You may have a Queen song in your head like I do (. . . another one bites the dust!), but if you don’t that doesn’t diminish my accomplishment. Today I celebrate another milestone on the road to my PhD degree. Actually, I celebrated Monday night after completing my last final exam, but today I just saw the grades my professors posted and see it is official. I have now completed my coursework requirement.
What an absolute bear to get off my chest! I’ve been suffering from coursework fatigue for the past 12-18 months. Last semester was bad with the poor way my former advisor treated me in his class. This semester was in some ways worse due to an unfortunate affair with group work. A huge portion of the grade came from two projects. As my team assessed our skills to decide who should do what, we determined that, because I lacked skills needed on the front end, the other three team members would handle early work and I would handle more of the later work. Even though we weren’t doing an equal share of every task, we were performing a more or less equal share of the total work needed for the whole project. So we reported equal shares to our professor who graded us accordingly.
When the second project began, we started out the same way, as I had the expectation to pick up at the end. But at the end, my team members shut me out, did most of the work, let me at the very end, and then took what they liked from that pittance of a contribution to finish the project. I can understand why they did this. We performed horribly in the first project, losing 60% of the possible points (mostly because they ignored what I had to say — things like “That bridge design looks too bulky” and “We really should round the interior corners to eliminate stress concentrations” only to learn our bridge weighed too much and failed at a sharpened interior corner), so taking more credit on the final project gives them more points and a higher grade. One team member worked full time and would have to pay $4000 for the class if his grade fell too low. So I get their motivation.
I just find it sad they would sell their integrity like that. Of course, at the time I was livid. I sent a letter as an email attachment to my professor explaining my side of the situation, and I’m sure my teammates each had their own communications with our professor. The way my professor handled this situation is pure brilliance. When I saw that grades had been posted, I logged into the course site on the university LMS and saw that the grading used the point distribution my teammates reported. That left me with next to nothing for my final project, the lowest grade in the class for the final project (what do you expect when you lose 80% credit?), and a final grade of C+. But then I went to the site for the registrar’s office to see what grade was posted. After logging in, I sat in amazement at the letter B next this course.
A half minute of contemplation looking to explain what I had saw witnessed revealed the brilliance of my professor. His approach allowed him to take sides without really taking sides. If any of my former teammates were to ask him what grade I got, he could honestly tell them he used their point distribution for the final project and gave me the lowest grade in the class. They would then feel vindicated. But to prevent me from feeling I got the shaft (and I’m not talking Samuel L Jackson), he bumps my grade from a C+ to a B. Now I feel vindicated. Yet my professor never took sides, declaring that one side was right over the other, so he can feel good about keeping out of the fray (he strikes me as the sort that hates conflict). It’s absolutely brilliant what he did.
And now I’m all done with coursework. All that remains is the research, and the first step there is finding an advisor who will take me on, preferably one with funding, although given my funding situation over the past two years that may not happen. I met last month with someone I thought would be a great candidate. We met in his lab and had a fantastic conversation about the research I wanted to perform. In 45 minutes, I got more advice on how to move my research forward than I did in 2 years with my former advisor. But he backed out after learning about some paperwork requirements. It was all very strange. Anywho, I’m now set to meet with another candidate next week who looks very promising. If he turns out like the first, then I’ll find a third, and a fourth, and however many more it takes to get this done and locked in. I’m going to get my PhD and will not be denied.
Once I have my advisor in place, I’ll work a plan to get to the next step: the proposal. Then it will be on to execute the research, write and defend the dissertation, and finalize everything. Along the way, my plan will include quality additions to my CV, since the whole point of my PhD program is becoming more competitive for the full-time teaching job I want. But today I celebrate the completion of my coursework and another milestone on my way to that full-time job.
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