Professors, do I have any right to ask for an incomplete?
December 7, 2016 5:47 PM   Subscribe

I've had a tough semester, partly due to current events, partly due to personal issues, and some of those personal issues could sound like "bad choices," especially to a conservative-leaning person. There's a ton of obnoxious thinkpieces making fun of students who needed counseling or safe spaces after the election, so naturally I think my reasons are invalid. I'm debating asking for incompletes. Sob story inside.

About me: I'm an AMAB transwoman and 28. I lost about 9 years of my life to major depression, and I'm thankful I've had the privilege and resources to recover. I'm on my senior year of my Bachelor's degree, and I really wanted to finish strong. If I can get registration worked out perfectly, I want to finish next semester.

So, this semester, I proposed to my fiancee. As she is my fiancee, you may infer she said yes. When that successful proposal to a woman I'm very close to left me feeling numb and empty, as I always felt, I got worried. I thought it through and worried my emotions were all an act, and realized one of the few things I had strong feelings about was my gender identity. I thought of the strong sense of envy I had for trans people I followed on Twitter and Tumblr, and how hopeless I felt thinking I'd age and die as a man. I'd had a history of joking about hating male gender roles, wanting to castrate myself, and so on, which I thought was typical cis male things. But after the proposal, the jokes got more frequent and darker, to the point my fiancee straight up asked if I thought I was cis. And I realized, I couldn't answer yes. I was kind of reminded of the quote about Bob Arctor hurting himself getting popcorn. I didn't hate my life, but I knew it was mentally unsustainable. I felt I was watching myself from afar, so dissociated that I was living, but not experiencing anything.

So, I discussed it with my psychiatrist, and counselors at the university, and decided starting HRT would be the right choice for me. I got my script from an informed consent clinic, and with the approval of my psychiatrist, who himself does not specialize in LGBT issues. I started a little over a month ago. I felt a lot better on spiro, less tense. And I felt more emotionally "awake," and prone to socialize more. I didn't feel worthless and gross. I felt like a real person, and for the first time started feeling comfortable with myself. Maybe part of it was the feeling of taking a big step to fix myself.

However, the election sideswiped me at the worst time. I had taken it for granted that Hillary would win. I was vulnerable, and so was my fiancee. She's been very supportive, but she's used to being the sensitive one who turns to me for support. My callousness felt like stoic strength, and that was fading away. It was harder for me to be there for her while I myself was hurting, and afraid in ways I didn't expect. I found myself alternating between consoling her and distracting myself for a few weeks. I admit this wasn't the healthiest way to be a college student, but it was stress I didn't expect, and both the way I felt it and the ways to deal with it felt unfamiliar.

I was used to a rather privileged, polyanna sort of approach to mental health and self talk, where I'd assume things could only get so bad, and with the right attitude I could work my way through anything. While this probably isn't 100% true for everyone, it's easier if you are in a financially stable and safe situation. Suddenly, I was feeling the most fear I'd ever felt as an adult, in a situation that was uncertain and looking worse every day. So escapism into online distractions and video games felt like the right option.

I've worked through this a bit, and I'm doing work again, but it might be too little, too late. My mindset is still kind of polyanna, since I'm just assuming I'll be safe from major problems because I live in a blue state. But that should keep me going through the rest of the semester.

So, from my perspective, I feel like I'm going through unexpected problems at a bad time in my academic career. I'm considering requesting medical incompletes. My psychiatrist offered to write me a letter a few weeks ago, and I stupidly declined. But I could ask him for it. The impostor-syndrome/imaginary-outsider/devil's-advocate part of my brain sees this as a series of bad choices. I could have put off my transition, even though it felt healthy and important to me. I could have called my professors the second my problems became apparent. I could have cancelled my phone and internet and spent all my time studying to keep my mind off my worries. But I didn't.

Those of you who are professors or understand when an incomplete is an option, do you think I have any right to ask for an incomplete?
posted by MuppetNavy to Health & Fitness (53 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If your psychiatrist is willing to write you a letter of support, you are justified in taking incompletes. But it doesn't sound like you'll meet your goal of graduating this year if you do?
posted by praemunire at 5:53 PM on December 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

The worst that happens is they say no. You should ask. You should get the letter from your psychiatrist and if you believe your professor might not be sympathetic to your reasons, you can decline to give the specific reasons. Just get the psych to write that you had medical issues all semester that affected your ability to do the work.

(I teach at a university, but not in a country where we have incompletes. We do have all sorts of other things we can do for students who have medical or psychological problems with completing the work on time, and I would not hesitate to grant those sorts of extensions etc to a student in your situation.)
posted by lollusc at 5:53 PM on December 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, extra bit of detail: I'm mostly closeted at school. The campus counseling services know, but I've not really come out to professors or classmates.
posted by MuppetNavy at 5:56 PM on December 7, 2016

I would talk to your advisor or dean. You can just say depression or combination of depression/adjusting to transition etc.

