Concerns about grad school professor
January 26, 2020 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I just started a part-time certificate/master's program for analytics. It meets once a week on Thursday nights because we all work. The professor hasn't posted anything for the coming class and it's been half the week... help!

I have some major concerns and I'm not sure how legitimate they are. Our professor spent a very long time saying he had no idea how to teach the class (literally, he's meeting with someone who has taught it for 3 hours before teaching us weekly), and "we'd figure it out" which was pretty concerning. We take quizzes before every class but he admitted he had no idea how we'd do them remote, how he'd teach remote, etc. He chuckled nervously. It's IOWA IN THE WINTER.

Anyway, he hasn't posted follow-up homework, readings, anything and it's now Sunday afternoon. Again, we all WORK it's explicitly in our program that this is for professionals and this is a major university.

He's also driving from Kansas City to my city 3.5 hours away for class in the middle of winter which is... okay. "We'll make it work, I have no idea how to teach remotely." was another thing he said where we all side-eyed each other.

This is my first class and I am extremely motivated on the subject. Is it normal for a professor to not have posted any followup when we will have things due on Thursday? Thanks. Pretty concerned about the program at the moment, honestly.

I want to send him an email, but I also don't want to seem like a jerk. I literally have been refreshing the online portion over and over for 3 days waiting to do the work I desperately want to do.
posted by OnTheLastCastle to Education (19 answers total)
You're not a jerk to send an email.

Do you have a syllabus? Is there an expectation that assignments will happen at a particular time? I get what you would prefer is the time to do the work on the weekend but it's possible the professor is not aware of those expectations or they may be yours but not everyone's. You still have three evenings to do work.

I used to teach online and one of the only things (I felt) which made online classes work was a really strict, maybe even rigid, schedule of expectations on both our parts (i.e. "I will get you the notes by noon Monday, you will get me the homework by 5 pm local time Thursday"). Your teacher may have this just dawning on him.

So, I'd send a friendly email, try to tamp down your anxieties and just say "Hey I've got a full time job and it's helpful for me to be able to do class work over the weekends. Will we be able to do this in the future?" and get some feedback from him. Don't borrow worry about his driving, that's his situation to manage.

The good news, if there is any (I would be frustrated too!) is that if he's puzzling it out he's unlikely to be super uptight about your deadlines, so while I agree its' aggravating to be in this situation, I'd try to give him a few weeks to find his sea legs and/or commiserate with the rest of the class (do you have a Slack or a class forum?) until he figures it out. If it's still sketcho in a few weeks, I'd talk to the dean and ask what's up.
posted by jessamyn at 2:19 PM on January 26 [11 favorites]

What's the class drop date?

At this point, I would try to drop the class and I would also get involved with the grad department chair about it.

I wouldn't necessarily be worried, as such, but you're paying good money for this program and this class seems shit, and it's better to bail earlier rather than later.

This is all assuming this is a class you want to learn from and not, say, a bullshit prerequisite.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:22 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]

He said he would post everything the next day. So Friday. He didn't know the classes were recorded so had planned to make YouTube videos to review too so once he learned that, we can just rewatch the recordings.

He didn't write the syllabus. There aren't any dates with actual assignments on them. He made it sound like he'd just find stuff for us to read week by week. (I'm not exaggerating how fly by night he was... he said he was an emergency last second person.) He wouldn't clarify what our start of class quizzes were except that they were "to make sure we paid attention", and said he'd send an example by Friday as well.

A big part of it was teaching us Excel things to do data, and he did not know how to work Excel. A woman in front gave him some tips and I already knew how to do her formulas more efficiently and I'm not top-tier...

There was also one other HUGE RED FLAG I THOUGHT where I signed up for an analytics class w/ 25 people. THERE WERE SO MANY MORE PEOPLE because they combined an MBA class with ours? The fuck. is. happening. Different things to be taught really.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:22 PM on January 26

This program sounds shit, honestly. I would not be willing to pay any money for this, and I wouldn't even bother to contact him or try to fix it through the prof, who sounds ill-equipped and inappropriate for the class.

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. What a disappointment!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:26 PM on January 26 [13 favorites]

Oh gosh none of that is at all good. If a prof is already basically promising to do a thing and not doing a thing, that's bad. Unless there's some pretty quick getting back on track, i agree, ditch this and try again later.
posted by jessamyn at 2:37 PM on January 26

This isn't normal and, from a long way away and over the interwebs and only from what youve said, I can't see any way it's going to become an acceptable course. If you can drop or resign and get your money back, you should do that, full stop.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 2:40 PM on January 26 [6 favorites]

Would it be worth it to talk to my advisor? If I drop, I will owe 10% in the first week and 25% in the second week. It's my first class in the program.

I did email him and he got back to me right away saying he was finishing it up, he appreciated my point about it being the weekend and he'd get it to us sooner in the future.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:51 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

If you're still in week one for the 10% penalty, drop it. Merging two classes is a bad sign. The program may be just maxing out income /payroll. Career cert/grad programs are a profit center for these schools. You are the customer. Don't pay to be the guinea pig. Consider escalating this. In touch with any classmates? Drop together and petition for full refund. Document everything. Start looking for another program.

