It’s been a while since I’ve been reminded of some of the dumb things about grad school. This weekend, it all came back to me. I started to look over some of the assignments that are due fairly soon. One of my assignments made me quite perturbed.

We’ve been in class for almost two months now. In the lectures, we’ve gone over specific theory and been given lots of equations. So the prof hands out our third assignment. It basically has nothing to do with what we’ve talked about in class. It’s based on a single paper we were supposed to read and summarize. The prof talked about the paper maybe ten minutes and didn’t go over any of the technical details in it. Meanwhile, I have a binder full of lecture notes that aren’t applicable to the assignment. The assignment is worth almost 15% of the class mark. How do you make an assignment worth that much based on 1% of lecture material?

He wants us to recreate what the researchers did in the paper… in two weeks. Researchers sometimes spend months in collaboration with each other to come up with the results of a paper. More often that not, the work is based on the work of others. These papers are almost as technical as a complete thesis.

It would be half bad if the paper laid out what they did down to the minute details, so I could understand their techniques. However, the details are general. They throw out an equation here and there, but I have no idea how to fit that into real code.

It doesn’t end there. The prof gave us some template code to get us started. When I looked at it this weekend, I was immediately confused. He’s done something that I’ve never seen before. It’s so non-standard. I get feeling it’s not a “good practice” technique when it comes to writing code. Thinking maybe I was just dumb, I consulted a friend of mine, an NSERC holder in computer science. I told him how the prof wrote the code. He said he’d never heard of that before and he wasn’t even sure how it working the way he did it.

So not only do I not know how to proceed for this assignment, my hands are tied by this template code, which is supposed to give the class a “head-start”.

This is what I find frustrating about grad school. More often than not, profs give out assignments that are artificially difficult. Sometimes, you immediately understand what concept or theory is being investigated for the assignment, but there’s all these artificial roadblocks in your way. For example, the data for the assignment is not in the ideal format, so you spend half the time formatting the data, when that’s not the point of assignment. Or when you’re given templates to work with, but they are so confusing, you lose focus of what the whole point of the assignment was. You wind up doing work (and lots of it), just so you can start the assignment in earnest.

Some people say grad school is hard, and they are partially right, because of all the BS that is involved. Bah, I’m all ornery now. And that is exactly why I’m going to fry up some bacon and eggs as soon as I hit the post button.

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