This is completely legit. I've seen people get extra time/withdraw for much less. Please go in and talk to your advisor/department head/professor/faculty person you feel supported by TOMORROW!
posted by Kalmya at 5:57 PM on December 7, 2016 [9 favorites]

PS if it helps, the way I and most of my colleagues see these things is not that we are granting you some sort of "favour" that you have to deserve by being the perfect student or making the right choices (although in this situation I don't see that you have made any wrong choices anyway!). Rather the thing is, we want to be able to fairly assess students' understanding of the course material, and ability to learn said material, so if there are factors that interfere with our ability to do that assessment accurately, we need to know about it and take whatever measures necessary to make sure that we are doing that part of our job properly.

Ultimately a student who fails a class because of factors beyond our control makes us look bad too, because it can be misinterpreted as our failure to teach the course well. So an incomplete or whatever is a way of signalling to our bosses/reviewers/etc that this student had issues that didn't stem from our teaching. (And it's a relief to us too to know we shouldn't spend too much time worrying about what we could have done better or differently to help that student learn.)
posted by lollusc at 6:00 PM on December 7, 2016 [43 favorites]

I would not go to the dean. At my school, teachers alone decide if an incomplete will be given. I would feel like a student was attempting an end run around me by going to a dean. I might give an incomplete if you come to me. I definitely wouldn't if a student attempted to bully me into it.
posted by answergrape at 6:07 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Leave the reasons out of it, get the letter from your psychiatrist but ask them to leave details out of it, tell your professors you have been dealing with mental health issues and need extra time.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:16 PM on December 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

I would certainly recommend asking your professors -- give them the key points of your situation and let them decide.
posted by zippy at 6:17 PM on December 7, 2016

Most of the professors I know don't mind giving out incompletes. They care that you got the material, even if you took longer than the rest of the class. There are exceptions based on personality and your school culture, but it really isn't as big a deal as you think it is.

But ask ASAP. They're most understanding if they have a heads up sooner rather than later.
posted by metasarah at 6:22 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

You need to look up the guidelines for incomplete grades at your university. At mine, the student must have completed and passed most of the work to date, and there needs to be a strong case that they are unable to finish the semester. If your situation is covered, you need to talk to profs about this immediately.

I had a student before who had major surgery mid-semester, and just tried to do his best to make it through. He asked for an incomplete after the final, at which point there was nothing I could do.
posted by ktkt at 6:23 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

An incomplete is usually less paperwork than an F, and most people are reasonable, so yes, most professors will give them when asked. Skip all the details you gave there, though -- "I was having a tough time" is enough, plus the letter from your doctor or from the relevant office at the school.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:39 PM on December 7, 2016

You should definitely talk to your professors first. They need to know immediately, and they may be more than willing to grant an incomplete. But also search your school's web site or your student handbook for hardship or medical withdrawal. There is likely to be a procedure that you can follow to withdraw without penalty now, especially if you can get a letter from your psychiatrist. Your school may also have a dean of students who handles these requests.

I agree, though, that you should not go to any dean first. Talk to your professors first. I would bet that at least one will be willing to help you with this. You do have the right to ask for an incomplete -- don't worry about that. Good luck.
posted by merrill at 6:41 PM on December 7, 2016

I rarely hand out incompletes, because then I need to deal with the student down the road, and it's tough to deal with. I usually advocate for a medical withdrawal, though earlier is better. Also! I don't need to know why you need it, the fact that a medical professional thinks you need it is enough.
You won't get it if you don't ask, and asking should not affect your grades so go for it
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:45 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

You started transitioning, including the part where you realize your own gender identity for the first time, and just then the election hit?

You are not in any way slacking, you have not made bad choices, you should try to stop being so hard on yourself, and it is totally reasonable to start the process of getting incompletes right now.

Transitioning is a major life event. The part of being trans where you figure out what your gender identity is and what needs to be done about it literally kills people sometimes-- and, even in this day and age, not all that infrequently. You went from being part of a privileged population to being part of one of the groups that is in the most danger during the worst political crisis so far this millennium.

You sound to me as though you're being pretty damn functional under the circumstances-- I know people who have had to get inpatient treatment following the election. (I know someone who died because of the election, too).

This is actually that bad, this is actually that hard, every day you get out of bed is a victory, and did I mention that, even though it is very positive, getting engaged and planning a wedding are also pretty hugely major life events which take a lot of energy? You sound to me as though you have been piling one stressor on top of another for months.

Get the incompletes. You deserve some time to recalibrate and feel better.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 6:50 PM on December 7, 2016 [20 favorites]

I'm a professor. Although it ultimately depends on your university's policies and also on how much leeway your professors or disability services team have, no one should look down on you for asking (and if your school accepts federal financial aid, your rights regarding your gender identity are protected by Title IX).
posted by vegartanipla at 6:53 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

As an academic advisor, I would be happy to help guide a student through getting some incompletes for reasons like you detail. Our school policy is also that the incomplete is for a student who is passing and has a limited amount of work to complete for the class.

