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apc68

Scheduling with night classes in a full time PhD

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Hi, this is my first post on thegradcafe so bear with me. I recently committed to Temple University to start pursuing a PhD in physical chemistry in the fall. I also received a presidential fellowship that means I get an increased stipend and only need to work as a TA or RA for 2.5 out of the 5 years. Therefore, I am not planning to work as a TA my first semester. From what I've found online, Temple suggests you take two 3-credit electives and a 1-credit "Teaching in Higher Ed" course while teaching. Since I don't have to work as a TA, should I take more than that? I'm used to taking a full load of courses and working 3 jobs in undergrad, so I like to be busy.

Also, I was looking at course offerings for next semester and it seems like a majority of the classes I could/would like to take are only offered at night. Is this typical for a full-time PhD program? It seemed odd, since you're strongly discouraged from having another job. Lastly, can anyone who has had this kind of schedule tell me how you managed your time? In my first semester, I won't officially be in a group yet, so I won't have my own office. Do you just bounce around between libraries and cafes to work during the day until your classes at night? How much time do you spend on campus? 

Sorry for all of the questions, I'm just not sure what to anticipate. Thank you!

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22 hours ago, apc68 said:

Also, I was looking at course offerings for next semester and it seems like a majority of the classes I could/would like to take are only offered at night. Is this typical for a full-time PhD program? It seemed odd, since you're strongly discouraged from having another job.

I was also wondering about this. The PhD program I'll be starting in the fall is set up the same way and I'm a little confused as to why. Maybe so that PhD students can TA undergrad classes that are typically earlier in the day?

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My MA was set up this way (grad courses were 6pm-8:45pm). It freed up time during the day if we had work (including TA and RAships) or wanted to work on things like our theses. Overall, I prefer night classes, but I'm a night owl.

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On 3/14/2018 at 11:09 AM, apc68 said:

Since I don't have to work as a TA, should I take more than that?

No. Start with the recommended load, and if you find that manageable, then increase it. Trust me when I say you will find yourself with more than enough to do.

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50 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

No. Start with the recommended load, and if you find that manageable, then increase it. Trust me when I say you will find yourself with more than enough to do.

If the recommended load is set with the expectation that the student will be spending X hours TAing and the OP has an exception to reduce their teaching load, then it might be okay to think about adding one extra class. In my field, this might be a good idea since you don't get that much research done in your first year anyways and this will free up more time later on. But definitely talk to your advisor or a prof in the department about this first to get their opinion.

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In terms of figuring out whether or not taking an extra course makes sense and is feasible, I'd talk to current grad students (particularly those currently in their first or second year) as well as with your PI. It could be that they're expecting you to be in the lab more since you won't have TA duties. Best to clarify that in advance.

As for the evening classes, I think every grad seminar I took in my PhD program started at 4pm or later. Some of that was definitely so students could TA during the day for undergrad classes. In the lab sciences, having classes in the evening gives you a nice chunk of time you can use to run experiments without having to run out for a class. But, there were also classes I took in other departments which started earlier in the afternoon. So, depending on your level of involvement in other departments for training, you may be able to craft a schedule that isn't entirely night courses.

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On 3/19/2018 at 10:30 AM, rising_star said:

I'd talk to current grad students (particularly those currently in their first or second year) as well as with your PI. It could be that they're expecting you to be in the lab more since you won't have TA duties. 

I did meet a few grad students on recruitment weekend, but none of them had the fellowship that I do, so they all had TAships the first semester. I also won't officially choose a PI until December, so I won't have a lab to be in. I'm just struggling to see what I'm supposed to be spending all my time on. 

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25 minutes ago, apc68 said:

I did meet a few grad students on recruitment weekend, but none of them had the fellowship that I do, so they all had TAships the first semester. I also won't officially choose a PI until December, so I won't have a lab to be in. I'm just struggling to see what I'm supposed to be spending all my time on. 

This sounds more and more like you should take more courses and get them over with, in my opinon. Is there a general academic advisor for grad students in your program? For us, during our first year, we had an academic advisor (the same prof advises all new students) that helped us with course decisions and is separate from our research/dissertation advisor (our academic advisor often ends up chairing your thesis committee). If so, talk to that person. Otherwise, talk to the director of grad studies (or similar title, i.e. the prof in charge of grad students specifically) or your department chair for their thoughts on taking more classes in the first semester since you're not TAing.

