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I'm 3rd Physics & Mathematics student, and I almost hate taking and attending lectures; it is not because what is taught, I just don't like sitting in uncomfortable chairs with a lot of people around me for 50 min. unstopped with my clothes on, and listening.

I'm sure, up to this point of the question, I'm most misunderstood, so let me describe an ideal learning environment for me, which was what I had during this last winter break (it was like a paradise);

I was studying Quantum Mechanics from the video records of a graduate course recorded by one of my professors; they were actual recordings of a lecture, but I was in my home with my pyjamas. While I was watching the lectures if I don't understand something, I would stop and think on it, make some research, checkout the book that I was using etc., and after all those tries, if I still cannot find it, I would take note, and think on it for days while I was still making progress. Moreover, in a single day, I were completing almost 4 hours lectures and the next day, I was taking detailed notes of those lectures (which were actually taking much more time than the previous day). This was like a paradise for me; I was studying in my own pace, taking breaks whenever I feel that I need. There was no worry of grade; I was doing this in a "holiday" just because I want learn quantum mechanics, not because I need study just to get a diploma, which I need to pursue a Phd.

But, in a regular lecture, most of the time, I don't want to attend to lecture because I'm force to take that lecture from a single professor with a curriculum s/he prepared, not I chose, and most probably, I don't like his/her teaching. Moreover, even though I'm the most talking student in the class (even in graduate courses I'm taking), at some point, I stop thinking, which make me sleepy. Also, I have take good grades in order to pursue my Phd in the university that I want which is in abroad. (There are lots of other reasons, but let me stop here; I think everyone understood the point.)

Now, considering the fact that, even most of Phd/Master's programs have course loads, and even as a professor, you need to give lectures (not take them anymore), can such a person survive in academia ? Is it really possible ?

Just a side note: I actually like teaching things, but not giving lectures to a whole lot of people; I mean I have friend who asks me lots of question, I take pleasure of thing on those questions and explaining to him, but giving lectures is totally a different experience, which I despise.

Edit: There is requirement that requires me to attend the lectures.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Feb 21 at 1:11

12 Answers 12

80

I can sympathize. I'm extremely susceptible to "Power Point" hypnosis: 10 slides in and my head is staring to nod, 30 slides and I'm in danger of snoring. This isn't limited to dull talks, or the amount of sleep I got the night before, it's apparently a quirk of my physiology.

However, part of your education is learning to exercise your skills in suboptimal conditions. Schwarzschild wrote three important papers on gravitation while serving on the Russian front in WWI. Attending lectures may not be optimal for you, but is it really such a huge hardship?

If you stay in academia you are probably going to need to listen to talks at conferences, listen to presentations by your students, and attend seemingly endless faculty meetings. There are equivalent obstacles in the non-academic world. By all means, arrange your days and your study environment as you find most effective. But learn to work with the fact that world is full of friction, and learn to cope with the minor inefficiencies it imposes on you.

  • 3
    Up to now, the life wasn't easy for me (not just from the perspective of education), so I definitely agree with you on that; we need to learn how to perform under suboptimal conditions; however, when it comes to learning something physics or mathematics, which are the passions of my life, if I don't think I'm really learning it, I don't bother trying further. However, I see your point; thanks. – onurcanbektas Feb 18 at 18:50
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It's definitely a negative factor. But of course one factor among several.

I personally enjoy lectures more when I pre-study the material (even doing some drill) so the lecture becomes more of a review or alternate viewpoint rather than initial learning. But if you tell me next, you don't like textbooks...

But then again I sort of enjoy lectures, feels like a performance I get to watch.

  • In physics lecture, yes I totally agree, but in a mathematics, I would disagree in general. – onurcanbektas Feb 18 at 18:10
  • P.S.: I actually quite enjoy studying from a textbook which I like. – onurcanbektas Feb 18 at 18:11
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    @onurcanbektas Well, you added "in general", otherwise I would have said, some of the most artistic and brilliant lectures I have attended were math ones. However, math has the potential for some really uninteresting lectures. – Captain Emacs Feb 18 at 18:14
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    I am a mathematician, and if a lecture is not a good performance, it was not worth going to... – paul garrett Feb 18 at 18:16
  • @CaptainEmacs Oh, tell me about it; once the instructor was following a book word-to-word in the lecture, even though the book wasn't a good one. – onurcanbektas Feb 18 at 18:16
14

