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talking about grades without sounding like an undergrad

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I hesitated to post this topic because I understand that grades are not the most important part of grad school, they're merely an outcome of a larger process of garnering skills, and research > grades. That said, given that grades do have some importance, I have a question about how to discuss grades with professors without sounding like an undergrad begging for an A. It feels odd to even be concerned about grades. Coming from a BA and MA program with grade inflation, I don't think I've had to worry about getting an A since, I don't know, 10th grade geometry? (I'm in the humanities now). The whole idea feels very high school/undergrad to me, but alas, I'm freaking out about grades. 

Anyway, in two seminars I feel like I'm on the border between B+ and A-. At this point in the semester, the only substantial part of the grade left is the final paper. I'm hoping that a strong final paper can push me into the A- zone for the final grade. I've turned in early drafts of my papers to said professors and would like to talk with them about their feedback  after they return the drafts. I'd like to ask (in more sophisticated phrasing) what grade range they think my paper falls into and what effect this paper could have on my final grade, as well as what I need to do to push myself into the A- range (again, in more eloquent phrasing). I guess I just feel like I will sound like a whiny undergrad begging for an A instead of a first year PhD student. I was thinking of writing down examples from the weekly papers I've done well on and from ones where I've done poorly and then listing areas I see for improvement in the final paper. And then asking the professor if they see other areas for improvement and how much improvement I need to make to get into the A- zone (though not in those words, of course). Hopefully that sounds better than just "um, hey, is this paper good enough to get me an A?" 

Again, I know grades aren't the goal, but they are important. Anyone have ideas or experience about approaching final grades with professors without sounding whiny? Or like a freshman?

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Does your school have a rubric with definitions of what grades mean? E.g. "A+ is publishable material", "A is original research" etc? If you feel concerned about using the word "A" try connecting the desired grade to the rubric. It may actually turn out that rubrics are not reflections of grades. But in any event, I don't think it would come through as weird if you come to the prof as being concerned for potentially getting a B+. At my previous school B+ meant no more grants. That's a pretty dire situation. At that school, when I was at the verge between A- and A, I went to talk to the prof and told her I don't wanna end up with A-, and she told me what to do. As a graduate student, you're expected to strive for perfection, so yeah, your concern with getting an A would not be out of place, considering that the way you describe your school they actually seem to care about grades (there are schools which don't, e.g. at my current school there hasn't been any grades yet this semester. Love that, actually.).

Edited by random_grad

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Ah, good points. Thanks. My department just says to maintain a B+ (3.3) average and that a B or lower is cause for concern. So technically I would be ok with getting a B+, but it would be in my best interests to get A- or higher in terms of future grants etc. Glad to hear that bringing up grades is not totally taboo. 

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I'd phrase it more in terms of feedback on your returned papers ("how could I have strengthened this paper?") rather than the dreaded "If I gave this paper to you now...what grade would you give it?" 

Think about the whole coursework process less about "getting an A", and rather about "writing excellent graduate-level papers". Sure, the outcome of the latter is probably an A, but the grade itself isn't what matters. 

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10 minutes ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

I'd phrase it more in terms of feedback on your returned papers ("how could I have strengthened this paper?") rather than the dreaded "If I gave this paper to you now...what grade would you give it?" 

Think about the whole coursework process less about "getting an A", and rather about "writing excellent graduate-level papers". Sure, the outcome of the latter is probably an A, but the grade itself isn't what matters. 

I think this is spot on advice on how to not sound like "an undergrad". An "undergrad mindset" would be thinking "My goal is to get an A, what do I have to do to achieve that?", while a "graduate student mindset" would be the approach "What is my paper lacking? How can I improve it?". You can also bring in the past papers for the course and talk about how you could improve those papers and apply what you have learned to your final paper. 

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I agree with the rephrasing above.  Yet, some of my own undergrads really do go with the more mature route.

The first question is, what is your department culture on grades?  If it seems like A- has really wide latitude, then I wouldn't stress as long as you continue to work hard to improve and build yourself up based on your professor's feedback.  

Second question is, what is your adviser's take on getting grades below A-?  My adviser pointed out that a particular fellowship that most people want to get basically require the transcript to be full of As and A-s (and no B+s with the exception of really difficult language courses)) so I had to be conscious of that.  Your adviser has more insight on what having a B+ means on your transcript, not just the overall average.

These two questions will help you decide if it's worth pushing The Question to the professor of that particular course.

Overall, remember, it's only your first semester.  You're allowed to make one B+.  From next semester onward, keep your transcript pretty with As and A-s.

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On 11/13/2015 at 8:23 PM, TMP said:

I agree with the rephrasing above.  Yet, some of my own undergrads really do go with the more mature route.

The first question is, what is your department culture on grades?  If it seems like A- has really wide latitude, then I wouldn't stress as long as you continue to work hard to improve and build yourself up based on your professor's feedback.  

Second question is, what is your adviser's take on getting grades below A-?  My adviser pointed out that a particular fellowship that most people want to get basically require the transcript to be full of As and A-s (and no B+s with the exception of really difficult language courses)) so I had to be conscious of that.  Your adviser has more insight on what having a B+ means on your transcript, not just the overall average.

These two questions will help you decide if it's worth pushing The Question to the professor of that particular course.

Overall, remember, it's only your first semester.  You're allowed to make one B+.  From next semester onward, keep your transcript pretty with As and A-s.

What is the fellowship you're referring to? 

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4 hours ago, Hashem1 said:

What is the fellowship you're referring to? 

My university's dissertation completion fellowship.

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