby broo » Sat Feb 06, 2016 4:30 pm

I'm not an international student, so I can't say this with much authority. But interestingly enough, I was reading an article recently on how universities have had to employ third parties to conduct interviews because of the large number of applicant. From that article at least, the intention is just to see if you can actually speak English coherently. They're aware that cheating is fairly common, and they don't want to risk the possibility of accepting someone that can't communicate well. Physics is very collaborative and if someone can't properly express or understand ideas, it could be a huge problem for the department. In light of that, I doubt they'll quiz you on physics, but mostly on your communication skills. If your TOEFL accurately describes your abilities, then I don't think you should worry.

googy
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Apr 20, 2015 3:32 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby googy » Sat Feb 06, 2016 4:54 pm

Is cheating in the standardized tests a widespread phenomenon? So much that universities have to doubt the applicants' scores? I have no idea how those tests are conducted elsewhere, but in my country they checked my pockets and used a metal detector on me prior to the exam, so beyond bribe I do not know how you'd manage to cheat successfully on those.

broo
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2015 7:23 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby broo » Sat Feb 06, 2016 5:41 pm

googy wrote:Is cheating in the standardized tests a widespread phenomenon? So much that universities have to doubt the applicants' scores? I have no idea how those tests are conducted elsewhere, but in my country they checked my pockets and used a metal detector on me prior to the exam, so beyond bribe I do not know how you'd manage to cheat successfully on those.


I don't know about the TOEFL, but I know with the Physics GRE cheating seems to be a widespread phenomena in China. I have no experience, but I've had 3 different professors, all of whom have been on the admission committee of a top 5 USNWR school, tell me that cheating is very prevalent there. As a result, 990s from China don't really mean much.

Dishsoap
Posts: 50
Joined: Mon Aug 24, 2015 12:31 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby Dishsoap » Sat Feb 06, 2016 6:14 pm

I highly doubt that they are concerned about your teaching skills... those come with time. They probably just want to make sure that you are understandable in English - to make sure that any accent you have doesn't prevent someone from understanding you, mostly. I'm from the US but this is what I've heard about interviews for international students.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby TakeruK » Sun Feb 07, 2016 1:11 am

Dishsoap wrote:I highly doubt that they are concerned about your teaching skills... those come with time. They probably just want to make sure that you are understandable in English - to make sure that any accent you have doesn't prevent someone from understanding you, mostly. I'm from the US but this is what I've heard about interviews for international students.


I would contend that ruling someone "unable to teach" because of their accent is discrimination. Requiring knowledge/mastery of the English language is one thing, but if you are unhappy with the way someone speaks due to a speech impediment, accent, lisp, a disability that prevents them from speaking etc. then it's not right. I say this because there are many ways for a TA or professor to still communicate clearly even with an accent. For example, the instructor may find that practice beforehand can make the speech come more smoothly. Or, the instructor may choose to write everything they say on the board. Or they might provide copies of class notes in addition to their oral lecture. (And again, targeting international students only for this extra screening is unfair!)

The way I see it, when I have a hard time understanding someone with an accent, it's my responsibility to listen more carefully, not their responsibility to change someone they cannot help. I think attitudes like "I can't understand the way X talks" or "you must be able to speak clearly to do Physics" is harmful to our field. It hurts non-native speakers but also Americans with disabilities. In terms of language, to me, the only important part is that the physicist is able to communicate clearly in some manner (e.g. Stephen Hawking cannot speak but still is able to communicate).

This is why many places just ignore teaching evaluations that say stuff like "I can't understand the professor's accent" (the administration at my school have confirmed that they just throw out these comments).

furiousmushroom
Posts: 7
Joined: Tue Dec 01, 2015 10:49 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby furiousmushroom » Sun Feb 07, 2016 5:53 am

TakeruK wrote:
Dishsoap wrote:I highly doubt that they are concerned about your teaching skills... those come with time. They probably just want to make sure that you are understandable in English - to make sure that any accent you have doesn't prevent someone from understanding you, mostly. I'm from the US but this is what I've heard about interviews for international students.


I would contend that ruling someone "unable to teach" because of their accent is discrimination. Requiring knowledge/mastery of the English language is one thing, but if you are unhappy with the way someone speaks due to a speech impediment, accent, lisp, a disability that prevents them from speaking etc. then it's not right. I say this because there are many ways for a TA or professor to still communicate clearly even with an accent. For example, the instructor may find that practice beforehand can make the speech come more smoothly. Or, the instructor may choose to write everything they say on the board. Or they might provide copies of class notes in addition to their oral lecture. (And again, targeting international students only for this extra screening is unfair!)