You might have another problem or two that needs addressing. It might be worth sitting and reflecting on what you "really" hate about the experience. It just dull and pointless and wasting your time? If so you might need to work on patience and process (learning to do the thing and be OK with the time it takes), because some of life is doing what your boss/professor/etc asks even if you don't want to and think there's a more productive use for your time. Otherwise, is it hard to sit there because you hate everything and everything is distracting and annoying, so you aren't learning anyways? That might indicate an underlying problem like ADHD or depression, where a combination of mental exercises (self soothing, calming, reducing the noise) and medical treatment (e.g. an SSRI for depression or stimulants for ADHD) can really help reduce the discomfort and annoyance. Or are you just physically uncomfortable the whole time? Is there anything you can do about that or request to accommodate that? Sit in the back and get up to stretch or even walk outside into the halls when things get achy / restless?

In today's world of online education and resources, you may be well placed to work around it, but the setting (sitting through boring meetings with people / things that make you want to burn it all down) will keep coming up throughout your adult life, so nailing down some of the causes and techniques for handling them can be beneficial throughout your life. Otherwise, nailing it down might help you figure out what type of work/study you might be cut out for and what sorts of things you want to avoid.

Source: PhD in a biomedical field and still struggling with some of these issues

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    Yep, I read the question and thought, "Hey, a fellow ADHD academic! Pity he doesn't know it yet." – Sneftel Feb 19 at 20:40
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    As you say you're still struggling with ADD, you might want to read "Delivered from Distraction" : drhallowell.com/books/… . (and it'll give you a reason to get our of your office and make friends with your local librarian) – Joe Feb 21 at 3:49
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Ultimately you are responsible for your own learning. This is true whether you have lectures available or not. True whether the lectures are helpful or not.

If lectures are required or attendance is graded you will suffer from non attendance, but you know that, of course.

But the opinion that your professor has of you is also important. But attending lectures is only one way to affect that. If you really don't want to attend lectures, I'd suggest that you have a face to face conversation with the professor so that you can meet your goals without upsetting a person with some authority and who may be in a position to help you along the way.

My own opinion about lectures is that they are a poor way to teach. Student practice and reinforcement is much more important than listening to a speech. In the 17th century, lectures were an efficient way to reach more than a small number of students. Books were expensive and other learning aids non existent.

I'd suggest that if you have a way to learn that isn't like what the masses are comfortable with that you discuss it with the prof. who may be able to supplement your ideas on learning.

But you may also, just have to yield to the system to avoid getting penalized for things that shouldn't really matter.

I'll note that if you came to me, I might want to put you to work helping others, rather than attending lectures, and even giving you exams that were a bit different than the normal ones. Probably harder exams.

6

Lectures often suck, but they're pretty much unavoidable until candidacy. Same thing with using books you don't like or studying material you don't find well-motivated.

It's best not to waste energy fighting these inevitabilities. Of course you should take whatever chances you get for self-study and supplementary reading from sources of your choice, but you won't escape classes completely.

When it comes down to it, what you're really fighting against is most likely that you think the academic system should be better. It should be, but it isn't. Accept what you can't change, and try to make the best of what's there.

5

I'm a physicist, and I felt essentially the same way when I was a student. Lectures are a ridiculous custom. For physics at the freshman level, there is a great deal of research showing that lecturing is an ineffective way to teach, even for professors who work hard at it and get wonderful teaching evaluations.

Just work around these issues. If there's no reason to go to class, don't go to class. Sit in a cafe and study instead. If there's a reason why you really need to go to class, you can always sit in the back of the room and study.

  • Well, I tried that method of attending the lectures, but not listening when the things get bored extremely when I needed to attend the lectures. Maybe I'm too touchy about the subject, but that made me get bored from the subject that I actually fascinated by it; pardon the analogy, but it is like not wanting to have sex after seeing a porn movie, – onurcanbektas Feb 18 at 21:40
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I hate lectures too and was a lecturer for 11+ years. I finally realised I could not stand them any longer.

Whenever I could I would convert lectures to task based ones where the students do something rather than listen to me drone.

Now I am in research which is one avenue available to you if you wish to stay in academia, it usually means no teaching, occasionally giving talks.

Just sit at the back with headphones, listening to the videos.

  • What do you mean by "I am in research" ? Are you doing a post-doc, or working in somewhere like CERN ? – onurcanbektas Feb 20 at 16:27
  • Working for a uni, doing programming on a research project. – schoon Feb 20 at 19:57
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I think you can survive in academia even if you hate lectures.

I hated them myself but I pushed through and did a PhD. What I would say is that there seems to be a much higher emphasis in the US on taking lectures than there is in Europe ! I've spent time in both academic systems. In my opinion, I think there is much less of a focus on attending lectures during postgraduate study in Europe!