If we were meeting, I would ask if you knew your grade at this point in each class, and whether those grades seemed in-line with school policy. If you're passing, but somewhat behind and unable to face finals or final projects, I would encourage you to meet with your profs to ask for an incomplete due to health and medication issues (no more detail needed but we could provide a letter if profs were skeptical) this semester. If the prof agreed to an incomplete, I would also encourage you to have a little contract with them - exactly what you need to do, and when you need to submit it.

If you're thinking incompletes for a full class load, we'd talk about how that could be a large burden for you next semester, and it's not usually encouraged to incomplete a whole semester, so we might look at some medical withdraws.

If you weren't passing your classes at this point, the incomplete would not be an option so we would discuss medical withdraw. It's not a great option, to lose a semester's worth of work and tuition, so you want to make sure it's the correct choice.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:54 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am a person who has requested and received medical incompletes. You want to focus on the medical causes: i.e. Don't say "fiancé, transition, election", say "depression due to complications,here is my signed letter from my psychologist."

Here is the chain you want to go: ask your professor first, then disability office, then department office, then dean of students. Usually you won't need to go past step 2. Feel free to memail me for detailed advice if needed.
posted by corb at 7:03 PM on December 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

I am a professor and I would certainly give you an incomplete in this situation. The truth is, I wouldn't even want to know as much about the situation as you've explained in this AskMe. If your personal issues make it impossible for you to finish your schoolwork for the semester, I don't want you to fail my course, I want you to do all the work, even if you do it later.

That said.

I have seen a lot of students take an incomplete and then never finish the work. Sometimes if you're in a situation of psychological extremity, it feels like it'll be easier to do the work the following semester than now. Often that's not the case. The course is months in the past, it reminds you of a bad time in your life, you just don't ever want to think about it again.

If you can, try to get a clear assessment from your therapist of whether they think it's best for you to postpone this term's academic work, not just whether they're willing to write you the note.
posted by escabeche at 7:04 PM on December 7, 2016 [28 favorites]

I'm an academic advisor, so I'm biased, but I think you should talk to your advisor or someone in the dean's office ASAP. You want to know about your university's policies and what the options are for students who can't finish the semester for medical reasons. You don't have to specify what your medical problems are. Sometimes people tell me everything in great detail, and sometimes they say "I'm having a medical problem." I can give them information either way.

However, I'm going to echo what everyone else is saying about incompletes often not working out for students. Incompletes can work when students have some sort of short-term crisis during exam week, like the flu or a family emergency, but are otherwise caught up in the class. If they've missed a significant amount of work during the semester, students typically are better off taking a late withdrawal. My institution will usually refund students' money if they get a medical withdrawal, which I realize is probably not typical. That's one question that you should ask.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:12 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

As a prof I've given incompletes for much less significant hardship.
posted by umbú at 7:14 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

IANAP, but I used to work on incomplete-related stuff. This sounds exactly like the kind of thing incompletes are made for. And what umbu said: they've heard worse.
Might I also suggest to you that there's the possibility of retroactive withdrawal that you could petition for as well? It basically wipes your enrollment for an entire term. I used to work on those and I saw plenty of comments on petitions along the lines of "I thought I could just tough it out" and/or "I didn't know I had any other options." I don't think I'd go for an incomplete if it wasn't too likely that I could finish my work within a year--maybe a retro is what you need.
Once again, talk to your advisor.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 PM on December 7, 2016

I feel for you, but all of this is going to come off very badly if you offer this explanation to your professors. If I were a college professor, I would be tired of hearing any excuses for a late assignment. So if you are trying to save face with your professors by explaining yourself, I would not bother. In fact, you will draw more scrutiny if you offer your detailed personal reasons.

This election bit is going to be an especially hard sell:
However, the election sideswiped me at the worst time. I had taken it for granted that Hillary would win. I was vulnerable, and so was my fiancee.
Incomplete/withdrawal and other such allowances are supposed to be for when unusual circumstances have personally affected your ability to complete your coursework. I don't see how you could argue that the election is an unusual force. Everyone was affected by it, one way or another – we all saw it happen, we all lived through it. You might say you were personally affected by the election results, but that's not actually true. You may have strong feelings about the election, but it didn't personally affect you.

As a counter example, if there's a tsunami and it kills millions in southeast Asia, that's a tragedy, and it may be very shocking and horrible and upsetting to you, and you may feel scared and worried, but it didn't personally affect you. If your family lived in the area impacted by the tsunami, that's very different.

