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Jerk physics professor response

  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I asked a professor for advice on whether he thought I would do well in his course given my limited coursework. This is his response:

” Dear Mr. .....,

As a science student you should know that to establish
a trend line you would need to provide many data points.
With your expectation of an answer from me based on
insufficient data I would have to conclude that you
would not be able to do well in the course.

BS in math from CSULB in 2005. How do I know how much you
still remember? What is your GPA?
Taken up to E&M at the undergraduate level. I would guess
you did PHYS 151 and 152. What were the grades? How much
do you remember?

Have you ever thought that you need to provide more information
for someone to evaluate or predict what you can do in the
graduate optics course? Or, you just don't care. Let me
put something out and let him (that's me) figure out. Let's
waste his time not mind. You are an amazing student!”


I think this guy is a condescending prick for responding this way. I had been admitted into his university’s graduate program, but after this response, am thinking about backing out and take my talents elsewhere.

Thoughts???
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
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What was the email you send him?
 
  • #3
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What was the email you send him?
Here is the original email I sent him:

I am a brand-new admit to the master’s degree program in physics at ……. I will be starting the program in Spring 2011. My background is in mathematics (bs in math from CSULB in ’05), and have taken up to E&M only at the undergraduate level but my dream is to continue studying physics and complete eventually a phd in physics or astronomy.

Do you think that I would be able to do well in your modern optics graduate course next semester?

Thank you very much for your time,
 
  • #4
ZapperZ
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While his response could use a bit of "tact", his point is something we have tried to instill on here, i.e. you can't simply ask something without providing ample background information. This applies to people asking question about some things that they don't understand in science (what is your educational level, or what do you already know so that we won't give you an answer way beyond what you could comprehend). The person who is seeking help needs to be able to put him/herself in the shoes of the other person and figure out what that person needs to be able to make an informed response.

The e-mail you sent him is very vague. Maybe he was inundated with other things, maybe he was busy, or maybe he was having a very bad day, to give you that kind of a response. But still, he might hold the key or the answer to what you need. Apologize to him for not giving him ample information, and if you still wish to pursue an answer, provide him with as much information as you can, such as

1. What level of E&M did you take? What grade did you get?
2. What was your graduating GPA? What was the cumulative GPA of the math/physics courses?
3. Have you taken advanced undergraduate Optics classes? You can't expect to jump into a graduate level Optics class with just an understanding of undergraduate E&M!

etc.. etc.

Put yourself in his shoes and figure out what he would need to give you an informed answer based on your qualification and what you know.

Zz.
 
  • #5
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Here is the original email I sent him:

I am a brand-new admit to the master’s degree program in physics at ……. I will be starting the program in Spring 2011. My background is in mathematics (bs in math from CSULB in ’05), and have taken up to E&M only at the undergraduate level but my dream is to continue studying physics and complete eventually a phd in physics or astronomy.

Do you think that I would be able to do well in your modern optics graduate course next semester?

Thank you very much for your time,
I don't think he's being condescending at all. He's simply saying how can you expect him to make a judgment on the information that you disclosed. He's saying he wants grades and how much understanding of the E&M you had initially.
 
  • #6
epenguin
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I don't know what this Prof's obligations to you are but he has taken more trouble than many or most I know would + indicated disposition to help in case of reasonable request with info so suggest you heed Zz's advice.
 
  • #7
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I'm sorry but if you don't think this guy is an jerk for answering an earnest question with such spite, well I don't know. Something about physics seems to attract a subset of people with abrupt and dislikable personalities- people who "get off" on seeing themselves as superior to others. Not all physicists but a large minority.

Do not take a class with this guy! And if his attitude is general of the department run from the school. Even if he has a point- you simply don't deal with people that way- especially complete strangers.

I'm amazed how people responding could possibly be supportive of the way the professor responded, regardless what was asked.
 
  • #8
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I'm amazed how people responding could possibly be supportive of the way the professor responded, regardless what was asked.
I agree. I had a long response written out, but I decided not to post it, because if people themselves don't see what kind of behaviour they're supporting, then that speaks volumes of itself, and I can't see myself convincing them rules of common courtesy do apply in all frames of reference. That isn't to say the gist of the response and the suggestions here aren't valid, since the OP did provide insufficient info on his background, but I find it funny how everyone just zoomed in on this lack of info and completely disregarded the fact that his original e-mail was in no way offensive or rude, and that he perhaps even wrote such a short one so as to not send a wall of text straight away.
 
  • #9
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In your original email, did you address him as Dr. ..., or did you just go straight to your question?

Not that it excuses him for the part at the end, but if you didn't that maybe what made him mad.
 
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  • #10
Matterwave
Science Advisor
Gold Member
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I think his email was unnecessarily rude. If he thinks you are wasting his time...why write such a long email just to ridicule you? A simple "Sorry, but this is not enough information for me to decide" would have sufficed.
 
  • #11
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snip...
Do you think that I would be able to do well in your modern optics graduate course next semester?
snip...
The response from the professor...


As a science student you should know that to establish
a trend line you would need to provide many data points.
With your expectation of an answer from me based on
insufficient data I would have to conclude that you
would not be able to do well in the course.
The professor hit it dead on with "As a Science student". How can the OP place the stress of a decision from the professor with that little of information? It's one thing to maybe ask for a syllabus or some topics that they would cover in class with little information. The impression I get (and I believe the professor is too) is that from whatever the answer is, the student will either register for the class or not.

If the OP needs things sugar-coated then go somewhere else, because clearly this guy isn't going to do that. I, for one, like this. If I did something wrong tell me up front, otherwise I'll assume that I'm doing it right. Sugar-coating usually doesn't get the point across. Good luck with your decision.
 
  • #12
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In your original email, did you address him as Dr. ..., or did you just go straight to your question?

Not that it excuses him for the part at the end, but if you didn't that maybe what made him mad.
I addressed him as “Dr. ...” and yes, my email was kept short because I was being considerate in order not to give him a long email with multiple attachments and take up more of his time.

Thank you everyone for giving me your opinion on both sides of the coin. However, even if I didn’t give him enough information to evaluate me, he could have said it in a different way. If he is so busy and I am wasting his time, why did he go through the trouble of composing such a well thought email labeling my request as naïve?
 
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  • #13
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If the OP needs things sugar-coated then go somewhere else, because clearly this guy isn't going to do that. I, for one, like this. If I did something wrong tell me up front, otherwise I'll assume that I'm doing it right. Sugar-coating usually doesn't get the point across. Good luck with your decision.
This isn't about sugar-coating. It isn't about telling an overweight person straight up they need to lose weight if they want to get healthier. It's telling them that they're a fat slob of lard that no one wants to want to touch with a ten foot pole. Oh, and by the way, you need to lose weight if you want to get healthier.

But yeah, I guess it does take some effort to be nice to people, so why bother, right?
 
  • #14
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Well the "You are an amazing student!" was certainly uncalled for, but what can you do? A lot of physics professors are jerks, it is what it is.
 
  • #15
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Have you ever thought that you need to provide more information
for someone to evaluate or predict what you can do in the
graduate optics course? Or, you just don't care. Let me
put something out and let him (that's me) figure out. Let's
waste his time not mind. You are an amazing student!
Are you kidding me? Given my rash propensity, I'd reply and say **** ***.

He's clearly making an accusation here, not making the point that it might have been an oversight.
 
  • #16
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Well the "You are an amazing student!" was certainly uncalled for, but what can you do? A lot of physics professors are jerks, it is what it is.
Exactly! You took the words right out of my mouth. I am probably going to reject their admission offer after this. It's not worth the headache
 
  • #17
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This guy is just a professor in the department, albeit a tenured professor. Should I send his response email to the dept chair (who is a nicer professor and person) requesting guidance on how to respond to his email and also to get her opinion on it?
 
