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I am about to complete my first semester as a CS Phd student. I have not done my masters yet though. I have 5 years of experience in the industry and that's pretty much about me. The starting of the semester seemed fine and being a PhD candidate without a masters meant taking more credit hours and as per the norms, I took 9 credit hours and am a TA for 2 courses. The problems started arising when my advisor  (first term as associate professor) asked me to come up with a research idea within the first week of our meetings. As I was just beginning to get my feet wet into the problem statements and the ongoing research, I naturally was not able to come up with one. I was then compared with other students the professor had come across and was told that I was sub par in my performance compared to them. I took it in my stride and explained my situation that, I am being swamped with my own assignments and the TA work for the two courses but it was brushed off. In the meantime I did do some tests and conducted surveys and literature reviews but the comparison did not end. At this time I started to get demotivated and felt my confidence was dipping. Added to this one of the instructors to whom I was the TA was overloading me with heavy loads of assignments to grade without giving me enough time which included coming up with solutions on my own. Now a week ago my advisor told me that there was a faculty meeting as there were some shortages in the funds for the upcoming semesters and they were offloading students who did not perform well. I was told that I could be one of the under-performing PhD student who would be sent back home. The news is  yet to sink in but I am pretty sure that no student can be expected to come up with a research paper in the first semester ( I  may be wrong though but pronouncing one as an under-performer is unfair) and deemed as an under performer.

I am not going to give up on my PhD dreams and I am asking you all on what is expected of a PhD student in the first semester and when does one usually start publishing papers as in during which year or by which semester?

I am planning to apply to other universities and how do I mention this episode in the application and would it have a negative impact (which I am sure it would) .

 

Edited by foreignstudent
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Did your advisor ask you to come up with a research idea, or a research paper?

To start off with, you say they asked you to come up with a research idea that you weren't able to come up with. I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask a new PhD student to come up with a project idea at the start of their first semester, that's what you're there for. 

Papers usually don't come that quickly, however. 

9 hours sounds like medium load, not too heavy and not too light, and TAing (grading) two courses is about the norm in my field- maybe a bit on the light side depending on the size and number of homework assignments. 

The expectation in my program is that you're generally in lab when you're not TAing or in class during the week (it's mostly lab TAs) and that grading/class work is evening time. For a non-lab field, I'd sub research in in place of "in the lab".

How publishable your work is is different from how productive you're being. We want all our first year students to be spending the time in the lab, because even if the projects they come up with don't work out (and most of them don't), they learn a ton about the field and developing research from those failures. If they wait until they're done with courses, or have a light TA load to get into the lab and dive into research, they don't fail all that much less and then are a few semesters behind in becoming productive. 

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34 minutes ago, Eigen said:

Did your advisor ask you to come up with a research idea, or a research paper?

To start off with, you say they asked you to come up with a research idea that you weren't able to come up with. I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask a new PhD student to come up with a project idea at the start of their first semester, that's what you're there for. 

Papers usually don't come that quickly, however. 

9 hours sounds like medium load, not too heavy and not too light, and TAing (grading) two courses is about the norm in my field- maybe a bit on the light side depending on the size and number of homework assignments. 

The expectation in my program is that you're generally in lab when you're not TAing or in class during the week (it's mostly lab TAs) and that grading/class work is evening time. For a non-lab field, I'd sub research in in place of "in the lab".

How publishable your work is is different from how productive you're being. We want all our first year students to be spending the time in the lab, because even if the projects they come up with don't work out (and most of them don't), they learn a ton about the field and developing research from those failures. If they wait until they're done with courses, or have a light TA load to get into the lab and dive into research, they don't fail all that much less and then are a few semesters behind in becoming productive. 

Well judging by your answers you must be in academia hence your defensive stance, but from  a fresh and new student's perspective who is new to the land and the culture, getting used to the ethics and rules of the place takes time. How often would you compare your new students with the others you might have worked with when it comes to results? Every student has the potential and the will to see it through otherwise he wouldn't have applied to the program in the first place, but he does need support and guidance, that is what advisors are for and not for pointing a gun at your head everytime you work and bring out results. TAing 2 courses may be the norm but it is no way light when you have assignments almost every week and even into the finals and the strength is about 25 each. I am not justifying anything, I just have not heard anywhere where your advisor deems you not worthy enough in the first semester itself.