If the class is that much larger it will only be that much harder for the instructor to keep up and give any meaningful feedback. It isn't the instructor's fault; it's the program. They have to either hire people experienced in the course and at remote teaching or train and support them. There is a reason he is a last second replacement. Instructors generally don't bail at the last minute.
posted by Gotanda at 3:02 PM on January 26 [3 favorites]

This sort of thing (unprepared lecturer with no real tie to the university) does happen from time to time in academia - one of its dirty secrets; lots of the teaching work is done by people who were hired on less than a week's notice and are underpaid and working several jobs (the commuting from Kansas City makes me suspect this). I think jessamyn's email suggestion is good (although I guess my enthusiasm should be tempered by her second comment), but I'd also follow internet fraud detective squad's advice to note well the drop deadline.

What is your BATNA here? I think that's important for you to figure out before dropping. I seem to remember this is a credential you want to obtain for a career you're really excited to enter. What are your other options for entering that career?
posted by eirias at 3:05 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

If it were me I'd send all of these details to whoever this guys boss is and try to get your money back. Absolutely none of this is acceptable.
posted by bleep at 3:20 PM on January 26 [4 favorites]

Hey, I'm actually in the same program, and it sounds like you're taking the class that I took last semester.

Merging the two classes is normal. Basically, the class you're taking is required for both MBA students and students in our certificate program, so they teach it together. The two classes have different course numbers, but they're the same class. I wouldn't worry about that. I didn't find it to be a problem last semester.

Everything else sounds seriously concerning. My prof last semester was pretty on-the-ball, and I enjoyed the class. (It was basically elementary stats, which I had already learned, but I learned to do a bunch of cool things with Excel.) To be honest, I'm a tad concerned about my class this semester, because the prof doesn't seem hugely experienced, and he had to send us a new PowerPoint the day after class to correct some problems and omissions in the one he used in class. But there was nothing like what you're describing, and that doesn't sound normal to me, even for this weird certificate program.

For what it's worth, my prof from last semester is teaching the Data Programming in R class at your location, and it looks like that doesn't have pre-reqs. Could you switch into that, and hopefully the one you're in now will have a less crappy prof in the summer?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:13 PM on January 26 [8 favorites]

Oh, and send the frigging email. It's possible that he thinks he's published the stuff on the course management system, and he actually hasn't. The course management system is terrible, and new professors are routinely totally flummoxed by it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:19 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I met Professor Hendricks and liked him at orientation, ArbitraryAndCapricious. I'll set up an advising appointment and ask about switching for the next few days. This class seems fairly elementary so I don't even know if it needs a great professor?

My alternative to this program is a 3 month bootcamp, but that would cost tens of thousands of dollars with housing and take me away for months and I'd quit my job. I think this is my best option, and I know my mental health would... not like it... if I stopped moving forward in this.

Thank you everyone for your great advice. I'm mulling it over. I might just stick this out knowing that I can ace everything, but none of it was lining up with being 1.) professional 2.) an actual program that will GET ME A FUCKING JOB in this field I'm so well suited for and desperate to join.

I did email him, he responded very quickly! He said he'd try to get week 3 done before the weekend next time. Try being the operative word...

Final thought: our syllabus has an "optional" textbook and he did not super clarify why it was or was not optional except that the previous guy used it, but he didn't think it was worth making mandatory but it was helpful and then he said nice things about it. I found this extremely maddening. Whew, okay, done venting.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:24 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

Professors today often avoid making textbooks mandatory to save students money and lower barriers to participation in class. There’s a movement to make most/all class resources for a lot of classes be freely-available, not-copyrighted things. It is weird if you’re used to having defined course lists of books (I was). If you check out the book and want it and it’s not a financial hardship, go for it. If you don’t really care for the topic and are doing fine in class without it, skip it.

Good luck, whatever you decide about this class!
posted by momus_window at 8:19 PM on January 26 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to drop the class for these reasons, please let someone in authority (other than the professor) know why. There is no incentive for the university to change staffing practices if students don't speak up about less-than-acceptable experiences. Be calm and factual in your explanations. It might also be a wake-up call if you mention that you are taking your tuition dollars elsewhere (if you are).

This professor sounds like he's trying but might be in over his head a little, so I wouldn't so much complain about him personally. But he's been put in a bad spot by his employer if he was only assigned to the class right before it started.

Also, if this is a data science-related program, which it sounds like, I think the odds that you'll find a job are pretty high, so don't stress too too much... (Note that "data scientist" or "data analyst" aren't really official job titles tracked by the BLS yet, but "data warehousing specialist" comes close.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:27 AM on January 27

Yeah I took an online class in cybersecurity that was essentially run by a TA. They didn't post anything or return grades for 4 weeks. I ended up withdrawing and demanding a refund.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:54 AM on January 27

Hi! I run a very similar program, but in a very different location. If this happened in one of my programs, I’d hope that you’d get in contact with me (program head, department chair, grad adviser.... even associate dean.). Tell your story in a factual way. If a student drops because a course is mismanaged - which happens - we often waive fees, or transfer them to another class without penalty. So, escalate.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 6:18 PM on January 27

I'm sticking it out. I need this program to succeed for my personal wellbeing, and I'm finding the reading/homework fulfilling. He posted the week 2 homework in advance of week 2. I think he was just catching up after being a last minute sub.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:29 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]

Good luck and thanks for the update. I will say that my own grad degree in a field close to yours exposed me to a wide range of instructional quality, and there were definitely moments of internal eye rolling, but I’ve never once regretted either my choice to attend or my choice to finish. Were there better programs out there, most likely yes, was this one the best fit with my life constraints at the time, almost certainly yes.
posted by eirias at 6:53 AM on January 30

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