Monday, 8 December 2008

The Dead Grandmother Syndrome


Everyone knows the stress of testing can be detrimental to students, but it seems that some college professors have observed that it can be even more hazardous to their family members. Recently I came across a (very tongue-in-cheek) article by Mike Adams of the Biology Department at Eastern Connecticut State Univ. about the strength of this effect.

"It has long been theorized that the week prior to an exam is an extremely dangerous time for the relatives of college students. Ever since I began my teaching career, I heard vague comments, incomplete references and unfinished remarks, all alluding to the "Dead Grandmother Problem." Few colleagues would ever be explicit in their description of what they knew, but I quickly discovered that anyone who was involved in teaching at the college level would react to any mention of the concept. In my travels I found that a similar phenomenon is known in other countries. In England it is called the "Graveyard Grannies'' problem, in France the "Chere Grand'mere," while in Bulgaria it is inexplicably known as "The Toadstool Waxing Plan" (I may have had some problems here with the translation. Since the revolution this may have changed anyway.) Although the problem may be international in scope it is here in the USA that it reaches its culmination, so it is only fitting that the first warnings emanate here also."

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The basic problem can be stated very simply: A student's grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year.

"While this idea has long been a matter of conjecture or merely a part of the folklore of college teaching, I can now confirm that the phenomenon is real. For over twenty years I have collected data on this supposed relationship, and have not only confirmed what most faculty had suspected, but also found some additional aspects of this process that are of potential importance to the future of the country. The results presented in this report provide a chilling picture and should waken the profession and the general public to a serious health and sociological problem before it is too late."

The rest of the article goes on to "document" the existance of the effect, and prescribe potential interventions."

You can find the whole article here

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