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I'm a student in an Integrated Ph.D. course in Physical Science (Physics). Currently, I'm in the first year of this course where I'm taking core courses. I'm doing this course on Fundamentals of Astrophysics which is my first formal exposure to this area of physics. I find several problems with this class.

First, I'm not able to synchronize with the professor. I'm not able to follow his English speaking accent either, I suspect because he comes from a different region of the country. I don't understand anything and get nothing out of this class. Moreover, his class bores me, and makes the subject boring for me. The classes are online so it make it worse still. Due to network glitches, its breaks at points. And now not everyone can ask him to repeat again and again.

But when I read a book, I find the subject to be interesting. I don't find any difficulty. But the problem is, we are loaded with work. I can afford to read one book but it looks like he gives assignments and teaches from various places (even from topics he didn't cover.). Sometimes he goes outside the prerequisites of the course. If I go about reading different sections of different books, I find it hard because directly jumping to some section is not possible, since the authors then talk about previous sections or previous chapters.

I didn't find the suggested books to be useful for his assignment. I don't care about marks very much but due to reasons, I have to obtain decent marks. Can I just explain to him my situation and ask him for a solution? I think it's hard to make changes with the speaking accent or even the teaching style. I can request him to suggest a text from where I can do problems to follow his assignment and can continue to make the subject interesting. Is it alright to ask this?


Edit : The suggestion is based on a friend, Is this sound constructive? To me, it is.

Dear Sir, (I am ....intro) and I am taking your "Fundamental of Astrophysics" course this semester. I am writing this to inform you about the difficulties I am facing in following the course and lectures, especially the topics that I have not read anytime before. Sir, there are several topics you cover that I did not found in the prescribed book i.e. 'Astrophysics for physicist'. Like you taught about the neutrino oscillation . It is not in this book. In a different textbook, it talks about two-level neutrino oscillation, I got the fact but I feel like this only adds to my knowledge but does not add anything to my understanding, as I cannot answer any related question or can even ask. There are several topics that I could not follow due to which the assignments are seeming difficult, I follow another book but directly jumping in between doesn't much help and the following two books would be pretty loaded, as we always have assignments lined up.

Sir, Please let me know what should I do when I am unable to understand problems in assignments?

Also, it is a request to please provide the references of the lectures and topics that are not in the prescribed book, it will be helpful in following up with the course, understand and do the assignment problems.

Thank you

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  • I have added a short note. Do you find it constructive? Sep 18, 2021 at 3:07
  • Difficult to know what you would like to accomplish, your instructor to change so as to cater to you? Have you availed yourself of his or her office hours? I imagine you have, so I wish you best of luck in your future endeavors! Sep 18, 2021 at 3:31
  • @Aruralreader This is my first semester and it's online. The classes are working remotely from home. It's a late semester so usually where you the semester runs for 5 months apart from exams, Here you get four months with the same amount of work. This overloads us with lots of work. Online is not very efficient as you know. Sep 18, 2021 at 5:08

2 Answers 2

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Caveat I am from the US, so some advice may not transfer perfectly to India.

I think it's a good idea to meet, but it's important to think about what you want to say, and manage your expectations about what the outcomes will be.

Things not to say (because they aren't things the professor can or should change)

  • I need a good grade in this course.
  • Your accent is hard to understand.
  • The books are better than the lectures.
  • The homework is too hard.

Things you could say

  • There are frequent network problems when I watch the lectures online. Can these be fixed or can you help me find someone to talk to about fixing this?
  • I am having difficulty relating the homework problems to the lectures and suggested texts. Do you have time to discuss the problems in office hours? Can you suggest resources that are more appropriate for the problems, or help me understand how to use the resources you recommended in the syllabus?
  • I don't have a strong background in astronomy. Can you suggest some more basic resources to help me fill in any gaps?

Expectations

  • You shouldn't expect the professor to change the way they are teaching or grading the course. A good professor will take feedback to heart and adjust their teaching style based on feedback from students, but you shouldn't expect everyone will do this.
  • You shouldn't expect the homeworks to get easier. However, you can hopefully expect that you can get guidance on how to get started on the problems so you aren't wasting a lot of time getting started.
  • You should expect some reasonable attempt can be made to fix glaring technical problems with online lectures. However, it might not lead to a perfect solution. Even if the technical problem can't be fixed, the professor can at least be aware it is happening and account for it in their presentation style, for example if the lecture is broadcast live, they could take breaks to ask if any content was missed due to a technical issue.
  • Most importantly, you can expect that going to a professor and talking through your issues with the course in a professional way will mean the professor will remember you, and if they are a good professor they will appreciate that you were professional and communicative before major problems arose. In addition to being the right thing to do in some abstract sense, this can help you later on in "soft" ways. If you do poorly on an assignment, for example, it gives you more latitude to go into the professor and talk over what you can do better next time; I think people tend not to like it when someone shows up to their office only after failing an exam, but if you have been making an effort and underperform on a key assignment or exam, they may be more willing to try to help you figure out how to do better.
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    "There are frequent network problems when I watch the lectures online. Can these be fixed or can you help me find someone to talk to about fixing this?" Or, given that it is an online class, "Would it be possible for you to make recordings of the lectures available?" Sep 18, 2021 at 0:19
  • Is it OK, If I ask him to help me proceed with the problem where I'm stuck? This problem may belong to the assignment. Sep 18, 2021 at 5:41
  • @YoungKindaichi Yes, absolutely!! I can't imagine any scenario where a professor would not be thrilled to see a student show up to office hours, explain their approach to the problem, and show where they are stuck and ask for guidance. That's what office hours are for!
    – Andrew
    Sep 18, 2021 at 5:43
  • Great answer @Andrew
    – weymouth
    Sep 18, 2021 at 15:18
  • @Andrew This is what he say, when I show him my calculation and the point where I'm stuck on. "as this is a problem set, which carries grades I cannot give you direct answer, that will be unfair for others. You do whatever you deem fit. We will see. All the best." Sep 19, 2021 at 6:43
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It sounds like your complaints are

  • A physics professor has poor English skills.
  • A graduate level course covers a lot of material and requires a lot of background study.

These are normal things. While they are uncomfortable, you should not complain about them.

You can ask for help. Try to be specific about what you need help with.

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