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Since you've come to these conclusions already and have rejected Eigen's attempt to put your problems in perspective, what, exactly, do you want help with? There's a thread for rants.

Edited by telkanuru
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1 hour ago, foreignstudent said:

Well judging by your answers you must be in academia hence your defensive stance, but from  a fresh and new student's perspective who is new to the land and the culture, getting used to the ethics and rules of the place takes time. How often would you compare your new students with the others you might have worked with when it comes to results? Every student has the potential and the will to see it through otherwise he wouldn't have applied to the program in the first place, but he does need support and guidance, that is what advisors are for and not for pointing a gun at your head everytime you work and bring out results. TAing 2 courses may be the norm but it is no way light when you have assignments almost every week and even into the finals and the strength is about 25 each. I am not justifying anything, I just have not heard anywhere where your advisor deems you not worthy enough in the first semester itself.

I'm not exactly sure what was defensive about what I said. You asked what was normal for the first semester. 

An average TA load is ~20 hours per week, every week. In my field, that's either grading for 2-3 classes with 125-200 students each, or teaching two sections of lab (3 hours each in class per week, plus all the prep, homework and grading). 

It seems to me like you're having communication issues with your advisor. They told you what they expected of you, and are communicating that they don't feel you are following through with what they expect. 

Unlike undergrad, grad school in the sciences is more like a job than school. You're being paid, by someone, to do work and make progress- you're paid for your work as a TA, you're paid to make progress on research. The person who is paying you (the department or the professor) has expectations of what they want out of you in turn for that money. If you feel the expectations are unreasonable, or you aren't willing to do them, there's no moral judgement, it just means you need to find another employer (either another school or another advisor) that has expectations more in line with what you want. 

It can be stressful to be compared to other students, but it does indeed happen. Academia, and the world at large, are competitive places, and you're competing with funding and spots for other students. Being told you're behind, or you're not matching up to the performance of other students (past or present) means you need to do more. It's not uncommon to come in at a deficit  due to a deficient background or swapping fields, but there are rarely allowances made for that- catching up is usually expected to be on your own time.

That said, I agree with Telkanuru- what exactly are you looking for here? It seems like you just want to rant, and (as mentioned) there's a thread for that.

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I have not yet gotten into grad school, so by no means would what I am going to say be accurate. However, it is of my impression that Phd programs seem to expect their students to have come up with some project ideas, with certain level of specificity, even before the admission. What did you put in your statement of purposes? How did you communicate with your POI to reach the agreement that you two fit well? I understand that the course load of graduate studies, along with the workload, can be daunting. It seems to me that what you've described is perfectly reasonable of your advisor and it should be what you agreed when you signed up for this.

Whereas I do think you may be being a bit too sensitive about your workload, I agree with you that comparing you and former students is not exactly appropriate of your advisor. It seems rather impolite of your advisor, even though your advisor may be right. However, as other posts suggest, TGC cannot help you much with this: TGC cannot really go up and yell at your advisor, nor can TGC suddenly make you feel okay about this and become motivated by this.

As an international student myself, I do feel you on the cultural adjustment part. Transitioning is hard. I did not perform well academically in my first two year, and I was just doing my undergraduate. I cannot imagine how hard this would be for you as a PhD student. However, there exists resources on campus to help you "fit in." Try to be positive and don't get beat up about this. Instead of thinking how you are being asked to do something out of your power, just try to do it. As I have gradually come to realize, academia is cut-throat and is not for the weak. Work hard, perform better, or quit.

Edited by VentureIntoNothingness
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@Telkanuru and Eigen : I just want what is a reasonable  expectation out of a student in his first semester. Seems like academia is a place where the lines between reasonable and unreasonable becomes blurred . However I do not agree that the first semester is a reasonable estimate of time to judge whether a student is capable of doing his PhD or not.

@Ventureinto......:  I am not asking TGC for any services that you have so astutely gleaned from the posts and suggested. However I do appreciate your sympathies on agreeing with certain other concerns of mine.

Like you said academia  is a cutthroat world where you live long enough to become one .

Thanks for the perspective much appreciated!!!!!

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What your adviser is expecting of you seems utterly reasonable and not at all unexpected for a first year. I am finishing my first semester of a year-long MSc program, and while I don't have TA duties, I do have sufficiently more work than you seem to be describing. It is perfectly reasonable to expect you to have an idea about research projects - after all you've been in the department for at least a semester by now, surrounded by others doing research and taking classes that must have sparked some thought process that made you want to know more.

If you're being told that your performance is sub-par, this is most likely NOT a personal attack, but rather a wake-up call to let you know that you need to be doing something more in order to succeed; it is your adviser doing their job - advising you! I think you need to wake up and listen to the obviously knowledgeable responses from Eigen and Telkanuru who responded informatively to your post, and reassess your expectations of your PhD journey. 

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@piglet. thank you.. I am awake enough to be responding to your post, its way way past midnight where I stay. That being said , I find you being judgemental which is what I was trying to say in my very first post. I am wide awake to know what the journey holds and what I should be doing and what not. i do appreciate and thank Eigen and Telkanuru (@piglet33: happy eh?!!) for further expanding my vision about academia and the world in general.

All your posts seems to suggest I lack what it takes. I will try my best to catch up..wish me god speed!!

 

 

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Do you have friends in your cohort or ahead of you who could help you figure out what is considered to be meeting expectations at your program?  Learning the terrain at a new university can be difficult, and often other graduate students can be your best resources because they've had to recently negotiate that terrain themselves.  In particular, I'd suggest trying to talk to other students your advisor advises or has advised.  They will have the best insight into what he or she expects from you and how to meet those expectations.  Good luck!

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On 12/8/2015 at 0:59 AM, foreignstudent said:

@Telkanuru and Eigen : I just want what is a reasonable  expectation out of a student in his first semester. Seems like academia is a place where the lines between reasonable and unreasonable becomes blurred . However I do not agree that the first semester is a reasonable estimate of time to judge whether a student is capable of doing his PhD or not.

You are right that academia is a place where things are blurry. This is because your experience depends a lot on your advisor. Two students who are performing exactly the same might be deemed "satisfactory" by one professor and "unsatisfactory" by another professor. I don't think this is entirely fair, because having inconsistent expectations does lead to inequalities across students in the department. And, for small schools like mine, there is usually only 1 professor doing exactly one topic, so it's not just a matter of "If you don't like the professor, work with someone else" because it really means "if you don't like this professor, you have to work in a different subfield". In addition, my field is also really small, so if many professor in a subfield are this way (it's possible for a subfield in my field to be almost entirely dominated by alumni of one or two faculty at a top 10 school), the entire subfield is now pushing away people. To this end, we're working on more standardized expectations of both professors and students. However, academia has very strong feelings about keeping autonomy of researchers and faculty, and to some extent, there is always going to be some room for interpretation by each professor.

While I hope that information makes you feel better that things may change in the future, the reality is that right now, that stuff won't help you. To answer some of the questions that you raised in this thread (either directly or indirectly):

1. How often would a professor compare a new student to old student? All the time. In fact, I think this is one of the main metrics that faculty member use to evaluate graduate students. On the LOR forms, faculty are often asked to rank this student compared to all of their other students. This is also a topic of discussion when a faculty member is presenting their student for acceptance to candidacy or other graduate school milestone. Since it is very hard to set absolute guidelines for performance in grad school (where everyone is doing different things), the standard criteria is "How does this student compare to other students?" Are they progressing as expected? Are they taking more courses? More TAships? etc. I agree with you that it's not very fair for the professor to compare you with his former students only, but that may or may not be a "kick in the pants" type comment rather than a formal evaluation. I think you can at least rest assured that when it comes time for the department to formally evaluate all of their students for funding, they will do so by comparing you to all students in the department, not just the small sample size of your prof's old students only.

2. When will your advisor deem you worthy/not worthy? I agree with you that one semester is too short to kick someone out. But your advisor is not saying "Based on your performance this semester, I am kicking you out". Your advisor is saying "So far, your work this semester is sub-par and I want you to improve". This is not a final evaluation of you---you can think of it as a mid-term review or just giving you some very important feedback. After all, it would also be unfair to wait an entire year, then make a final evaluation "You're kicked out because of poor performance this past year", when you had no warning or indication at all that you were underperforming.