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    Actually while I was studying (Department of Mathematics, University of Lodz, Poland) we were not requested to attend to the lectures at all. The only thing that mattered was completing the final tests. You had also more practical part (you could translate it to "Exercises") where you had to attend but it had nothing to do with boring lectures. You had to actually work out solutions to the given problems yourself, applying the knowledge you were supposed to get during the lectures (but you could get it yourself ass well). – Ister Feb 19 at 12:28
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There are few options to consider and not all of them will work on every kind of study nor with every teacher but it's always better to try it. One note though - you need to be really good in order to try most of them as you need your teachers to sympathise. Before I move on let me first challenge your approach a bit.


There was no worry of grade

Well, the professor that teaches you has to measure you somehow. Also you have to be comparable against other students. One of the basic reasons is that someone needs to able to decide who's worth of going further so yes, you will be graded. Also grades should show if you make progress. On the other hand the way you are graded may depend on your agreement with a professor.

Let me give you an example. Where I studied each subject has two parts - lectures and exercises. For exercises you have tests, usually two in every semester. You need to pass both to graduate for the next semester or from the course.

Twice I managed to get the grade not by completing those tests but having instead a totally different task assigned. The task was outside of what was regularly taught. In general my solutions were often somewhat different from the "standard approach", leading to results that were considered as quite new by the professors that taught those topics. Once my end result was entirely different to everyone else in the group for the same task but no-one including the professor could find a flaw in my reasoning. I was told I'll get a max grade if I manage to prove that my result is actually consistent. Yes, it took me a month and I had to use some strange theorem suggested by one of fellow students (definitely not taught in the normal course on any subject, not to mention this specific) but eventually I managed to create a proof.

The second case it turned out my solution to the task (which I found obvious actually) was considered by my professor as an extraordinary result. The original task was just to present the solution but the professor told me that if I can provide the justification that my solution is correct (which he assumed he also considered intuitively to be correct) I'll be granted a max grade. So I did it (it was super-easy for me, the most difficult part was building the correct definition of the function I've created but I had it already well thought over).

I'm force to take that lecture from a single professor (...)

Well, not really. A single professor is responsible for grading your progress. You may go to other professors or learn on-line or whatever. Actually most of professors I know will be happy to teach other students if they were only willing to learn.

with a curriculum s/he prepared, not I chose, (...)

Well, this is something that you need to understand. The professor is responsible for teaching and they need to consider what's best to teach. You are not yet fully developed as a researcher so you may miss some important areas. Again, there are also other reasons, for example ability to compare your knowledge (in theory progress) to that of other students.

(...) and most probably, I don't like his/her teaching.

That's something you don't really know.

even as a professor, you need to give lectures

First of all, that's entirely different thing than attending lectures. But still, you may not like giving dull lectures that you never liked attending. That's great. So rather than giving simple dull lectures find more creative ways of showing the same knowledge. Think of TED talks. These are lectures but still you find yourself looking for them and listening on the YouTube even though no-one forces you to do so.

It's more challenging but it gives you far more joy and satisfaction when you see that your students are interested in your teaching. And I believe that's the only way to really achieve that.


Here are some options that come to my mind. Probably best might be mixing few of them depending on what works for you and for specific professor.

Note, the better you are (and you can actually prove it) the more likely those methods will work.

External/on-line studies.

Yes there are such things. Personally I've seen it for Computer Science (actually it was one of the options I was considering). You essentially do all the learning on-line and some 80% of it is own-paced. You have a set of things that you have to learn and that will be tested at the end of each course.

You'll have the courses/lectures recorded plus you'll get a set of additional resources lie books or web pages that can help you when you want to deepen your knowledge.

What t doesn't solve is that you still get the list of things to learn and that you are still graded in a uniform way.

Individual course of studies

I don't know details, I only know it's possible. Essentially you need to find a mentoring professor who will be leading you and you agree with them what to study. Then such study plan has to be accepted by some board (to my understanding it's on Department level).

You may still need to attend some traditional courses/lectures but you'll have much more impact on which ones will you attend. Also you may for example prove your skills by doing some research or other kind of work so at least part of your progress (grades) will not come from traditional means of teaching.

Pre-agreed conditions to pass the course

This is pretty much what I have already described above from my personal experience. You can go to the professor(s) responsible for particular course and agree what you need to learn and how will you prove to them that you did.

It will probably not work with everyone. On the other hand the better you actually are, the more chances you have to succeed.

