7

I am a master's student in the US studying international relations, and I had a negative experience in one of my classes last week. It is my last semester of my master's program, and I feel very exhausted from being a student. I have a story about what happened in one of my classes last week, and would like to know how I should cope in the class for the rest of the semester.

Situation

Last week, in one of my classes (in a subject I am not too familiar with), I had to give a presentation based on a paper I wrote. The assignment involved writing a paper based on the course readings for the week that we signed up for and presenting it on the due date. I presented, but I admit that my presentation was quite poor because of my lack of confidence in my paper. This was definitely a situation of the input being much greater than the output, which is definitely one of the greatest frustrations that anyone could ever have. I know that it is a stupid calculation on my part, but I was just planning to present in a dull way so that other people would not ask any questions; the presentation did not seem to be weighted much.

The professor attacked my presentation in front of the class and gave it as an example of what not to do. However, I would have preferred that I just receive a bad grade in private, as opposed to having to feel embarrassed in class. I could tell that the professor was quite disappointed. 'Humiliated' might seem like a strong word, but I felt very embarrassed and helpless for the rest of class.

Now, there are three weeks left of the course, and I feel like I would not want to stare at anyone in the remaining class sessions. I am considering training my mind to think of myself as a corpse for the two-hour duration of each of the remaining classes. The papers for last week are already graded, and based on what happened in the class, I am already mentally prepared for the worst in relation to my paper grade.

I am from an eastern culture, and in my culture, it is considered one of the worst insults to publicly embarrass someone; this is done in cases when the person is mean-spirited or it is likely that the people involved will never see each other again.

Questions

  1. Is the professor's reaction common and justified in the US or other western countries in situations like mine across different fields?

  2. How should I cope for the last few weeks of the semester?

I just can't wait for this course to finish. If such an experience were to occur, I would have preferred that it happen on the last day so that I would not have to look at familiar faces in the classroom ever again.

11

I'm sorry. What happened to you should be very rare, but it does happen sometimes. In US higher education I have seen otherwise good professors embarrass someone by accident (not realizing the effect of their words on the student, or saying something more extreme than they had thought through), and some extremely blunt professors who say this sort of thing on purpose (this group is mixed in whether they are otherwise kind people).

I highly doubt that what the professor did was "justified," but this may depend on the tone they used. In my opinion, intending to embarrass you for this would not be justified.

As for coping, I suggest you think about whether the professor has done this sort of thing to other people. If so, then other people know what you feel like. If not, then it is unlikely that the professor considered how his words would make you feel.

It may feel empowering to go to the professor with direct feedback that this was very embarrassing to you. I think that directness might help the professor learn but would even better free you from some of this shame. However, that's expert-level self-confidence and emotional intelligence, and not at all what I did when I was in a similar situation (grad student giving final presentation on my work, and the professor said a few slides in that my approach didn't make sense/wouldn't work; that sort of deflated me and I ended the presentation there--I was the last student to present, the class had already gone over time, and the prof was complaining before my presentation that he needed to leave.). In my case, I never brought it up, there was no direct feedback on the presentation, and I continued going to next term's class with the same prof even when I felt like I was going to cry. I felt embarrassed for a while when I ran into my fellow students from that class. But eventually I figured out my feelings, realized that professor is extremely direct (to put it kindly), and the pain dulled over time.

To prepare for your remaining classes, really be kind to yourself. If you have a friend in this class, try to arrange to come to this class with them so you're not alone at the beginning or end or class. Bring a comforting hot drink with you to class. (Or ice cold drink, depending on weather. :) ) Wear jewelry or put something in your pocket that reminds you of home & loved ones or a meaningful accomplishment. And try to remain engaged with the ideas right in front of you in the class, rather than replaying that class in your mind. If possible, finish a draft of what you need to do for the rest of the class as soon as you can, so you can mentally close the door on this class.

You are almost done with your program! I am sorry that there was this awful experience at the end, but please try to celebrate what you have done!

  • 2
    As an additional coping strategy, maybe talk to other people in your class? Get their perspective, if possible from different cultural backgrounds? I strongly agree with @cactus_pardner that this is rare in western cultures as well, although possibly not as rare as in eastern cultures. – Designerpot Apr 5 '18 at 7:39
3

Ok, so first point I would assume is that the presentation grade is separate to the paper grade - there may be another grade involved for the overall grade. I separate them - they have different marking criteria.

Were you the first to present - had you been given the marking criteria - usually it is made available or at least an outline.

As for the rest of the course - go and benefit from the classes, the prof won’t be “out to get you” based on the presentation.

