31 January 2009

Course Credit

I have spent a lot of time this week working on a problem set for class. It is not unusual for first-year graduate students to make some room for coursework in their schedule, but this first assignment felt a little bit out of control. I may be out of practice because I didn't take any courses last semester (due to the specifics of my grad program), but the dozen-plus hours I worked on this single problem set seem out of proportion with the difficulty of the course and its importance to my overall graduate experience.

Everyone I speak to says grades don't matter for graduate students (note: I'm mostly talking about PhD programs here). Only one person has qualified this, suggesting that grades might be looked at for external fellowship applications; everyone else insists that graduate school is about the research you do, the publications you write, the connections and name for yourself you make in your field, and not the grades you get in classes.

So, I wonder, why am I working so hard for this one class? Perhaps it is because this course is more or less remedial, filling in a gap in my knowledge about the breadth of my field, and as such the course is presenting me with a brand new way of thinking that I just need to get used to. Maybe with more practice, the concepts in the class will come more naturally. Or perhaps I am still used to putting courses (and by extension, problem sets) before everything because they used to be the point of my education. The experience has changed, but my study habits are slow to shift.

I'm confident that in the future, I'll become more fluent in the language of the class, and I'll be able to grasp the material more quickly. I also know that my focus will shift from courses to research, just as soon as I stop needing to fulfill requirements and start feeling the push to get moving on a dissertation. That point, however, is a long way off, and so for now, I'll soldier on with problem sets and dream about interesting research questions.

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