Breakdown of My First Semester of Grad School

Distance Learning Drawing

One Semester Down, Two More To Go

I have officially finished my first semester of grad school and boy what a ride! I’m writing this blog post to you from my apartment in Binghamton. For reasons beyond me the university has decided to have us do the courses in person and to move all the way up to Binghamton instead of just staying remote. This is especially annoying since I’m in a Computer Science program and there is literally no reason why we couldn’t do this whole thing online. But I digress.

With that being said here is my experience of my first semester of grad school.

What It Was Like

Honestly this semester was more tedious than hard. I took 2 courses this semester and found 1 of them to be very easy and just a rehash of a course I took in spring and the other course to be tedious and hard because of lack of instructions. The courses I took were Algorithms and Intro to Visual Information Processing.

Since the semester was remote and asynchronous it was honestly amazing. A blessing really. The reason being was because I got flexibility in how I could learn/teach myself and had full control over my schedule. The prerecorded lectures they gave me to watch? Absolutely useless and I never bothered watching them for both classes because professors would just read off the slides. My approach to grad school has been Google, YouTube, and StackOverflow are my new best friends and the lectures and notes are supplementary material. All of my homework assignments I did by literally Googling what the material was, teaching myself it, and answering the questions.

The Algorithms course was literally a rehash of my undergraduate Algorithms course that I took at CSI this past spring. I didn’t struggle at all in this course and had an A average from the get go. I got an A in this class at the end of the semester and honestly it felt great. I got to enjoy my summer taking an easy course and didn’t even have to do any real work for it as I already knew the material. For my course project I just recycled a project that I did in my CSI Algorithms course. Overall this course was just a course where I could coast on and it allowed for me to just do my assignments fast, submit them early, and then head to Rockaway to surf for hours on end. The only annoying thing about this course was that there was a final at the end of it, but even then I studied for it for 5 days and aced it. I ended up getting an A in this class.

The Visual Information Processing course on the other hand was more of a pain in the ass and didn’t allow for me to just coast through it. In the beginning of this course I watched the lecture videos but soon found that the programming assignments had nothing to do with what was being discussed in the video lectures. Everything was left for my classmates and I to Google and figure out on our own. The TA was absolutely useless and graded us harsher than necessary. The professor was very considerate in this course for us though at the end of it.

The class had 3 assignments that were worth 75% of our grade and one term project that was worth 25%. I am not going to lie, I hated this class because I just found it so boring and not interesting at all. I took it because it filled a requirement for my degree and was the only class that filled this specific requirement available for the summer semester.

I ended up doing poorly in this class and was hoping for a B because realistically I wasn’t doing so well. It also didn’t help that the TA only started grading our assignments 2 weeks before the semester ended and was long past the point of the drop period for the courses. The university advises you to drop courses and retake them after seeing that you aren’t doing well, but it’s kind of hard to know how you’re doing when you only start getting assignments graded 2 weeks after the designated drop period!

I don’t have any hatred towards the TA though because I know he too was stressing out and was being crunched out by the department to produce a thesis. He was a PhD student so not only did he have to balance his TA duties he had to also create a viable thesis and do research. In the end the professor came through and gave me an A-. Grade inflation is indeed a real thing in grad school, and brother am I praising the lord for it!

What I Learned

Basically the things that I learned from this semester were more about how grad school works. It’s kind of nuanced but not really, it’s easy to see the big picture of things and how I play my role in the scheme of things.

Professor Is Not Involved In The Class At All

The only time the professor was involved for both of my classes was literally to announce the beginning of the class and to tell us that the TA would be handling everything. Other then that, the professor just fucked right off and left everything for the TA to handle. Lectures were pre-recorded and all the professor was expected to do was just handle emails once in a while.

But I’m not going to bash on my professor (I had him for both of my summer courses) because he was awesome. During the middle of Visual Information Processing, I complained about the TA being useless and the professor not only hopped on a zoom call with me to explain the concept I was struggling with at 10 at night, he even said he needs to reprimand the TA! And of course he curved the whole class up which leads me to my next point.

Grade Inflation Is Real AF – And Thank God

Often times you hear the phrase that grades don’t matter in grad school, research, publications, and funding do. This is completely true and as a result, professors curve the class averages up for students because they understand that the students are grinding out their research papers and theses. So they inflate the grades because the students in their classes are the very same staff in their research labs helping the faculty with their research. While I haven’t been involved in research and doubt I will be doing any research, I’m still grateful that I get to benefit from this perk. And like I said, thank god for it!

TA’s Hold The Keys To Your Fate… Up To A Certain Point

So like I mentioned before, professors will come in at the end of the semester and look at the over all class average and curve the class up, where A is you got the material, B is you barely got it, and C is you fucking failed. For both my classes everything was in control of the TAs but even they don’t want to fail you because they’re all PhD candidates and they’re just doing their job because that’s what puts food on their table and lets them pay their rent. They’re doing it to survive.

With that being said, TAs literally handle all of the grading and they are the ones you should always ask questions about the class. The professor wants to be as far removed from the course as possible so that they can focus on their research and other administrative tasks. Academia is not about teaching the undergrads, it’s all about getting funding and pushing research.

Grad School Is A Racket

Maybe I’m going to get flak for saying this but screw it I’m gonna say it anyways. I’ve already stated that grad school is all about pushing research, getting funding, and making the school look good. But another part of grad school is the fees they charge international students in exchange for international students using the school as a means of getting their foot in the country.

It’s a widely known phenomenon in my university where the university charges 4x what they would to a domestic in state student to an international student, in exchange for the international student having a better chance of getting US citizenship and having a better life in the US than they ever would in their home country. I don’t blame them either, if I was in their shoes and lived in a shitty country, I’d do exactly what they did to come for a better life. In my university alone, all of the international students that were incoming for 2020 deferred their enrollment because there was a travel ban and they could not enter the United States. They weren’t going to pay exuberant fees just to get a degree from a university they would never set foot in. As a result the university listened to their demands because they’re their piggy bank and the school is a racket, just like every other university in the US.

If you think there are some negative undertones in my statements, there aren’t I’m simply stating what I and others in my cohort have observed. Don’t be so sensitive and grow some thick skin.

Ending Notes

The purpose of this post was to give you my insight and opinions on grad school and how it operates. Again I hope this was of use to you and if you’re considering going for a masters, just know that this is my experience and is a common one. I’ve got two more semesters to go and I’m officially starting my second semester tomorrow in person. Though with the rise of Covid cases of the Delta Variant it very well may become a hybrid remote model where you can come to class in person but everything will be online regardless. As always, till next time.

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