If, as you say, the prof held the presentation up as something not to do - and did not make comments about you personally - then it was for constructive critisism for the whole class and if that has been the method employed for all the other presentations, if not, then that is not so fair.

I had students give presentations where, at the end, both I and the audience of students would ask questions and make comments BUT all were warned that any Q / comment had to be constructive : this was good, needed more on this or what about X... etc.

So, go to class, finish the course and don’t panic. One comment could the prof could be thinking is what happened - the paper was great, I was expecting a rolls-royce of a presentation - mind you it can happen - bad day etc...

2
  1. What exactly did the professor say?

Did the professor comment on precisely on your character, you as a student or person or anything of the sort? Or just your presentation?

It's definitely wrong if the professor said you were a bad presenter, bad student or negatively described you specifically.

If the presentation, it depends a little on what was said but more on how it was said. If it was indeed an attack, then that's wrong.

  1. Talk to university counselling. Also, do you know Brené Brown?

1 minute article: Brené Brown on The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

Videos:

Dr. Brené Brown on Faking It, Perfectionism and Living Wholeheartedly | SuperSoul Sunday | OWN (4:49)

Brené Brown: Why Your Critics Aren't The Ones Who Count (22:40)

Brené Brown on Blame (3:25)

Brené Brown on Vulnerability (20:19)

Listening to shame | Brené Brown (20:38)

  • 1
    I wish I could upvote this post multiple times, especially for the links you provided. – cactus_pardner Apr 4 '18 at 20:00
1

Is the professor's reaction common and justified in the US or other western countries

Common, yes; justified, no. If you felt humiliated, then I don't think the professor behaved appropriately, since the point of class is to provide you with an environment to flourish and learn. However, as others have pointed out, there is a chance that the professor is unaware of the effect (s)he had on you. In my experience, some academic communities can be brutally harsh, and this is an accepted (sometimes even welcome) norm. Members of these communities can forget that not everyone interacts like they do.

  1. If you want to make it right with the professor, you can go and be honest. Explain that you know it was not your best work, and that you didn't mean to be disrespectful -- you had a lot going on with your other coursework, and didn't have time to produce your best output. If you really want to go the extra mile, you can ask if there is a way to make it up.

  2. If you want to prevent this from happening with other students, then you should definitely mention your feelings to the professor in a non-confrontational and unemotional way (if you can). You can do this after the semester is over so it doesn't affect you negatively.

  3. Otherwise, just let it go and focus on getting through the next two weeks :)

It is my last semester of my master's program, and I feel very exhausted from being a student.

one of my classes (in a subject I am not too familiar with)

The assignment involved writing a paper based on the course readings for the week that we signed up for and presenting it on the due date. I presented, but I admit that my presentation was quite poor

Three observations, based on your description of the problem.

  1. Originally, you didn't seem to think that the assignment was very important or critical;
  2. This topic doesn't seem to be your main strength;
  3. You knew you weren't performing at your best.

Based on that, you may feel a bit better if you can try to put the situation into perspective (I know, with the embarrassment, that this can be really hard). Consider this:

  • Your presentation was boring, but you designed it to be boring because you weren't happy with it! And, you weren't happy with it because you spent your time focusing on other important things! The professor may have been disappointed because (s)he expected you at 100%. But you deserve some slack.
  • You got to the last 3 weeks of the program without anything like this happening - which means you've put in 1-2 years of good work. So while I am sure that you feel terrible, I don't think you're actually doing terribly.
  • The professor criticized you, but it doesn't sound like the other students said anything. So, there is no need to be embarrassed before them. Usually, when this happens to students around me, I don't think worse of them or assume that my work was better -- I just feel relieved that I didn't get yelled at.

For this type of reasoning, you can take a look at David Burns' book on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, called "Feeling Good" (a nice summary here -- see "Distortions"). Practicing this kind of reasoning with yourself might help you build some confidence before next class.

A second, and maybe faster/easier tip, is just to try to spend some time before each class refreshing yourself on your accomplishments. Look at a paper you're really proud of, or the big stack of all of the articles you've read over the semester. Think about a compliment you got from another student, or a way in which you helped someone else. Focus on things that remind you that you are talented and capable and not limited to one presentation in one week of one class!

Also, try to remember that as long as you pass the class, everything will be fine. I screwed up a final assignment for my master's degree and scored the worst grade I've ever gotten in anything. To be honest, I don't think anyone has ever even looked at it, or if they have, it's never come up to my detriment.

  • Excellent analysis of the situation and suggestions for reframing it and learning from it! – cactus_pardner Apr 5 '18 at 7:31
  • thanks! liked your answer too -- just thought i'd add some more tips :) – atkat12 Apr 6 '18 at 21:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.