In my program, during Year 1, we take 30 hours of courses per week (including time for reading and homework etc.) and are expected to work about 20 hours on research per week, plus a few hours for department seminars etc. During this time, we must come up (with help from our advisors) with two research ideas and carry them out. We don't have to fully complete them, just a proof of concept that it is a viable research idea and that we have encountered most, if not all, of the unexpected nuances and problems that would arise. At the end of Year 1, we defend both projects in front of a committee of 5 professors (including our project advisors) in a 3 hour oral exam. After this exam, the committee deliberates and determines whether or not you get to continue in the program or you leave with a Masters (or leave immediately with nothing). One very very important aspect is whether or not your advisors recommends you to continue onto a PhD with them. Your advisors being happy with your progress is the most important part---the other committee members are just there to make sure your advisors aren't being overly lenient or overly harsh and that the quality of student that continues is in line with department norms.

So, in my program, the direct answer to your question is after 1 year (or 3 semesters). However, your program is not making the same determination! Again, we get feedback from people at all points during the year so that we are able to do the best we can on the end of year exam. I think your advisor is following good feedback pedagogy by providing you with early feedback now, when you can still take action on it. It would be utterly useless if the only feedback you got was the final evaluation. I'm sorry that you don't like the content of the feedback and perhaps the advisor could have presented it in a better way (I wasn't there so I don't know), but I highly recommend that you reframe this information as constructive feedback designed to help you succeed, instead of a damning evaluation of your performance. 

3. When do people write papers? This depends a lot on the field. Most people in my program will be working on stuff that will eventually go into a paper almost immediately. There is no "transition period" where you only do classes and TA work. From the first day, we are doing work that will lead to a paper. I know this varies a lot from field to field though. Depending on the nature of the work, students in my program typically publish their first paper in year 2 or year 3. For people working on theory/mathematical modeling, a paper can be finished as early in year 2. For those running experiments or working with large amounts of data, the first paper may take longer to complete. 

In summary, here is my advice to you moving forward:

A. As others said, talk to other students in your program about normal progress and expectations. Talking to other students here is a good idea, but remember that things vary a lot from program to program and even advisor to advisor. So, while you will still benefit from hearing more perspectives, it's important to not apply something from another program or advisor to your situation without careful review.

B. Remove your own perceptions and ideas of what is "fair" so that you can properly hear the advice behind the feedback. I agree with you that your advisor may be unfair in determining your performance as sub-par. However, don't focus on that part. There is obviously something they are unhappy about if they are saying this. Find out what it is. You might have to talk to them more about a performance review and ask for specific areas to improve. As Eigen said, this may be a sign of lack of clear communication.

C. Still be yourself though. In step B, I suggest that you remove your own perceptions so that you can hear the "other side" but this doesn't mean that everything you think and feel is wrong. You are still you and you may be right that the advisor is acting unfairly. But you have to first distance yourself in order to understand what the other side is saying. Once you comprehend their point of view, then you can re-insert yourself and decide whether or not you want to do the things they are asking of  you. Sometimes professors ask for unreasonable things---e.g. they might ask you to work 60 hours per week and you may decide that this is not what you want to do. 

D. After B and C, think about where you want to be in the future. Maybe you want to first try out doing everything the professor wants you to do in B and see how you feel about it. Eventually, you will have to decide if working with this advisor is the right fit for you. Finding this out sooner is better than later! This is why I think doing "B" is really important---the longer you just think your advisor is being unfair and ignoring what they say, the longer before you are really able to decide what you would want. If you want to work with another advisor in the department, once you decide that, start talking to other professors. If you want to quit and start again at another place, get those steps in place.

E. Finally, I want to just disagree with VentureIntoNothingness's comment about academia being a cut-throat place and not for the weak. Sometimes, people accompany this with "needing thick skin". I really hate it when advisors and academics present it this way because it suggests that it's okay to bully or harass others in academia because we're "so cutthroat" and "weak students need not apply". This does not create a good atmosphere for our work. I agree that it is important for students and academics to be mature and aware enough to properly self-evalaute, handle constructive criticism and determine their own weaknesses (e.g. Step B above). But this is a far cry from calling those who cannot do this "weak". Also, I think the attitude that "academia is cutthroat, not for the weak" is a fatalist point of view that reinforces negative behaviour (such as bullying and harassment) rather than work on both improving students' ability to self-evaluate and handle critique as well as creating an inclusive work environment where bullying and harassment has no place.