I don't want to seem like I'm coming down hard on you, but this is how this is all going to come across to a teacher. All of what you are describing falls under the dubiously dismissed category of "personal problems." This isn't to say these aren't important things, but you need to present your professional side to your professors, and that means you can't go on about your daily struggles as a rationale for backing out of coursework. Anything short of "my close relative died" is going to come across as exactly what you don't want – some college student whining about their special snowflake problems. I don't disagree that you've had a rough year, but since your question is seemingly about whether your explanation will go over well with your professors, I say no. Just get a note from the medical office.
posted by deathpanels at 7:36 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Phew! I was afraid I was going to get all the way down here, and still not see anyone say what I wanted to say! But I see a couple of folks here thought what I was thinking and chimed in with it:

I have been that student who asked for the incomplete, and didn't finish the work. I would have gotten a D in the course, which was a non-major elective, if I had not gotten an "I". Since I got an "I" and didn't do anything about it the next semester, it automatically became an F. That D vs. F was the difference between me graduating, and not.

If you are going to pass without an incomplete, then for the love of all that is right and good, do not take an incomplete.

I feel like escabeche knows me much better than I know myself; their advice could not be more accurate.

I will also echo that I do not detect any (or even any hint of any) "poor choices" etc. in your explanation... if you're sure you want an incomplete, and it's remotely possible for professors at your school to grant them, I'm sure you'll get one about two sentences into your explanation. And you always have the "right" to ask! Always!
posted by teatime at 7:40 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Talk to the dean of students office, especially if you are thinking about withdrawing from all your courses.

(At my institution, I can only give incompletes if the student is getting a C. Is that your situation?)
posted by leahwrenn at 7:59 PM on December 7, 2016

You have a medical reason for taking an incomplete. Get a letter from your psychiatrist who is a doctor treating you, and your professors do not need any further details about your personal life, your transition, or the (very understandable) toll the election has taken on you. I'm not sure of the exact process of your school, but with a doctor's note, incompletes for a medical reason are fairly common. I'm sorry you are struggling, but the good news is that there are things in place for you to cut yourself some slack, like requesting and receiving an incomplete for medical reasons. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 8:02 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

(Ex-TA, not professor, but I had the right to say yes or no on this kind of thing.)

Being an enrolled student gives you the right to ask for an incomplete! It is not your duty to devil's-advocate your own request - you clearly have plenty of supporting evidence but in order to request an incomplete, you have to feel like you need one. That's it. Everything else is the problem of your school to work out. They don't have to say yes, although if you have medical documentation or are just clearly very sincere, they very probably will. but you can absolutely always ask. it's not an imposition and no professor should treat it like one.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:08 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Echoing that I have given a lot of incompletes, and the vast majority of the time, the student getting the incomplete never submits the final work. Try to squeak by in a class or two if you can; take a medical withdrawal for the others if you need to and then take a smaller courseload next time. That is probably the most realistic path forward.

And my heart goes out to you; the election has hit me very hard as well.
posted by Threeve at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd give an incomplete and likely not need to hear all the details, especially if my student had a note from a doctor. I strongly disagree with deathpanels' response, although some of the other advice on the perils of incompletes is worth considering.
posted by col_pogo at 8:21 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm assuming your grades are looking bad to the point where you are concerned, or you don't think you can commit to finish the rest of the work this quarter? Whatever the reason, it is 100% OK to ask for an incomplete. Hell, a friend of mine just asked for two last quarter because he just literally kept writing and rewriting a paper for like 15 weeks and couldn't get it to make any sense. Your preoccupations are much more profound than that!

Conservatives who whine about safe spaces are a bunch of dicks who are obsessed with their own safe spaces (Christmas, the flag, being an openly dumb piece of shit), don't let their idiocy get to you. (Well, try not to, I understand it's not easy.)
posted by stoneandstar at 8:29 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a professor, and I would probably give you an incomplete without needing to hear this much information. However, I do agree that a lot of incompletes never get finished, in fact this is my default expectation for assigning such a grade. You should also be aware that taking an incomplete does not involve the professor necessarily doing anything later than the semester beyond evaluating submitted work (and this goes double for any TA), so if you need help with material you need to deal with that as much as possible during the semester. I also recommend finishing as soon as possible; I now impose pretty strict time limits on incompletes because I got tired of them dragging on. If you can finish the work in a matter of weeks that is by far the best possibility for everyone.
posted by advil at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Also, what deathpanels is saying is completely alien to me as a graduate student with a lot of experience with student affairs. My professors were sometimes tired of student excuses, but they really never let that show to the students (unless they were stating a general rule, like on a syllabus), and were typically generous and understanding about students' difficulties. (Not a universal experience but it's not like they're going to pick over your story and be like, OH, so you sayyyyy you're personally affected by a hatemonger being elected, but where are the scars??) I mean, on average, professors are probably more likely to sympathize with a student who went into a tailspin after the election. It's been dark times for many people, and you're dealing with a lot!