The way I see it, when I have a hard time understanding someone with an accent, it's my responsibility to listen more carefully, not their responsibility to change someone they cannot help. I think attitudes like "I can't understand the way X talks" or "you must be able to speak clearly to do Physics" is harmful to our field. It hurts non-native speakers but also Americans with disabilities. In terms of language, to me, the only important part is that the physicist is able to communicate clearly in some manner (e.g. Stephen Hawking cannot speak but still is able to communicate).

This is why many places just ignore teaching evaluations that say stuff like "I can't understand the professor's accent" (the administration at my school have confirmed that they just throw out these comments).


Just to point out students are just as likely to have language deficiencies or disabilities that stop them understanding lectures as the lecturer is to have difficulty giving them. Obviously there needs to be a bit of leeway on both sides but it makes sense that the onus is more on the lecturer as the (on the whole) more experienced, qualified and responsible party to be the clearer communicator.

Dishsoap
Posts: 50
Joined: Mon Aug 24, 2015 12:31 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby Dishsoap » Sun Feb 07, 2016 1:13 pm

If you are applying for a position where it is imperative that you are able to speak in front of people and be understood, then you need to have those skills. Period. If someone in a wheelchair applies for a position as an exterminator (who has to crawl around in crawlspaces, etc.), is it discrimination if they don't get the job? Is it discrimination if a blind person applies to be a pilot and doesn't get the job?

That being said, there are things you can do to correct it. It is not "something you cannot help". Speak slowly, enunciate, repeat things, and check for understanding.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby TakeruK » Sun Feb 07, 2016 2:02 pm

There is a difference between a necessary ability for the job and an ability that we often associate with a job but incorrectly attribute it to being necessary. I think this is the difference between the exterminator example and the speaking example. The accent example is harder because we might be thinking of different "levels" (so to speak) of accents when we use this example. So let's use an example that is a little more concrete:

Although English is my only truly fluent language, I have a bit of an accent where my "th" sounds like a "d" sometimes (e.g. "that" might sound like "dat" and "this" sounds like "dis" to someone who just met me). In a presentation class, the instructor (not a faculty member or an academic) suggested to me that I should go to speech therapy because my accent makes me sound childish to American ears. No one in academia has ever said this to me before, because I think if a decision was made on whether or not I "sounded" childish, then it would be discrimination. Sure, it takes a little bit more work for a listener to distinguish some of the words I'm trying to say (e.g. "bar" vs "ball"), it doesn't actually impede the ability of a student in my class to learn. I also agree that there are things I can (and should) do to help the students understand me, such as writing the word / drawing a diagram on the board or using it in context where it's clear that it's "bar" instead of "ball". But when I said there's nothing I can do, I meant about my speech itself. Sorry, but "speaking slower" and "enunciate" doesn't help---believe me, I've tried doing this for over 20 years now. I do agree that the other stuff suggested (check for understanding, repeating things) is what should be done, and that's what I do. So, I think as long as someone with an accent, lisp or other speech impediment is still able to convey the subject matter, they should not be disadvantaged for any job offer. Otherwise, you're just preferring one accent (or the lack thereof) over another.

My first point is not that schools shouldn't use ability to communicate as a criteria for hiring a TA, instructor, professor etc. My point is that schools should be more careful to distinguish between actual ability to perform a job (this is fine, as in the exterminator example) vs. a preference in the way a person speaks, whether it's with a certain accent or not (this is discrimination). As long as an instructor with an accent can still do their job effectively, it shouldn't matter that they don't sound the same as other people.

My second point is that schools sometimes are not acting fairly in the way they screen for people who are unable to perform the communication requirements of the job. Unconscious bias exists, and I think we all have an easier time hearing accents that are closer to our own. My opinion is that, except for cases where there is no communication ability at all, there are other ways for someone to still develop oral communication ability while working as a TA. After all, this is a school, it's a place of training! At my school, if you don't pass the language screening when you first arrive, then you take remedial evening English conversation classes and until you finish that, your TA work is grading-only and responsibilities for teaching in front of the class is slowly added.

broo
Posts: 13
Joined: Mon Dec 14, 2015 7:23 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby broo » Sun Feb 07, 2016 11:25 pm

TakeruK wrote:There is a difference between a necessary ability for the job and an ability that we often associate with a job but incorrectly attribute it to being necessary. I think this is the difference between the exterminator example and the speaking example. The accent example is harder because we might be thinking of different "levels" (so to speak) of accents when we use this example. So let's use an example that is a little more concrete:

Although English is my only truly fluent language, I have a bit of an accent where my "th" sounds like a "d" sometimes (e.g. "that" might sound like "dat" and "this" sounds like "dis" to someone who just met me). In a presentation class, the instructor (not a faculty member or an academic) suggested to me that I should go to speech therapy because my accent makes me sound childish to American ears. No one in academia has ever said this to me before, because I think if a decision was made on whether or not I "sounded" childish, then it would be discrimination. Sure, it takes a little bit more work for a listener to distinguish some of the words I'm trying to say (e.g. "bar" vs "ball"), it doesn't actually impede the ability of a student in my class to learn. I also agree that there are things I can (and should) do to help the students understand me, such as writing the word / drawing a diagram on the board or using it in context where it's clear that it's "bar" instead of "ball". But when I said there's nothing I can do, I meant about my speech itself. Sorry, but "speaking slower" and "enunciate" doesn't help---believe me, I've tried doing this for over 20 years now. I do agree that the other stuff suggested (check for understanding, repeating things) is what should be done, and that's what I do. So, I think as long as someone with an accent, lisp or other speech impediment is still able to convey the subject matter, they should not be disadvantaged for any job offer. Otherwise, you're just preferring one accent (or the lack thereof) over another.

My first point is not that schools shouldn't use ability to communicate as a criteria for hiring a TA, instructor, professor etc. My point is that schools should be more careful to distinguish between actual ability to perform a job (this is fine, as in the exterminator example) vs. a preference in the way a person speaks, whether it's with a certain accent or not (this is discrimination). As long as an instructor with an accent can still do their job effectively, it shouldn't matter that they don't sound the same as other people.

My second point is that schools sometimes are not acting fairly in the way they screen for people who are unable to perform the communication requirements of the job. Unconscious bias exists, and I think we all have an easier time hearing accents that are closer to our own. My opinion is that, except for cases where there is no communication ability at all, there are other ways for someone to still develop oral communication ability while working as a TA. After all, this is a school, it's a place of training! At my school, if you don't pass the language screening when you first arrive, then you take remedial evening English conversation classes and until you finish that, your TA work is grading-only and responsibilities for teaching in front of the class is slowly added.


EDIT: I realized I misunderstood parts of your argument, so my post is arguing something you never claimed. In fact, you clearly stated it in "My first point is not that schools shouldn't use ability to communicate as a criteria for hiring a TA..." My bad. Guess this doesn't look good for my communication skills. I'll still keep the original post though:

I don't think many people would disagree with your point saying "As long as an instructor with an accent can still do their job effectively, it shouldn't matter that they don't sound the same as other people." But what does doing their job effectively entitle? In reality, I doubt schools care much about how well someone can speak as a TA as much as how well they can speak within the department. Physics is a VERY collaborative field, and so clear communication is important. To give an example, an assistant professor from my university, who was from North America and thus didn't have an accent, was not given tenure. A big complaint against him at the time was that he couldn't communicate his ideas well, even though speaking English wasn't an issue.

Even I, who was raised in a Spanish Speaking household and can speak it fluently (for the most part), have an incredible amount of trouble explaining my research to my family in Spanish even after dumbing it down, and I can't imagine describing it in the detail needed if I were to speak to a professor. It's not so much a matter of "accent" and that they can't speak clearly (which is what you seem to focus on), but more that they can't "communicate" clearly, in that they can't find the right words or write down a coherent sentence. This is a major issue, and one that can't be fixed with single semester of classes. And, unfortunately, students cheat on exams in order to circumvent these requirements.

Dishsoap
Posts: 50
Joined: Mon Aug 24, 2015 12:31 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby Dishsoap » Mon Feb 08, 2016 8:59 am

I agree with broo here. I guess it doesn't matter if you don't speak clearly, as long as you can be understood.

muke
Posts: 20
Joined: Mon Nov 02, 2015 1:26 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby muke » Mon Feb 08, 2016 12:24 pm

Thank you all for sharing your opinions. I just finished this language interview today. It was not about physics, just some TOEFL style questions, except that there was no time for preparation. As is said in the interview instruction, most of Cornell students are initially funded by TAship, so this is to assure that students whose first language is not English are able to pass Cornell's language test(or TA test?) at the beginning of their first semester.
Finger crossed and good luck for future applicants!

spectral_flow
Posts: 14
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2015 8:15 am

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby spectral_flow » Wed Feb 10, 2016 1:01 am

Did anyone get into Cornell after the language interview? Also, if anyone got accepted without that, please tell ! :roll: :roll: :roll:

googy
Posts: 9
Joined: Mon Apr 20, 2015 3:32 pm

Re: Cornell's language interview??

Postby googy » Fri Feb 12, 2016 10:39 am

I got accepted yesterday to engineering physics in Cornell without a language interview. I don't know whether you can infer anything from that to the physics department. My TOEFL is 116, my verbal GRE is 166 and my analytic writing is 4.




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