(Note: I know that maybe VentureIntoNothingness did not mean their comment to condone bullying and harassment but instead meant it in the positive ways I wrote above. I don't mean to pick on you, VentureIntoNothingness! It's just that I see many academics defend bullying or other nasty attitudes with the cutthroat/not for the weak/needing thick skin phrases and maybe you are using them without meaning them in the same way!)

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On 12/8/2015 at 11:20 PM, Eigen said:

Did your advisor ask you to come up with a research idea, or a research paper?

To start off with, you say they asked you to come up with a research idea that you weren't able to come up with. I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask a new PhD student to come up with a project idea at the start of their first semester, that's what you're there for. 

Papers usually don't come that quickly, however. 

9 hours sounds like medium load, not too heavy and not too light, and TAing (grading) two courses is about the norm in my field- maybe a bit on the light side depending on the size and number of homework assignments. 

The expectation in my program is that you're generally in lab when you're not TAing or in class during the week (it's mostly lab TAs) and that grading/class work is evening time. For a non-lab field, I'd sub research in in place of "in the lab".

How publishable your work is is different from how productive you're being. We want all our first year students to be spending the time in the lab, because even if the projects they come up with don't work out (and most of them don't), they learn a ton about the field and developing research from those failures. If they wait until they're done with courses, or have a light TA load to get into the lab and dive into research, they don't fail all that much less and then are a few semesters behind in becoming productive. 

I know some programs in other disciplines would rather wait until 2nd semester or 2nd year even, to even get lit review started (however when that occurs, one picks the remaining coursework based on lit review and what would otherwise be relevant to their research).

But are you really saying that there aren't really not that many failures that occurs because of errors that can be traced back to a lack of grounding in the basic knowledge that is taught in the coursework or due to a lack of time?

Doing research when you do not master the basics at a sufficient level can slow you down to a crawl and even grind to a halt.

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Most of the failures start from issues with technique, not design. And coursework does nothing to teach techniques, only time in the lab can do that. 

Research is generally something you get better at by actually doing- the techniques, the process of refining and revising, becoming a better writer. Even the intricacies of a particular niche that you're doing research in. 

Coursework is rarely specific enough to help you learn your niche in the field, you usually need to get into the literature for that. Coursework gives you the broader background you need to understand the literature, but also gives you what you need to teach the material in the future. 

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Damn, that's pretty rough. The workload is pretty normal, but I don't think you should have any possibility of being removed from the program within the first year, unless you do nothing at all. Year one should be for formulating ideas. This takes time. Hell, I didn't settle on the topic of my dissertation until year 4.

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I'm in a different field (Biology), but I am also finishing up my first year of a PhD program without a masters. I have a light TA load (~10 hours a week) and am taking 12 credits but only 7 of those are graded. I too have felt like courses have taken up a ridiculous amount of my time, but I guess you just have to grind through it. 

Aside from TAing and classes, I have some general lab duties (~10 hours a week), and I have gone out into the field for about a week to get a sense for the system I am working in- which gave me ideas for research. 

My advisor also wanted a research plan from me very quickly (There were grants he wanted me to apply to). My first idea was a failure. But then we worked together to formulate something we are both happy with. But they are still just research ideas, he wants me thinking about things I COULD do not necessarily nailing down my exact topic. I have applied to 3 grants with 2 different research plans- we will see which ones, if any, get funded. 

I think it is a pretty widely accepted that you should be throwing around ideas and getting the thought juices flowing early, not necessarily marrying yourself to your exact dissertation research, but who knows maybe one of those ideas will stick. 

It is a little silly to deem someone unfit for a phd in their first semester, there is a huge learning curve. It just seems like you need to jump to it and throw out some possibilities instead of getting bogged down in your daily duties. Remember, the big picture of a phd is not about your courses or TA. 

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I don't think it's impossible to deem someone not well-suited for a PhD in their first semester. That's 3-4 months. There are some huge red flags that can be identified in the first 3-4 months. That doesn't mean that you kick the student out immediately - you give them a chance to improve, support them. BUT you can definitely tell them what they are doing wrong and let them know that if they don't shape up they are in danger of being booted. Sounded like that's what OP's PI did.

