Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Burden of Graduate Education

This week's email brought an avalanche of requests from grad students. Mr. I. M. Smarterthanyou asked when I would "like to meet" to discuss his dissertation prospectus. It seems that he's on a tight schedule and can't wait for the start of fall classes. He also can't imagine that I don't actually WANT to look at his prospectus again.

Another student, who added me to her exam committee a month ago, needs to throw together--overnight--an exam reading list, because she wants to sit for the exam six months earlier than she had initially planned. She can't seem to locate--or plagiarize--the sample exam lists I posted online.

The bane of my existence, Christina Crisismode, sent her weekly "ohmygosh I don't know what I'm doing please help me" message, asking for the umpteenth time for an adjustment to her exam reading list and asking me to administer--and comment on--a series of practice exams. We have been having this same conversation for a year.

My overachieving grad student sent me 6 times as much written material as I had asked him to produce (as if I have time to read it all), and Ms. Lackluster Eagerbeaver invited me to proofread--for the third time--an article she's working on (her citations are still not right and I can't believe that an ABD doesn't know how to use the handbooks).

There was also an email from a student in my fall class, wanting a copy of the syllabus so that she could get a head start on the reading. I told her that the syllabus does not yet exist and that she should spend the rest of her summer doing something else. As a grad student, she should have plenty to do.

My unwritten message to all of them: leave me the hell alone. I've got my own shit to do over the summer. Besides, grad students should be more independent than this. No one held my hand through the process. Is there any way to make graduate education something other than a massive burden for faculty? How do you make grad students behave like grad students?


  1. It certainly seemed to be the case that there had to be a big difference between those who knocked off a bachelor's degree and headed off into the world, and those who had the stuff to get into grad school and do some grad-level work, which really ought to be a big BIG jump up from what they did as undergrads. Now, thanks to grad inflation, some doe-eyed dodo with a 3.8 on paper, 2.0 in reality is knocking on the door, being accepted, and erroneously thinking that they're capable of conducting original research.

  2. My adviser wouldn't let me send her "excessive" email.

  3. My advisor simply didn't answer any email that didn't have a fresh chapter attached to it. Eventually I finished my diss. just so he would answer my email. Whatever works!

    None of these requests seem too onerous individually (well, Christina Crisismode has to get a grip.) The rest of them aren't asking anything unreasonable. These students ARE acting as grad students should, but the number of requests builds up and eventually your week has been eaten. I sympathize. The problem isn't the students, though, but the lack of administrative support - if your administration is anything like ours, you're expected to handle all the grad teaching on top of a full undergraduate load, without recognition, and somehow find time for your own research on top of that. It's very frustrating!

  4. Grad teaching is part of my load, but dissertation students are not, except insofar as you get punished for not having any. But it's very unequally distributed -- some have 1 or 2 dissertators, some 10-15 or more. There is no cap or offset system, at and some point I became that very bad advisor who doesn't get work back to people in decent time because with over a dozen, I simply can't do it and publish or perish. It makes me crazy, particularly since I feel bad about accepting *any* grad students given the market. But the administration wants us to get bigger, because they are cheap labor.

    Oy, it's a mess.

  5. Whoops, commented in the wrong place. Clearly I'm addled.


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