Friday, August 2, 2013

The Feral Grad Student from Dr. Magnus

Greetings from the Sanctuary!

My work with abnormals has made for some interesting discoveries I thought I would share with you, my colleagues, in an attempt to help you understand some of the more exotic college student abnormals. My topic for this post: the Feral Graduate Student.

I encountered a small pack of Feral Graduate Students (FGS) in the wilds of online education. In fact, that is the only geographic area I myself have experienced them. Unlike Domestic Graduate Students (DGS) we have all had in the physical classroom settings, these graduate students show no fear of academics. They will attack by spewing email and discussion board posts with convoluted and erroneous logic. These attacks come with little to no provocation, and the results tend to be quite messy.

They have some cognitive issues, included an unusual level of dementia that mimics the snowflakery of undergraduate students. Here are a few examples: one FGS was convinced of his right to submit a take-home final exam three weeks late, submitting even after the faculty member clearly communicated a "No" to him; another small pack of FGS would not participate in discussion boards that were a part of the grade and failed the understand that postings after the class was over were pointless; finally, more than one FGS submitted a detailed critique of the class with the email submitting their final exam. They do not seem to be able to understand the standard means of communication, confusing simple words like "no", "must", and "required." The only means of communicating effectively with them seems to be grades.

While this species considers themselves to be dangerous predators, they remain a threat to untenured faculty members and even then their spewing is more of a nuisance than a threat.

When dealing with this species, I personally would make the following recommendations:

  1. Wear a protective hazmat suit when you suspect a course of action you are about to take will result in an attack.
  2. Keep in mind that there attacks are likely not personal, and merely a defense mechanism of as of yet unknown origin.
  3. Recognize their communication issues and follow up nos, musts, and requireds with grade penalties that will be enforced.
  4. Be very thankful for all the DGS you have, but be aware that a FGS could easily turn a DGS if the do not follow through on recommendation #3.

Please share your own experiences with this difficult species!


  1. Ugh, online grad programs. If a person can't commit enough in terms of priorities to do a. . . traditional? normal? program, then I don't know. Universal geographical access I think undoes some of the 'weeding out' of overextended/undermotivated types.

  2. Hmm. . .I think I'd gone more or less feral by the time I defended, but I didn't start that way; my experience was more along the lines of the pet which, after being abandoned (i.e. had an advisor move on to another school) multiple times, decides to fend for itself, with decidedly mixed results. I actually would have been grateful for more structure/attention (see #3); the only boundary I would have fought would have been one saying "you've taken too long; you're no longer eligible to finish," with no recognition that the department bore considerable responsibility in creating that situation (though I bore some, too).

    Like Dr. L, I have my doubts about online-only grad programs. Various sorts of low-residency hybrids, with intensive weekends/weeks/summers together and online work in between, strike me as a viable option, but I'm much more doubtful about online-only.

  3. Sorry Dr L and Cass, but I don't understand the "purity" of conventional grad programs.

    There are many on-campus programs which offer evening/weekend classes. There doesn't seem to be any concern for the "socialization" or "commitment" there as students come running in after work and then tear out after. The only extra obligation is making the trek to campus. Is the commute really the crucial component?

    Part-time on-campus may not be as likely an option for doctoral level programs. But given that a large portion of doctoral level work is, by design and definition, solitary, what really is the necessity of campus-based work?

    A professional association recently declared it would not give its stamp of approval for even hybrid programs because weekend seminars do not give enough exposure to evaluate "dress and deportment." (Yes, they really said that.)

    To Dr. Magnus, I understand your experiences ... I share them. But, truthfully, I think the consumer model has been more a factor in students (graduate or otherwise) going feral than whether the program is online or not.

    1. Well, I'd probably fail most "dress and deportment" standards, so I'm hardly in favor of those.

      I do think a good evening-only face to face grad program is going to include assignments that force students to be in touch with each other at other times of the week (quite possibly the wee hours; going to grad school and working at night is tough), and will also include a good deal of interactive in-class work (lecturing at people for 3 hours doesn't work anyway, especially not at the end of a long day). Something similar can, indeed, be accomplished online, but I'd guess that adding even a few, possibly even optional, in-person sessions at the beginning, middle, and end would improve the situation considerably.

      Mind you, I teach online, and think it can be done well. But I also find that many of my online students take advantage of the one-on-one face-to-face conference I offer, and I find that form of communication considerably more efficient than trying to do the same entirely in writing (though skype offers a not-bad middle ground). I also teach 50/50 hybrids, and suspect that even a 25/75 split would be more efficient than online alone.

      There's also the concern about whether students are really doing their own work. Even a bit of in-person testing/sample-taking, in some courses (remember we're talking about a whole program here, not just a course) can help alleviate that concern. And I'd far rather have students spend the bulk of such time interacting in person with each other and me, and just an hour or so doing some sort of test, than have them spend time traipsing to a testing center on their own.

      I'm not a purist about this, but if someone were choosing among programs, and could possibly swing (logistically and financially) even a slightly hybrid model over an all-online one, I'd advise them to take the hybrid.

  4. I would like to clarify that I am not criticizing online graduate programs ... merely pointing out that so far that is the only place I encountered FGS. I know there are others out there in online, traditional, hybrid, and dual-dimensional programs.

    1. Thanks for the clarification, Dr. M.

      But, as I have shared here before, I began teaching for an undergraduate online program several years ago. The program was populated largely by adults who, for whatever reason, were left few credits shy of a degree after leaving a program earlier in life.

      In my initial experience, students who stumbled would usually respond apologetically, reminding me they had been out of college for years and appreciative of guidance and flexibility that was offered.

      As the years progressed, however, I have seen more and more snowflaky arrogant aggressiveness. In the same program, I have recently been accused of being "mean" because of feedback; challenged as being unqualified to comment on their work; and excoriated for not accommodating their non-academic obligations.

      While my longest tenure has been with the aforementioned program, during the same period, I have also had appointments to on-campus programs and now also an online graduate program. I've seen similar behavior in all places.

      This is what leads me to blame the creeping consumerist model of academia.

    2. Students who live in their own alternative realities seem to be increasing in all environments. They're still far from the majority, but they are definitely lifeforms that consume more than their fair share of professorial energy.

  5. Cassandra, you make a good point! Perhaps next time we should discuss the elusive energy vampires. :)