Generally in the first year, a new PhD student is expected to 1) take the required coursework, usually about 9 hours; 2) TA 1-2 sections, usually about 20 hours' worth a week; and 3) start doing research, assisting in the lab with basic and intermediate tasks and starting to come up with their own research ideas. Publishing a paper usually comes later but the earlier you publish the better, and it's not unheard of for students to publish a paper in their first or second year. In my field, it's common for students to start publishing their work by their third or fourth year. At the very least, though, a first-year PhD student should be able to come up with at least a rudimentary research idea.

And yes, of course this "episode" would have a negative impact. Usually if you want to apply to a new PhD program, you'd need to get a letter of recommendation from someone in your department - ideally your advisor, but if that's not possible then another professor who believes in you and will give you a strongly positive letter. Is there another professor in your department that thinks highly of your work?

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  • 2 months later...

I don't agree that the workload is insubstantial, depending on how much time foreignstudent is putting into lab. We don't take more than 3 classes at a time. Our program never has students TA and take classes in the same semester (and we only TA once or twice, ever) and when I read that foreignstudent was taking 9 credit hours and TAing for two classes in one semester, I cringed. Maybe it's just midterm season and I feel like I'm drowning (which is why I'm procrastinating on here, of course). Plus, if you haven't been in academia for a while, it takes some time to remember what studying requires. 

Try not to put so much pressure on yourself to come up with the best idea ever that's going to get you a Nature paper in your first 6 months, or whatever. Your professor just wants you to start defining what your role in the lab will be and where you want to go. It doesn't need to be perfect at first. That's what mentoring is for. Just propose something you think is interesting and potentially feasible for the next semester. Plan out your experiments with your adviser's help. Try to come up with a question you find interesting and propose a few ways to go about trying to find the answer. You can do this. You're in graduate school for a reason. 

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Although this thread is sort of old, I feel that I need to chime in.

 

I strongly agree with madbiochemist.  Forgeinstudent, you can do this! If you got accepted you certainly have what it takes. It's hard to know exactly where you are struggling, but I also sort of get the impression that you may be asking to much of yourself. For example in regards to research proposals, your professor may have wanted you to come in an share some broad ideas of what you might be interested in working on - just something to start of in as you and your PI start developing a project for you. In general: Try to do what's being asked of you, but don't stress if you feel that you are not always doing a great job at it. At early stages in your studies I think it's usually fine as long as you do 'something'.

 

I find that many of the posts in this thread are being rather insensitive of Forgeinstudents situation, in particular by (often indirectly) questioning Forgeinstudents work ethics. I think that is very unfortunate. Clearly, someone starting a thread like this struggles with very real issues. We should focus on discussing constructive solutions to the situation. I'm sure there is a ton of experience out there, and people who might be able to identify and suggest ways to cope. Please focus on helping rather than questioning those who are already difficult situations. 

 

Forgeinstudent, hang in there! Try to find ways to overcome your struggles, but don't blame yourself if some things don't turn out well. Most of all, do not under any circumstances listen to people who imply that you are not cut out of grad school.

 

 

 

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Just going to say, coming into a thread over two months after the last post to do nothing but critique the posters in it... Seems a bit strange? The OP didn't ask for coping strategies or help, they asked what was expected of graduate students in other programs. 

If your program doesn't make you TA and take classes at the same time, that's great. It's also rare. It's much more common to have to take classes, TA and do research at the same time in your first semester

 

2 hours ago, Monstercookie said:

Most of all, do not under any circumstances listen to people who imply that you are not cut out of grad school.

Also, this as a blanket statement is really bad advice, especially given to someone you don't know on the internet. 

There are many people who get into graduate school that are not cut out for graduate school. That doesn't mean everyone who gets tells someone they aren't cut out for it is correct, but to label them all wrong?

A complete lack of willingness to listen to things you don't want to hear is, among other things, what leads to people leaving PhD programs with MS degrees after 8+ years.

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I really do believe that essentially everyone who comes into a PhD program are well suited candidates. There's nothing that special about grad school as a whole. Some groups and some places may be rather destructive and only cater to people with certain personalities, but I am sure that is not the norm and it most definitely should not be. That said, many people may find that they don't enjoy grad school or don't feel all that motivate by it and in that case it most definitely makes sense to leave (with a masters or otherwise).

