It’s hard to believe that I’m already through with two terms in this Ph.D. program. Depending on the day, it can sometimes seem like I just started — other days, I struggle to remember what it was like before this program sucked up all of my free time (and then some).
The journey has definitely not been a smooth one. If I knew then what I knew now, I’m not sure that I would still enroll in the program.
Frankly, the program has been getting worse, not better. My first term was frustrating because there was a remarkable lack of engagement from instructors in one of my classes, while the other had two very engaged and hands-on instructors. Okay fine, sometimes you get a dud, and sometimes you get a gem. The goal is to have gems outnumber the duds, right?
Alas, my second term wasn’t much of an improvement. I sent a frustrated note to one of my previous professors (one of the engaged ones from the first term) expressing my concerns, and that note got shared with my current instructors verbatim. Yes, it was in the spirit of “let’s share your feedback so we can improve the program” but it didn’t seem to have the desired effect; in fact, all it did was spur some email feuding between me and one of the instructors about her lack of engagement and what I thought she could/should be doing differently. Fortunately that feud was eventually resolved by a simple telephone call, and in fact I ended up liking that instructor very much, but I still don’t think the feedback really changed anything.
Things got phenomenally worse with another instructor, and not just with me. One of them was so astoundingly bad at her job that several students (including me) seriously considered dropping out. I’m talking a professor so bad that she not only isn’t adding value to your learning experience, but she in fact is actively detracting from your ability to learn on your own. That’s right — the learning experience would’ve been better if we’d just been given a syllabus and a reading list and she’d stayed out of it entirely.
Unfortunately, me being a bit more bold than many of my classmates, I took it upon myself to share some consistent feedback that many of us were having about the problems we were experiencing in the course. Several of my classmates would openly express their concerns on a call with just us students, but would clam up and go silent when given the opportunity to share that feedback with instructors. This, of course, left me standing out in front, and between the previous email kerfuffle and this situation, I suspect that I have firmly acquired the label of “troublemaker” in the administration’s eyes.
Conflicting instructions, unclear expectations, and unanswered questions were the norm, and countless pleas for help from the instructor (and eventually the program director) got us nowhere. This instructor eventually wrote me a scathing email, so shockingly unprofessional that I found myself unable to respond with anything other than a simple “I don’t think there’s anything else for us to say to each other” reply. The program director finally pulled our class together by phone to give better instruction than the professor was about a major project, and we moved on.
The second half of the term went by pretty uneventfully. I ended up earning an A in both classes (or more accurately, in each of the combined pairs of classes, since each class is inexplicably split into two nearly unrelated topics) and sailed into my two-week break feeling pretty good about the end result. A sense of accomplishment certainly helps soothe the sting of an awful interaction.
Still, this two-week break from school couldn’t have come at a better time. Being so close to burn-out, it’s been grand to have a few days with no academic commitments. I’ve been able to catch up on television, go out to the movies, even go out to a bar with friends once or twice. Looking back, I can’t say that I feel the program so far has been worth the investment of time and money… At least, not considered by itself.
As necessary steps on the path to a bigger accomplishment? That’s a different story. I’m still working through that one in my head. But for now, I’m just glad that the last six months are behind me.