In the end it's the grade given by the professor that counts, not how you get it. If you have a mutual agreement, you're good to study as agreed (in most cases as you want as long as you manage to develop the required skills - and prove it)

Pre-study

Essentially you can find out what to expect on most of the studies. What you can do is actually prepare upfront. If you can learn the topic earlier it'll be easier to negotiate your attendance to the lectures. Of course that might mean delaying your studies and spending some of your time on learning that you could use otherwise. On the other hand if you manage to do that you may end up with more free time as you no longer have to attend the lectures.


I cannot guarantee if any of those options will work in your case, especially in the place you study. Actually I believe some of the best universities (Oxford comes to my mind) actually support some of those approaches. Others might see it as a problem. Yet it's worth trying. It costs you little to nothing but can really make studying much more enjoyable experience.

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I barely attended any lectures during undergrad, got into Cambridge for my msc, again didn't go to any lectures, now doing a PhD. I am pretty average at maths maybe less than average (I got lucky with Cambridge) I often have moments when I am really silly and don't see things but that is more my doppy head than me not attending lectures. I am a deep thinker not a quick one... so it suits me a lot more not to go to lectures. In fact I have been like this my whole life, I regularly missed (or rather bunked off to go study by myself in the town library). I think provided you have the motivation to work at home not dick around with your favourite hobby then it is fine.

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Just showing up in lecture hall with proper clothes puts you in the proper mindset. In home all kinds of distractions will prevent you from keeping a schedule and maintaining attention on material at hand.

At home the wikipedia rabbithole and time sink is an ever present danger. Externally enforced schedules & limiting enviroments work. The same ideas also apply when working from home. You can do it couple of times, but you can't trust yourself to maintain schedule long term.

If you feel sleepy buy a cup of coffee or limit the classes you attend, leaving the more important or interesting lectures. Generally after 6hours of lectures i would find myself exhausted, wasting time and not paying attention at all.

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    not really; that is not applicable for me. – onurcanbektas Feb 20 at 20:37
  • In class there are also distractions: your friends, your mobile phone etc. Can you tell us why your argument does not apply to them? – guest3 Feb 20 at 21:05
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    It's generally bad etique to talk with your friends during a lecture and you can always ignore them if they seem more interested on sharing a joke rather paying attention. You also can't just pull up your phone during a lecture for prolonged times. Phones are a distraction both in and out of class and you could always use airplane mode temporary. – FrantzelasG Feb 20 at 21:22
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Once you get out of academia, you will most likely be required to show up at an employers office, sit in a sometimes uncomfortable chair, stare at a computer and monitor for many hours, and not have PJs on. You will likely need to be dressed in business casual.

You may be able to get away with leaving the top button on your shirt undone and maybe even slip off your shoes while at your desk, but maybe not. Even worse, you job might require a suit and tie, or a dress.

You will not likely be able to snag a 100% remote position, unless you have many years of experience and are in one of a handful specific job positions.

Being in a class, listening to lectures, staying quiet, focused and on task, and all the other things that go with it are training for the job as well as what is being posted up on the white/chalk board or projector display. If you don't have those skills, you may not have all the necessary skills to survive in a regular 8-5 day job.

Sure, you might get into a startup that allows jeans and sneakers, but those are still fairly rare. They sometimes get a lot of press because they are still so rare. And I haven't heard of anyone that allows PJs on the job.

Unfortunately, you will have to learn those skills now or you will have to learn them later, probably at the expense of several jobs and a lot of uncomfortable "on the job" learning where you won't have hourly breaks to overcome the oftentimes uncomfortable nature of work that isn't even related to wearing uncomfortable clothes.

  • 1
    Nah. "Independent Consultant". Or just start your own company. When you know what you're bad at, you have to figure out what you're good at and focus on that instead. No reason to take someone else's path if it's going to make you miserable. (it's like when someone tells you some food is 'an acquired taste' ... why would I want to eat something that doesn't taste good?) – Joe Feb 21 at 3:42
  • Well, thanks for letting me know that the industry is much worse (in general). – onurcanbektas Feb 21 at 5:21
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    @Joe, even if you start your own consulting company,you'll still likely have to be face-to-face with a customer at some point. You might be able to just video chat and get back to comfy clothes after a while, but not all the time. Being a consultant usually requires professional experience and advanced knowledge, so the OP still isn't likely going to be able to do it right out of college. What I laid out isn't 100% of people, but it is around 99.999%. Personally, I also wish it wasn't. – computercarguy Feb 21 at 23:57

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