Anyway, in general it's usually good advice to be matter-of-fact and not overexplain your personal situation, but when it comes to your undergraduate years, professors know that students are veryyy young and often insecure and not knowledgeable about norms, it's really not a big deal.

You might say you were personally affected by the election results, but that's not actually true. You may have strong feelings about the election, but it didn't personally affect you.

This is not in any sense true, it's bizarre to say that the citizens of a country are not personally affected by the government officials of that country. Since the election, hate crimes have been up, hateful rhetoric has been up (from the president elect himself, no less), universities are dealing with a lot of the fallout, vandalism, etc. You're learning things about yourself that could potentially feel scary or dangerous in Trump's America. It's nice to think no one is personally affected by Trump but this is sadly untrue.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2016 [16 favorites]

I am a professor at a big state school and all you'd need to do with me is come to my office hours or call or email and say "I am having a rough time for personal reasons and can't complete my work. Is an incomplete an option?" I would say yes and would also advise you to go to student services with your note from your psychologist, which does not need to be detailed in any way. "I am MuppetNavy's psychiatrist and they are unable to complete their classes at this time for mental health reasons" would be sufficient at my school. Asking for an I in multiple classes where I am would cause a flag at our student services offices so honestly I'd go there first. Many times they will contact your professors directly for you.

I don't want to be harsh but deathpanels is wrong. They aren't a professor and they don't see what we see. Yeah, incompletes are a pain, but I want my students to be OK far more than I want to get my grading done on time. Far more. We care about you. If your psychiatrist thinks it's something to consider, it's something to consider. It's not an "excuse" and you didn't make a series of "bad choices."

All this said, I also find that students have a hard time keeping momentum and finishing their incompletes, so I'd advise you to take them and work out a personal schedule to get them done asap.

Look, also, like... If you've come to class, done the work so far and are doing reasonably well? I just don't fail anyone without TONS of prior warning. This may not be true for all faculty but my students have feedback enough to know that they'll pass. If you can do a "good enough" job I'd encourage you to consider half assing things and just giving your profs something reasonable. This is not a time for perfection. C's make degrees. But don't do this at the expense of your mental health. Please.

Take care.
posted by sockermom at 8:39 PM on December 7, 2016 [18 favorites]

Also as a prof I've heard some bullshit in my day but it's more like "my dog ate a weird plant and I have to leave class early again (last week I left early to pick up someone at the airport) to check on her" or weeks of not coming to class or turning in assignments and then telling me "I turned those in but my computer is corrupted and I never got your emails about missing class or the assignments but I definitely turned them in." I know what a fake excuse is. When a kid came in and said they had ptsd because they were enlisted in Iraq but they weren't in combat, they "just" had to identify dead bodies, or when another came in telling me they were trans and had been unable to get out of bed the week after the election I never once thought "hmm, seems illegitimate," I thought "what can I do to help you meet your goals without causing yourself harm?" But I once had a student nearly succeed in a suicide attempt, which probably made me lean more empathetic. But I'm even empathetic to the ones with the plant eating dogs. Something is going on there, and very rarely is it an excuse because they don't want to work.
posted by sockermom at 8:46 PM on December 7, 2016 [12 favorites]

Lots of good points above. I just wanted to add that students sometimes come to my office as if they are entering a confession booth, wracked with shame. In these cases, the truth is that I have too many students to take it personally when students fall short. I don't judge them. In fact, their imagining that I take the time to be personally disappointed and judgmental of them in particular just misunderstands what it means to be managing the work of 60+ students. So a calm, matter-of-fact tone with a minimum of detail is the best starting place, like the simple phrase that sockermom spelled out at the beginning of her first message above: "I am having a rough time for personal reasons and can't complete my work. Is an incomplete an option?" After you say something along these lines, if the prof asks for more detail, then you can provide it. But I know that I would simply say sure.
posted by umbú at 8:59 PM on December 7, 2016 [10 favorites]

Chiming in quickly and briefly here: I'm a professor at a large private university and would be happy to give you an incomplete under these circumstances. I've certainly given them for less challenging ones. Just make sure to find out exactly how much time you'll have to fulfill the incomplete and consider working out a schedule for yourself so that you don't end up having to do all of the work right before the deadline. You might even show the schedule to your professor to make it clear that you'll have the situation under control.
posted by chicainthecity at 10:29 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm an adjunct professor, and I would grant you an incomplete.

Consider staggering your course completion dates because shifting a semester's worth of work into a few weeks is tough - especially if you are going to do this for multiple classes. Based on the students I've observed, letting incompletes drag out more than a month or two pretty much guarantees that you won't complete the course.

