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What can I reasonably expect from a professor?

  1. Nov 13, 2013 #1
    I am in my final year of graduate studies. I have a very difficult class. I am working at it, but I feel that I do not have the support I need to succeed.

    The professor is available for office hours directly after class, twice a week. Other than this, he does not answer email except on the day of class, and is not available outside of office hours in any way. He has stated that he will give every person in a class a C grade, but rarely hands out As. He seems proud of this. His accent can be difficult to understand, and his lecture notes, which he kindly makes up and distributes, have several typos that make it difficult to self-study (at least for me). I fear that I may not be able to succeed in this class.

    How should I feel about this? Is this normal?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 13, 2013 #2


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    Do you mean final year of undergraduate studies? In most cases the final year of graduate studies is spent completing a thesis.

    Anyway, it's normal to have at least one challenging class in your academic career. If you're in school long enough, you inevitably encounter a professor you don't understand or don't agree with, who doesn't believe in handing out As, who is (or seems to be) incompetant, is not adequately prepared for the course, etc. In fact, it's surprising that you've gotten to your final year of grad/undergrad without having encountered this before.

    There are a number of things you can do about it. One choice is to simply used the course notes and syllabus as a guide and go out and learn the material through your own reading. I know that can be frustrating when you're paying for the course, but for some people this proves to be the best way to learn the material and it helps you to develop your own self-study habits.

    Another choice is to say something about the way the couse is being taught. Even now as I teach my own courses I feel strongly that students should have a say in how the course is delivered. They're paying for the course and so they have a right to give feedback (and expect changes) during the course, not just at the end. This is a good option if a majority of the class is struggling along with you and if you can identify specific points that you would like to see improved. Ideally you want to speak with the professor first, but you do have the option of going over his his as well.

    Something else that can help is to swallow your pride and figure out which students seem to be doing well and ask them if they can help you out with it. Depending on your learning style, a study-group can really help if you're struggling.
  4. Nov 13, 2013 #3


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    I hate to say that this could be a learning experience, but you will find similar issues in your work life. You may have poor, unreasonable managers at some time or another and you're going to have to figure out a way to deal with it and still deliver on your commitments. It's one of the hardest part of a job, in my experience. See if you can figure out where he's coming from and maybe you can learn how to give him what he's looking for.
  5. Nov 13, 2013 #4
    Thanks for the good input.
  6. Nov 13, 2013 #5
    He actually told us, "5% of my students are able to solve this problem. Do this problem for homework (a big chunk of the grade)" I get As in most of my classes. I am thinking of emailing him and asking him if I should withdraw (as that deadline is drawing near).
  7. Nov 13, 2013 #6


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    That might not be a bad idea. I withdrew from a class with a terrible teacher once and I think it was the right thing to do.
  8. Nov 14, 2013 #7


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    I don't see the problem with this. He's telling you that he doesn't expect that you'll solve the problem, but that he expects you to try. Do so. Write up how you tried, what approaches you took, what you learned about the problem. Add some assumption and show that the problem would be solvable if it were true. Say you think it's true but don't know how to prove it. Go to his office hours and talk to him about it. Talk to other people about it.

    This sort of thing is what mathematicians do when they're trying to solve hard problems. Demonstrate you can do this. Work on learning the material and don't worry so much about your grade. You'll have more fun and get better at math.
  9. Nov 14, 2013 #8
    But if he wants to go to grad school he needs to worry about his grade and he needs to get an A. I think withdrawing could be a good idea, unless he doesn't care about grad school and his GPA.
  10. Nov 14, 2013 #9
    Yes sir. It might be a game to some bored faculty, but it's not a game to me.
  11. Nov 14, 2013 #10


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    Maybe the context is not coming across in your post effectively, but this sounds like you're upset that your professor is challenging you on an assignment. There are a number of reasons a professor would do this. The first one that comes to mind is that students learn a lot more from the challenges than they do from problems where the answer is apparent. Another is that the problem may actually have some relevance in the field. Also, professors need a way of stratifying the students in their classes. There wouldn't be much point in grading if they gave A+'s to everyone. Perhaps this is one way he uses to figure out which ones are the top 5%.

    That said, it's one thing to throw a few challenging problems onto an assignment. It's quite another if the entire assignment, and every assignment, is set at a level above the target level of the class.
  12. Nov 14, 2013 #11
    Life isnt Good Will Hunting.

    What the professor is doing isnt common for a reason. Most professors realize that the proper setting for doing this is through some extra credit challenge/ project or through just advertising undergrad research opportunities which would be an excellent setting for this less structured challenge.

    Advice to the student would be to drop the class especially if someone else teaches it another semester. If another professor teaches it another semester you would be at a disadvantage relative to those students when applying to things because likely your employers and grad admissions committees wont know that this is the class and professor with the big grade deflation reputation and compensate your grades with this fact.
  13. Nov 14, 2013 #12
    It's different when it's your last year of grad school, for a Master's, and the one question counts for 10% of your total grade in the class, yet is from one of the questions on a regular homework assignment. I appreciate your opinion. Stratifying is meaningless when the professor came out and said that there is no curve for the class, at the beginning.
  14. Nov 14, 2013 #13


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    Has the professor said anything about how he will grade/evaluate that problem? Will it be an "all or nothing, full credit or zero credit" deal, or will he give partial credit based on how you approach the problem, how much work you do, and/or how much you can show you've learned from it even if you don't end up with a complete solution?
  15. Nov 15, 2013 #14
    After my cordial questions about its relevance and impact on the course, he actually decided to downgrade to a different problem. He's not a bad guy.
  16. Nov 15, 2013 #15
    Cool he is reasonable and is open to feedback.
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