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I am writing this question on behalf of a friend, Alice. Alice is in a US based university working towards earning her Master's of Science in Nursing. This semester, Alice was enrolled in lecture based class with a corresponding clinical class. That is, she worked 250 clinical hours with a nurse practitioner essentially as an unpaid internship. There are multiple instructors for the course, but the main professor Dr. M, oversees both of the courses. She has various TAs (called advisors, they seem to be a few steps above a TA) who oversee subsets of the students. They are tasked with helping with questions, mostly about the clinical process.

The semester has come and gone, grades were due on Sunday, it is now Tuesday. Alice does not have a grade for the clinical course. Dr. M sends an email to Alice's TA and CC's the students she oversees, the email reads as (I don't have access to the exact text, but it was extremely close to this):

Dear TA, It has come to my attention that you have not submitted grades for these students. Grades were due Sunday. You have until the close of business today to submit grades. If you do not submit grades, these students will receive an Incomplete for the course. Dr. M

My question is, what should Alice do about this? It is now Wednesday morning with no response.

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  • "There is no perceivable action for students to take to correct this," If they receive an incomplete they would know what may have caused it, and proceed accordingly, instead of panicking about what they may or may not have done.
    – xngtng
    May 4 at 14:32
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    Actually this is an attempt to put pressure on the TA. Also a bit of explaining why they are not at fault.
    – Buffy
    May 4 at 14:39
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    I expect the downvotes are due to the length of this -- I recommend you edit your post to remove unnecessary detail.
    – cag51
    May 4 at 17:43
  • I have taken the liberty to make the edit. @KDecker: You can reverse it if you do not agree.
    – Louic
    May 4 at 17:51
  • @Louic - thanks for the clean-up! Note, however, that two of the existing answers quoted from the now-deleted text. "Breaking" the existing answers is sometimes unavoidable, but it's worth trying to avoid if possible.
    – cag51
    May 4 at 17:54

3 Answers 3

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This is an email from the PI to the TA. A copy was sent to the students for information.

Alice should do nothing, this is between the PI and the TA.

Clearly, the PI is already aware of the consequences for the students if the TA does not do their job. The PI is trying to solve the problem by stressing this urgency in their email to the TA. Sending a copy to all the students further emphasises this urgency and informs the students about what is going on.

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    Probably also worth it to Alice to check the policies on "incomplete" grades at their institution; almost certainly if a grade is incomplete because of a TA's error, this will be easily changed to an appropriate final grade administratively. It may be particularly inconvenient for students approaching graduation or needing a transcript immediately, but this isn't something the university is going to just drop the ball on and leave students in a bad place. Agreed, this is just a very firm nudge to the TA.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 4 at 14:27
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The "darker" side of me, somewhat involved in the situation and really not a big fan of Dr. M. by any means, would like Alice to respond to the email ensuring to CC all students along with the graduate program director to bring it to their attention. Alice would respond along the lines of "I am very nonplussed by this situation. I am unsure why the students have been involved in this administrative issue that we have no control over. Is this situation resolved, and if not, when will it be resolved? I would like further explanation as to why we may be receiving and incomplete for the quarter when we completed all clinical hours."

DO NOT DO THIS under any circumstances. This behavior is rude at all levels. When people do this sort of thing in an office setting; everyone in the office will remember this person forever. They won't remember Dr. M, or what the email was about, but they will remember Alice and will want to stay as far away from her as possible. It's an instant reputation builder, in the worst way.

My first advice would be to be patient; the people who need to know (TA, professor) already know, Alice was CC'd on this as an update and courtesy. The school isn't going to let this status quo stand indefinitely.

If Alice has some immediate need for this grade to be posted, such as if this is threatening timely graduation, the very most I would do is to email only the professor, politely, and ask for an update. If Alice knows she really needs the grade resolved by some future date, include that date. No accusations, no demands, just a polite request that makes sure everyone is aware it's still an issue.

It's worth considering that there are many reasons a TA may go briefly missing and be difficult to contact, and those include things that are far more important than Alice's grade in this course: the TA could be ill or injured, or dealing with an ill or injured family member, for example. These things will definitely get sorted out in time, so there is no need for Alice to get aggressive or blame or escalate.

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Alice should wait.

Does any one of these options communicate any further information to the PI? No. The PI is surely aware that the students are unhappy and stressed out about this.

Is the PI sitting on some hidden piece of information that they are unwilling to share with students? Probably not. The situation is clear, namely that Dr. M has no way to assign grades to students if they do not actually have the grades.

If the PI is sitting on some hidden piece of information that he is unwilling to share with students, will Alice's email induce him to share it with her? Certainly not.

"The first thing to discuss is whether Dr. M used a poor choice of wording here and/or was too short in the explanation." Are you actually interested in discussing Dr. M's choice of words? No, presumably you are interested in making sure that Alice gets her grade.

"There is no perceivable action for students to take to correct this." You are absolutely right, so why are you trying to come up with a perceivable action for Alice to take in order to correct this?

"I would like further explanation as to why we may be receiving and incomplete for the quarter when we completed all clinical hours." What kind of further explanation do you imagine there to be, beyond the fact that as a consequence of the TA not providing the grades (for reasons we can only speculate about), Dr. M does not actually have the grades at hand to enter them into the system?

This does not appear to be an actual request for further explanation, but simply an expression of frustration on Alice's part. Really the only thing to note here is that presumably it's not terribly difficult to fill in the incomplete grades after Dr. M is provided with the list of grades. It's not as if this is a permanent situation. Dr. M could have reminded the students of this, but then the email would have lost some of its urgency for the TA.

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