I've also agreed to grade on work completed and to reduce the course grade by one full letter.
posted by 26.2 at 10:42 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, lastly, "personal feelings" that are strong enough to derail your life are a warning sign, and they are significant. They matter. No doubt in your adult life you will go through times where you have to power through anyway, but most professors realize that young people don't always have the coping mechanisms to brute force their way through depression (circumstantial or otherwise) and that there are very few students who would ask for an incomplete as some kind of weird scam. Worst case scenario, you don't make up the work-- you're not going to somehow like, steal yourself an illegitimate degree through augmenting a fake personal trauma. You're actually doing the honorable thing. Communication is a good trait.

Just wanted to add that since most of the time, when you see a therapist or a psychiatrist, one of the first things they try to ascertain is whether your personal psychological situation is preventing you from being able to function at your normal level. Either you need medication, or you need therapy, or you need guidance on how to sort out your difficulties, but no matter which-- that is serious and important, not a failing of yours. The fact that you saw a psychiatrist and are being proactive about your schoolwork means that you are doing quite well in the face of a few majorly topsy-turvy events.

For background, I am an adult with an undergraduate degree and a job, in graduate school, and the week after the election was like trying to wade through Vaseline. You're not alone.

Once upon a time in my undergraduate career, my social anxiety was so bad that I asked a professor if I could take her course but do extra written work to make up for the class participation part of the grade which I knew full well I wasn't in a position to meet. She agreed, showed a great deal of sympathy (even shared a personal story with me), told me she'd like to support me in class however she could, and after the course was over, actually asked me if I would like a recommendation letter from her because she though my work was superb. She totally didn't judge me, she treated me like a capable student working through a serious problem, and it's one of my warmest memories of undergrad, despite the fact that I was suffering!

(And agreed with others that making a plan to actually complete the coursework in a manageable way will help you a lot.)
posted by stoneandstar at 11:02 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've been on both sides of this. As an undergraduate I went and asked for and was granted incompletes. They did pile up on me, and I completed some but failed others. As an instructor, I teach under a different system, but I want students to succeed and try to be flexible and have given extensions. You have every right to ask and I think you have some good advice from Sockermom.

You wrote, "I could have called my professors the second my problems became apparent." But that isn't realistic or even relevant. Very, very few people have the insight to realize that at the time. And, nobody does when they're experiencing things like you are. You realize it now. In your writing you seem quite self aware--much more so than I was when I asked for incompletes. You have the support of a medical professional. Use that. Ask for and accept any accommodation you need: incompletes or medical withdrawals. Good luck! Take care. And, remember professors do want their students to do well and to graduate.
posted by Gotanda at 11:04 PM on December 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am a professor. First, it would be appropriate to go to the administration if you are seeking a medical withdrawal from your courses. It would NOT be appropriate to go to the administration, especially the Dean of Students, to ask for incompletes. Remember, an incomplete is a grade. And there is no way a competent Dean is going to tell a professor what grade to give a student. Moreover, a Dean doesn't have the authority to do so, at least at my institution (mid sized 4 year public). So you need to talk to your professors if you want an incomplete. Second, a critical bit of information that you didn't provide is how much work you have missed in your courses. Is it just one exam or one paper, post election? The election was a month ago. Have you missed all the classes since then? Did you stop going to class and completing course work prior to the election in October? If you have missed like half the course, please keep in mind that this is not what incompletes are for and I would not give you one in that scenario. Incompletes are for students in otherwise good standing who have missed a relatively small amount of work, like one writing assignment or exam, for a valid reason. Your reasons for missing work are valid, in my opinion, and I would not need any details whatsoever beyond the doctor's note. But again, a sympathetic professor might still turn you down if you walked away from a course with no communication at mid semester causing you to miss a huge amount of course work. That would put you into medical withdrawal territory.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 11:36 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, from my perspective, I feel like I'm going through unexpected problems at a bad time in my academic career. I'm considering requesting medical incompletes. My psychiatrist offered to write me a letter a few weeks ago, and I stupidly declined. But I could ask him for it. The impostor-syndrome/imaginary-outsider/devil's-advocate part of my brain sees this as a series of bad choices. I could have put off my transition, even though it felt healthy and important to me. I could have called my professors the second my problems became apparent. I could have cancelled my phone and internet and spent all my time studying to keep my mind off my worries. But I didn't.

I want to reframe this for you as the following: You are experiencing an episode of the serious illness which you have suffered from for more than a decade and for which you are under the care of a medical doctor. Your doctor believes you are not healthy enough to complete your academic work at this time. You are going to work with your university and your professors to determine the best outcome for this semester's work.

You aren't required to tell anyone what you think triggered this episode, what specific current events you feel made you more vulnerable to it, or that your symptoms include incredibly common and well-documented issues like distracting yourself with video games, avoiding interpersonal interaction, and blaming yourself for not being tough enough to undepress yourself.

Seriously, it's fine to go to student services or disability services and start with, "I'm having an episode of a chronic illness that has affected my academic work, here is a letter from my doctor, what are my options?"

I would also suggest emailing your professors and saying, "I'm considering a medical withdrawal or incomplete because I've missed work x y and z and my doctor thinks that might be the best thing to do, do you think that's the right course?" Some might say yes, but a couple might turn out to have informal accommodation processes like dropping your lowest exam score. In my experience, the stronger a student you are and the more politely you ask about your choices, with appropriate documentation and humility, the more likely a professor is to mention that now that you bring it up he does in fact have a policy for such situations and what do you know, it will get you across the finish line with a C. I mention this in case catastrophizing is one of your symptoms and you haven't missed as much work as you think you have.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:16 AM on December 8, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm a professor. A statement from a doctor stating that you would have difficulties completing course work due to a medical issue would likely be sufficient to give you an incomplete.

I would strongly prefer not to hear any of the other details in your post, particularly the ones about angst regarding the election. Your best chance is to first get the doctor's note, then email it to your professors and ask politely for an incomplete.

Finally, an incomplete is a much more tractable outcome if there is a reasonable way to make up the work while requiring only minimal extra time from the professor. If you have incomplete homeworks or papers, tell him/her you will turn them in by date X. If you have incomplete exams, offer to take the corresponding exams from the same course next semester. If it were me, I would be open to an arrangement in which it's your responsibility to turn in papers and homeworks and take exams by a given date, with your grade automatically turning into an F (or whatever you've earned so far) if you fail to meet that date.
posted by deadweightloss at 5:33 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to agree that I am a professor, I would not want to invade your privacy by knowing that much information about your situation, I would 100% give you an incomplete with a doctor's note, and probably brew you a cup of tea and tell you that you weren't a failure and you can definitely still pass my class. You would also be much further ahead if you came into our meeting with a plan for making up the work. Can't tell you how many incompletes I've given that turn into Fs when the student doesn't show up for makeups, doesn't respond to emails, never turns in papers, etc.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:42 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

At my university, an Incomplete that is not completed within one year turns into an F (which affects your GPA and may have other consequences, such as counting for the # of times you can take a course).

As an alternative, one can petition for a Late Withdrawal: in this case it's as if you never enrolled in the course.

I would talk to profs. or advisors to make sure you understand the rules & consequences.

Also, as a prof I don't want to know the details; I just want a person in authority (doctor, psychologist etc.) to document that you are having serious issues.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 6:39 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Professor here, would also give you an incomplete for all the excellent reasons posted above.

Go to your Dean of Students or equivalent office in charge of helping students navigate their rights and responsibilities - not to request the incomplete - but to find out how an incomplete might affect the timing of other things.

During that window of time that you are completing the unfinished work, an incomplete appears on your academic record.

So, during the time that you have an incomplete on your transcripts:

Will you be attempting to register for future courses that require the incomplete course as a prerequisite?
Will you be applying to other schools (for graduate programs, maybe?)
Will you be applying for scholarships or financial aid?
Will you be a member of any student clubs, groups, organizations, honor societies, etc., that require a minimum gpa?
Will you be applying for jobs/internships/special programs that require submission of your transcripts?

Your dean of students or equivalent should be able to help you navigate the timing of any of the above, so go talk to them.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:45 AM on December 8, 2016

At my university a doctor's note is enough, and it need not share your medical history, just the accommodation you need is simple terms and that this is due to medical issues.
posted by chapps at 7:04 AM on December 8, 2016

I would the prof first simply to "respect the chain of command ' but also look up your school regulations for this sort of thing to find their norm. Good luck!!
posted by chapps at 7:05 AM on December 8, 2016

You might say you were personally affected by the election results, but that's not actually true. You may have strong feelings about the election, but it didn't personally affect you.

Trans people will be directly and personally affected by the election results. Especially those in early transition who are getting going with medical care, name changes, etc., and who are visibly trans (increased risk of harassment/violence, just as there has been with Muslims).

I say this to validate MuppetNavy's feelings. I am a year into my transition and spent a week in bed after the election. I am not a professor or student so this is not a direct answer to the question, but I just wanted to counter your feelings that this is "not serious enough" or you've somehow "made bad decisions." Transition + the election is absolutely traumatizing enough, never mind the stress of engagement + pre-existing depression.

Best wishes to you. :)
posted by AFABulous at 7:16 AM on December 8, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'm a professor, and I'd say step one is to figure out the specific policies of your school. I've worked at a few different places and everywhere has had different policies. One place had a specific office that would verify and approve medical incompletes (rather than going through the professor), most other places have had the professor as the primary contact point for incompletes. There are also different rules for who can qualify for an incomplete -- for example, my current university is very strict about granting incompletes (and they will get quite annoyed with professors who give them when the student's situation doesn't fall within the guidelines), while other places have been much more relaxed about it. So basically, this can really vary and I'd strongly suggest looking up the policies at your institution and talking to someone in academic advising to get a sense of the different policies that might apply to you.

