Grad school coursework, distilled

December 8, 2010

Graduate school does have formal coursework, as most new to the process assume. It just doesn’t last very long, not much beyond the first year or two in most cases that I am familiar with. It can be excellent or dismal, depending on the degree to which the faculty as a whole think it is a waste of time better spent on running experiments. For both students and instructors.
Compromises are struck in the professoriat’s unending quest to shed teaching responsibility so that they can focus on the only thing that makes or breaks their careers- scientific output.
One such compromise is the team-taught course in which a number of profs are rounded up to do a lecture or three. This leads to the following scenario, hilarious distilled by Samia of 49 percent blog:

Each unit of every course is taught by multiple instructors from various departments, so each exam is really a bundle of mini-tests that are graded separately and using entirely different (and sometimes mysterious) criteria. Since every professor is lecturing on their Favouritest and Most Special Part of Science THAT NO ONE ELSE RESPECTS *rips shirt off*, we get about 100000000x more information than most of us will probably need.

Guilty as charged, Your Honor.


7 Responses to “Grad school coursework, distilled”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Yeah, these courses are TERRIBLE compromises. I took two of them, and one was a total waste of time. It wasn’t much more than a power point presentation with lots of text slides that you know the prof tossed together the day before class.
    If you’re going to have a course like this, then it should be based on discussion of the current literature. So prof Smith spends 2 weeks leading discussion on 6 papers on RNA interference, and the next 2 weeks Prof Jones leads discussion of 6 papers on the nucleosome.


  2. All my coursework for my PhD was team taught, talk about a clusterfuck.


  3. Pharm Sci Grad Says:

    Amen. Preach it Samia!
    And quit that shit DrugMonkey! 😉


  4. WG Says:

    This blog isn’t really about the sciences, but it does address some of the absurdity of grad school (like the lack of effort that goes into teaching grad courses):
    100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School


  5. Alex Says:

    There are disciplines where most grad classes are taught by a single faculty member. While the quality of teaching in those classes is of course variable, it generally does not subject the students to the whiplash of constantly changing styles, coupled with the firehose of everybody trying to cram the minutiae of their own sub-sub-fields. And some of those graduate instructors really deliver excellent courses. Of course, there is something to be said for a course where several different people give their perspectives and emphasize the details of the latest findings.
    In an ideal world, each discipline would offer a mix that balances some good solo-taught grad courses (probably on foundational and timeless topics) with a few team-taught grad courses on cutting-edge stuff. In the real world, it seems like most disciplines find a style and stick with it, for better AND for worse.


  6. Jim Thomerson Says:

    I don’t recall having any team taught courses as a graduate student, and most of the courses I took were well taught and worthwhile. I have team taught Ichthyology to upper level undergraduates and graduate students, Natural Resources as an upper level undergraduate general education interdisciplinary course, and Environmental Impact Assessment, a graduate level course. In these courses, all professors were involved and present throughout the course. We did have guest lecturers in the EIA course. These courses were intended to be interdisciplinary rather than multidisciplinary.


  7. Samia Says:

    A total of 7 instructors composed the cell final I’m writing right now. My classes are super literature based, and this course in particular has been pretty excruciating. Thankfully it’ll all be over soon! :DDD


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