Monday, December 8, 2008

The Tao of Grad School part 4

Part 4: Approaching the required course load.
In Norway, as well as Stateside, you've got to maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher to stay in grad school, and scoring lower than B is equivalent to a Fail. Within the Norwegian system, the be-all end-all of the required course load consists of upholding the 3.0 GPA for the 30 study points you're supposed to take. Norwegian grad students don't need to know anything about cumes, quals or prelims (Oh, My!), something which significantly lightens the work load.

With that established, what remains is how you approach the required course load. There are lots of people who'll tell you that grades are not important. Some will go even further, claiming that if you get an A, it means that you've spent too much time studying when a B was all that was required - time which could've been spent doing other stuff, like research.

I massively disagree. At the Ph.D. level, part of what you're expected to do is to be able to absorb, understand and apply new material quickly, an ability grades capture quite adequately. There's no real comparison to how you might have prioritized during your undergrad years, unless you planned to be a researcher all along. With a Ph.D. level job - in academia or otherwise - absorbing and then reciting new material within a short period of time is a big part of the job, so you might as well get used to it. The main reason I disagree with the "B is good enough" attitude is that if you approach the "absorbing and reciting new material" part of your Ph.D. with the mindset of only doing what's necessary and nothing more, then I strongly doubt that your course load is the only aspect this attitude applies to. B is a passing grade, and if you worked hard to get that B, then good for you. That's vastly different from reveling in the fact that you worked just hard enough to get a passing grade.

And don't even try to feed me any bulls*it line about prioritizing your work according to it's pre-conceived relative importance according to you. That's the excuse of an inferior scientist.

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