 

There always seems to be a clique of people who carry the "thick skinned" attitude, and seem to cherish keeping those attitudes in place. Lets not be those people.

 

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3 hours ago, Monstercookie said:

I really do believe that essentially everyone who comes into a PhD program are well suited candidates. There's nothing that special about grad school as a whole. Some groups and some places may be rather destructive and only cater to people with certain personalities, but I am sure that is not the norm and it most definitely should not be. That said, many people may find that they don't enjoy grad school or don't feel all that motivate by it and in that case it most definitely makes sense to leave (with a masters or otherwise).

 

There always seems to be a clique of people who carry the "thick skinned" attitude, and seem to cherish keeping those attitudes in place. Lets not be those people.

 

I respectfully disagree. I think many people go into grad school unaware of the demands and stresses. That is not to say they are not intelligent enough to get a PhD, but realise that they didn't fully appreciate what a PhD is and it's not the path they want to go down. I've seen this a lot in the UK so I may have a different take to US departments. 

I will agree that departments can have an intimidating aura, my current one certainly does, but by the time we're mid-20s or older, regardless of where you're working (academia, offices, labourer, etc etc) things aren't going to be easy, there will be people you don't like and sometimes you need that "thick skinned" attitude.

Returning back to the original matter of this post, it seems to be a case in point of the OP maybe not being fully aware of the demands of a PhD before going. Now that's not to say that they will be unsuccessful, but there is a need to listen to the wake-up calls when they happen!  

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It is also possible that foreignstudent does not have a very good advisor and should consider looking around for another. Or even that foreignstudent does not have a "bad" advisor, but does not have a good advisor for him. Ideally, if a student is struggling, the advisor would try to provide helpful guidance. The form of this guidance should be tailored to the needs of the particular student. I have rarely found that just being told you're not doing well is sufficient "guidance" and it is not what I would consider advising or mentoring. Your advisor should discuss your potential research with you in a way that makes the exchange of ideas feel safe. As a new student, you will probably come up with some awful plans that may, however, contain a kernel of a useful idea. Your advisor should help you learn how to distinguish between ideas worth pursuing and those that for whatever reason wouldn't work, and then help you form a plan going forwards. If you enter a program with a lot of research experience already, you are more equipped to do much of this on your own. If you are new to research, it is not something you necessarily just know how to do. I also think the tone of this thread has been too negative toward foreignstudent, and I hope there is someone within his program he can go to for advice and assistance. And I do think that  switching to a new advisor with a different "management style" should be a serious consideration -- if the current pairing is not working well, switching sooner rather than later can save everyone a lot of grief. 

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If your boss asks you to do something, you can't just not do it. You can try and negotiate ("I'm overloaded with course work this week, can I present my research idea at the next meeting instead?"), or ask for clarification ("What is involved in presenting a research idea in this group? Is there an approach you'd recommend for doing this?"). But if I was a professor who asked a student to come up with an idea, have the student either say "Yes" or not reply (which would imply consent to a lot of professors), but learn that the student hadn't done what I'd asked...I would be annoyed. If the student then argued with me instead of apologising, I think I would be even more annoyed.

In the OP's place, I would try and put more priority on my research, and focus on saving energy with the TA work (you don't need to be perfect as a TA, it might mean relaxing how strictly you grade the papers or how closely you look at the answers to cut down on the time spent with the assignments). After my first semester as a TA I did become a lot more efficient, simply through experience. As others have said, getting the perspectives of other PhD students is important, as is communicating with your advisor about expectations as soon as they ask you to do something. This doesn't strike me as an issue about suitability for grad school: rather, learning about how to balance all the competing demands within the PhD experience.

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12 hours ago, hippyscientist said:

I respectfully disagree. I think many people go into grad school unaware of the demands and stresses. That is not to say they are not intelligent enough to get a PhD, but realise that they didn't fully appreciate what a PhD is and it's not the path they want to go down. I've seen this a lot in the UK so I may have a different take to US departments. 

I think we are essentially saying the same thing. I do think just about everyone are well suited, but realizing that it's not what you want to do for the next 5 or so years is rather normal. Students should certainly be open to quitting their program if they decide it's not what they want to do, but no one should quit because they feel that they aren't capable. 

 

A thick skinned attitude may serve you well at some points in life, but that doe not mean that we should encourage or normalize such climates. 

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