In addition, even though you don't pick a PI until December, surely you have some ideas in mind and perhaps already talked to at least one prof about working in their lab. You should probably check with them too. Maybe you want to use the extra time to try out working in their lab a bit to see if you like it. It's only March now, so you don't even have to do all of this right now....at most schools I've been to, you don't finalize your grad course list until a week or two into the semester, so you can wait until you arrive for the school before worrying about all of this.

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8 hours ago, apc68 said:

I did meet a few grad students on recruitment weekend, but none of them had the fellowship that I do, so they all had TAships the first semester. I also won't officially choose a PI until December, so I won't have a lab to be in. I'm just struggling to see what I'm supposed to be spending all my time on. 

I'll be honest and say that I'm confused. Are you saying that no labwork whatsoever is required or expected in your program for students in their first semester? There aren't rotations or trials or anything? You just pick a PI in December and hope that you get along with them and the others in their lab? I've honestly never heard of a program where it works that way. Again, I would talk to potential PIs about what their expectations are of incoming students in terms of coursework and labwork. Similarly, I'd talk to current students to get a sense of how they spent their time in their first year. Yes, they had TAships but I'm sure that isn't literally the only thing they were doing. If you want to know how to succeed in this program, you really do need to start talking and listening to others, even if they aren't in exactly the same situation that you are in.

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10 hours ago, rising_star said:

I'll be honest and say that I'm confused. Are you saying that no labwork whatsoever is required or expected in your program for students in their first semester? There aren't rotations or trials or anything? You just pick a PI in December and hope that you get along with them and the others in their lab? I've honestly never heard of a program where it works that way. 

I'm confused as well, but that's what it sounds like! Students I've talked to so far said that we can casually sit in on lab meetings and meet with students and PIs throughout the semester, but there is no formal labwork being done until you choose a group. I didn't realize that was an unusual system, but I also have very little experience with this kind of thing, hence why I asked here. But you're right, I should try to meet more current grad students and try to understand the program more. 

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Just to add to what some other have said, you might have to pay for any extra classes you take, so you should ask about that. In my department, tuition is covered for 9 credits a semester and if we want to take extra classes we have to pay for them - not that we'd want to, even if I didn't have to TA I wouldn't take on another whole class because, at least in my experience, regular classes are way more demanding than TAing.

On another note, when I was visiting schools, I heard the following advice a couple of times: if you can choose not to TA at some point, choose the 2nd and/or 3rd years instead of the 1st.

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19 minutes ago, TheWalkingGrad said:

Just to add to what some other have said, you might have to pay for any extra classes you take, so you should ask about that. In my department, tuition is covered for 9 credits a semester and if we want to take extra classes we have to pay for them - not that we'd want to, even if I didn't have to TA I wouldn't take on another whole class because, at least in my experience, regular classes are way more demanding than TAing.

Good point! I have not yet been to a school where the graduate students were charged tuition on a per-course basis instead of just a flat per-semester basis, but this is good to check! However, I have been to a school where the course offerings are quite limited so even in semesters where I had an extra course to take, there was nothing I could actually take that would count towards degree requirements!

20 minutes ago, TheWalkingGrad said:

On another note, when I was visiting schools, I heard the following advice a couple of times: if you can choose not to TA at some point, choose the 2nd and/or 3rd years instead of the 1st.

Indeed, especially for a program like the OP's where you don't start on research right away. For my PhD program, we did do research right away and had a big scary quals exam at the end of first year on our research, so the department purposefully assigns TA work to only 2nd, 3rd and 4th years and some 5th years by request. The idea is to give us a break in order to get prepared for the quals exam in our first year and to allow us to focus on finishing on time in the 5th or 6th years. There's also not enough TA spots for every student, but fortunately, our funding is not dependent on TA work, so if you don't have a TA assignment, you still get the full funding!

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That set-up is fairly common in the physical sciences: 1st years spend their 1st semester either rotating through several labs, or doing what the OP has to do (sit in group meetings, talk to group, etc), then they pick their advisor at the end of the semester.

In that situation I'd take plenty of classes. Talk to the current grad students anyway, even if they're not on your precise fellowship. It'll give you an idea about departmental culture and the classes that are worth taking.

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