  • #18
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This guy is just a professor in the department, albeit a tenured professor. Should I send his response email to the dept chair (who is a nicer professor and person) requesting guidance on how to respond to his email and also to get her opinion on it?
I don't see how it would make any difference, honestly.

Here's something else to think about: Given your present encounter with this professor, how do you think he'll act in his graduate course?
 
  • #19
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Exactly! You took the words right out of my mouth. I am probably going to reject their admission offer after this. It's not worth the headache
Have you asked around to find out what kind of person he really is? You may be hurting yourself if you make the wrong choice. I don't know him from Adam, but I've known many mentors that deliberately try to make things difficult as a test to see how you respond. As an analogy, think of the Navy seal training, or the concept of "tough love". You may be right that it's not worth the headache, but I recommend doing a little more digging if you can. The best thing to do is track down his students and ask them. Or, if he doesn't have any student ... there, you have your answer. :smile:
 
  • #20
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This isn't about sugar-coating. It isn't about telling an overweight person straight up they need to lose weight if they want to get healthier. It's telling them that they're a fat slob of lard that no one wants to want to touch with a ten foot pole. Oh, and by the way, you need to lose weight if you want to get healthier.

But yeah, I guess it does take some effort to be nice to people, so why bother, right?
Instead of making up a bad analogy why don't you just use the original situation?

My point is exactly what the professor has said "As a Science student..." Science isn't about coming to conclusions without a significant amount of evidence, so why should the OP ask for a conclusion like this?

I don't quite understand the "so why bother, right?" question. But my answer is no. It takes effort either way, nice or mean.

The only part, as others have pointed, that is a bit strange is the "You are an amazing student!" At that point, he's being a jerk but the rest is justified.
 
  • #21
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Exactly! You took the words right out of my mouth. I am probably going to reject their admission offer after this. It's not worth the headache
I don't think anyone can blame you if you do so. The guy was pretty rude and you have all the right to withdraw from the program.

However, in your position I would reply him with a polite, but embarrassing (for him, that is) email saying that you (wrongfully) thought it's better to write a short email not to disturb him, providing him with your GPAs and all things he asked about, and demonstrating that his attitude was really uncalled for.

This would show him how rude he was, without you being impolite. Also, he could apologize and answer your question. In all cases I think this would be better than just leaving quietly.

That's how I see it anyway.
 
  • #22
Borek
Mentor
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Perhaps I am jerk too, but I find the prof. answer funny. Other than that, you can assume I reposted all you can read in Zz post.
 
  • #23
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Exactly! You took the words right out of my mouth. I am probably going to reject their admission offer after this. It's not worth the headache
I think you took that the wrong way. My opinion is you need to suck it up. As long as you are a student you are gonna be a worm in the dirt, that's how it is. Just learn what you can from his comments and beyond that, don't let it bother you.
 
  • #24
Vanadium 50
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Yes, he was rude. But he was also right. Complaining to his department head will come across as "Mommy! He is being rude to me!" And what will you get out of this?

Furthermore, if you are so thin-skinned that this bothers you, I suggest that you do not pursue a career in science. I can show you referee reports that are far worse than this for far less cause. That's part of the job. If this is how much you can take, a career in science will make you miserable.
 
  • #25
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Perhaps I am jerk too, but I find the prof. answer funny. Other than that, you can assume I reposted all you can read in Zz post.
I think this is the right attitude. I'd probably respond with something that says, okay I see your point and sorry for being an idiot, then provide the details and ask him again. I think there's something to be said about people who can take this sort of thing in stride and not have it hurt their ego and run away with their tails between their legs. I say admit you made a mistake, ignore the biting response and get your business done. You'll never get anywhere if you can't let this sort of thing slide. Maybe he is a jerk, but it doesn't matter. You don't have to like him, but you may need something from him.

Hell, he might have been laughing the entire time he wrote that email to you. Best thing for you is to pretend that your friend just gave a sarcastic response to you for asking a dumb question.
 

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