My main concern is that from your post in sounds like you may want to take incompletes for all of your courses, and that you may have missed work going back at least a month (since the election) if not longer. I would think hard (and probably talk to your psychiatrist and academic advisor) about whether it is realistic for you to make up that much work next semester, while also keeping up with your spring classes. Keep in mind that you probably aren't going to be able to get a lot of individualized attention from your professors in making up the work, in the same way you would during a normal semester, since they'll be on to teaching other classes (or possibly even away from campus all together, if they're on leave that semester). This would be especially true if your university uses graduate student teaching assistants and/or lots of adjuncts, because people literally might not even be employed by the university anymore.

As an example, I once had a student who I sort of "inherited" who had been trying to complete a course in time for the one-year deadline that my university has for completing incompletes. She was not only struggling to deal with remembering/completing material from a course she took almost a year ago, but also the TA from that class had meanwhile graduated and was no longer even in the state, and the professor who had taught that class was on sabbatical and doing research in another country. It can unfortunately be really easy to end up in that type of situation through no fault of your own, and it makes it even harder to successfully complete the class.

My personal experience is that I'm happy to give students incompletes if they seem to have a valid reason (which you certainly do), but that realistically, they often end up not completing the work and the incomplete converts into an F at some point. The most successful students with incompletes are those who have had a strong semester all along, but then a short emergency (such as an acute medical emergency or a family emergency) takes place at just the wrong time in the semester. Those students tend to get back on track and complete the work just a couple of weeks later. That's not a value judgement on you -- just a comment on the situations where I have personally observed this is most likely to work out. If you think another couple of weeks would realistically help you get all the missed work completed, then I think an incomplete would be a good option for you. If you want to take the incomplete because you're thinking "Oh, I'll feel better in six months and maybe I can do this work then," then I would advise you to look into a medical withdrawal or other medical accommodation. Ultimately, it does not really help you to get incompletes now but then later have them convert into F's on your transcript, so I would do some hard thinking about what is really realistic for you to complete.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:51 AM on December 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh my goodness, please ask for an incomplete and take care of yourself. I've TA'd, never been a prof and have taken about a decade of college level courses. I have brought some weird shit to my professors. Some of them were great, most were fine, some mediocre, some straight up terrible teachers but they ALL wanted students to do well. Every single one.

Even if your teachers arent fluent in trans issues, they will empathize with you. They really will. I have never experienced deathpanel's attitude in an actual professor, and I did four years of nursing school. Those teachers can be... unforgiving.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:04 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone.

I contacted my professors, letting them know I've had psychological problems and can provide documentation.

I'm going to ask about what grades I'm heading towards, and probably opt out of incompletes when I can get a C or better. I like to think I'd be better over the winter break and fix them, but I'd rather get a passing grade. And maybe a break where I can slack off without guilt and focus on myself would be a good way to prepare for next semester.

I probably won't disclose my gender identity to my professors until I am out in daily life. That's a whole other topic, though.
posted by MuppetNavy at 1:15 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a professor. You should go to the student ombudsman if there is one. That person will help you communicate with your professor s without having to come out if you don't want to.

I would allow you to take the incomplete, but I would caution you that Incompletes very rarely help students in your situation. Instead of being able to start fresh in January with a semester, you are going to have this semester hanging over you, increasing your work load and if you can't finish the work, you will feel guilty and horrible.

I would advise you to talk to the ombudsperson, your advisor, and financial aid first. But a late withdrawal or just accepting the Fs might truly be the best option for you.

That way you can approach January with a clean slate.

By the way, students are sometimes embarrassed that they earned an F. As a professor an F is just an F. It's not a moral thing and it says nothing to me about the person earning it except that that particular semester they couldn't do the work. I love it when students come back when they are better and eArn the. A.
posted by songs_about_rainbows at 2:37 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I taught undergrad design classes for 5 years. Students fail or do poorly every semester because they are (seemingly) too lazy to do the work. Some will complain that their grade is too low, because they want a higher one, or that my class is too hard. Those students get nothing.

A student who is doing poorly and asks for help, or an extension, or an incomplete, is rare. Asking that question tells me you care about the class, which is something a professor doesn't hear too often. Add to it that you have a decent reason you messed up in class, and are willing to make up the work, I think your chances are pretty good.

Maybe your professors won't feel the same as I do, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
posted by Cranialtorque at 2:39 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a professor and if you were my student and I knew everything you told me I would tell you to medically withdraw and let the classes go. Incompletes almost never get resolved and you're going to dump a bunch of stress and worry on yourself. I wouldn't want to start the term with those things hanging over you. The only thing I would consider in this situation is the possible hit on your financial aid.

And yeah, don't share any more than you need to. Don't answer questions that aren't asked.
posted by orsonet at 10:34 AM on January 2, 2017

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