PhD program is new in our department, and first experience of the faculty members and department head.

Our PhD classes are exactly like undergraduate classes: monologue lecture, strict attendance rule, no discussion, etc.

We are PhD students, and we have not experienced PhD classes before, but our expectation was something different. When we complain, the department replies this is the standard method around the world.

  • How can we gather some information/evidence that how is a standard PhD class to convince the department?

  • How the PhD class are actually different from undergraduate courses?

  • 2
    Don't you have other universities having PhD classes in your country? Could you please tell a little about their successful experiences? At least you may have contact with other PhD students and you may know how their programs are organized. Also, what exactly are your expectations from PhD classes? If it is having no strict attendance rules, then this is not a good reason to complain about your program, in my opinion. Specially having no discussion during your classes is your lecturers' taste of teaching. May other professors have different teaching style. There is no standard teaching style.
    – enthu
    Feb 21, 2015 at 9:27
  • 4
    Um, it can't really be their first experience because all the faculty went through Ph.D. programs themselves. You can bet your last nickel they've discussed the approach to the new classes, probably heatedly.
    – Bob Brown
    Feb 21, 2015 at 15:36

2 Answers 2


Graduate-level classes are not necessarily any different than undergraduate classes, just more intense and more specialized. Some graduate-level classes are just exactly the way that you describe. Others have more of a "seminar" format, in which there is more reading and discussion, and in which students are expected to do part of the teaching---but at many institutions, there are also undergraduate classes like this.

The real heart of a Ph.D. program, however, is not the classes, but the research that students are involved with and should ultimately learn to initiate themselves. Typically, Ph.D. programs start with a couple of years of intense classes, but then, once students have "qualified" (often by passing an oral or written examination), then classes become largely optional and you are expected to focus on research instead.

  • Sample of one: My doctoral classes covered parts of the subject in great depth. The student was expected already to have the breadth of knowledge or to acquire it independently. There was a reading list to help with the latter.
    – Bob Brown
    Feb 21, 2015 at 15:34

Students in a PhD program can (and should, and should be encouraged to) give feedback and offer constructive criticism on various aspects of the program. However it is a different matter for them to try to convince the faculty running the program that it should be run in a significantly different manner than it is. I don't mean that it is not their place to do so, but rather: if as a group the students in a PhD program feel that they know what the program should be doing better than the faculty then....time to go to a different PhD program.

As for many questions on this site, yours could be improved by adding more identifying information, both geographically and in terms of subject matter. Advice which applies to all PhD programs everywhere in the world must be very general to the point of lacking acuity. However, from the little you've said it sounds to me that you are in a very small place: certainly a small university, maybe even a small country without a wide or strong academic tradition. The idea that the faculty members in your program have little experience with PhD programs sounds very provincial and distressing. Certainly they should have had, at the very least, experience in their own PhD program. (If that is not the case -- i.e., if by any chance the curators of your PhD program do not themselves have PhDs in your field -- just get out right away. That's silly.) But really each of them should be familiar with at least one PhD program other than their own, either from a postdoctoral or visiting position or, at the very least, being well-traveled and asking key questions to the people that they visit.

(It is highly typical for academics to engage in shop talk like this: for instance I visited a collaborator at a different university last semester. I believe I was there for three days. In that time I spoke to about one third of the department faculty and had lunch with my colleague and a handful of graduate students in which I asked them questions about the program and their decision to enroll in it. At one point my colleague asked me what graduate courses we typically offer in area X in my department and he wrote down what I told him and asked followup questions. Does this make you think that this department was either very new or trying to recruit me for a job? Neither one was the case! We just very much want to know how everyone else does business...in fine detail.)

The point is that most faculty administrating PhD programs are continually comparing their practices to what other programs are doing, to make sure that their own practices are as good or better in various ways. When you start up a new PhD program you need (I believe: I haven't done it) to do an enormous amount of this type of comparison in advance, and you have to explain to everyone involved why you're doing what you're doing: much more specifically than "this is the standard method around the world". Also most new programs start gradually: first you add a master's program and give everyone time to get used to that. Then, when you have enough master's students who really wish they could stay where they are for their PhD, you begin to try to build a PhD program, but it will be small at first, small enough to be easy to cater to the needs of the students you already have.

In your case it sounds a bit like someone just came in the middle of the night and built an entire PhD program based on very broad ideas about what such things should be. That doesn't sound very good to me. I would encourage you to shop around for a more established program and one that meets the needs of the students who are taking it. If you are in a geographically isolated region, seriously consider moving out of it, at least temporarily. Going from one place to another to avoid provincialism is not an essential component of the academic experience, but it is a common and healthy one, and I strongly endorse it to those who have the option.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .