I'm a first-year PhD student and am taking a full load of courses. I am also under an RA-ship. I haven't had much time to focus on research because of the course load and I am wondering what is really expected of me as a first-year PhD student?
My professor has me on a research project that I honestly hate and it's just me that is working on it. He gets upset when I don't make progress but I am trying to navigate my classes, and I honestly am not interested in this topic. I'm not sure what to do. He is very frustrated at me, but I'm really doing the best I can. Plus, whenever I ask for clarification, he gets mad at me for asking so I have no idea what this project is or what I'm supposed to be doing. If I can't ask what the project is about, how in the world am I supposed to do the research?
What are expectations of first-year PhD students (I'm getting my Master's degree along the way)? How much research is really expected of us?
I'm a first year PhD student who faced the exact same problem in my first quarter. To make things worse, I'm a GTA. I assist 3-4 courses every quarter in addition to the 2-3 courses I do. There's a mandatory first year project which I must complete (and present next month in front of all the faculty and students in the dept) and there's of course the MA along the way. I was put on a project, which though interesting, was quite impossible for me to do due to my lack of programming skills (the skills required for this particular project was way higher than what I possessed..I'm doing a course towards rectifying that this quarter). So after one month of NO progress, I sat down with my adviser and told him that I thought the project was very interesting but I also told him that I would like to be put on a different project of his (which I knew about and for which I knew he could use me because I had done related work in my ug). He told me that he was planning the same because he understood why I wasn't making any progress and promptly put me on that project. I showed immediate signs of progress. 1.5 months of work produced a conference paper and one more month of some additional testing will go into completing a journal paper which I'll send out at the end of the current quarter. So it did wonders for my research.
Now, about the course load. I did 14 credits of coursework in my first quarter. Being a GTA, I was required to do only 9. I naively thought 14 would be easy. The 5 credit course is designed in such a way that 5*3=15 hours of work is assigned every week. The other two were 4 credit courses. So the coursework alone was 15+12+12 = 39 hours of work per week outside of lectures (They really did assign that much work). Exam weeks were hell because I had my own exams, some term paper submissions + ~300 exams to grade! I ended up with a 3.523 and nothing to show for research. I then decided to cut down on coursework. In my second quarter, I did 2 courses (4 credits each) + 4 credits of independent study. The independent study is supposed to demonstrate the amount of work that you put in to your own research..so that's something nice that they have over here that will let us manage stress + let us work on our research. I ended up with a 4.0 and with some nice progress on the project.
So to summarize, in my experience its best to do the following:
1) If you have the option to do just 2 courses a semester/quarter + some independent study credits that will give you time for your research, consider it instead of loading up all the credits with pure coursework.
2) Sit down with your professor and explain to him that in order to make progress, one needs to have a certain love and passion for the project at hand because that's the source of the drive. Tell him that though you find his work to be extremely interesting in general, this particular project hasn't had that effect on you and ask him if he has other projects available.
Hope that helps.