In a lab today we were working with electronic circuit boards (kind of like old-fashioned Arduinos). I had done the prelab but I had a great deal of difficulty trying to get my circuit board to work in the way it was supposed to. Slowly, everyone in the class left. The next class arrived and I continued to work. I consulted the TA for help several times and eventually I was able to prove that the board I was working on was faulty. It was very difficult, as it seemed to work as expected with one micro-controller, but given multiple some funky stuff started happening. The TA emphasized that it was important to understand the basics and advised me to come back tomorrow to make sure I understand how to use the circuit board. I already missed a class staying in late today. This is very frustrating especially considering I pay lots of money to be in the class and half the labels on the chips are so faded you're not even sure what you're putting in.

My question is, could I have done anything differently (and not missed my next class)? I find it nonconstructive to blame things on the equipment, but it does really happen sometimes. Should I have pressured the TA more for help? It was 1 TA for a fairly large class but she almost never looked at what I was personally doing and just gave general advice. What would be fair for marks? An omission or an extension?

This was embarrassing and frustrating. After the TA told me how I had to be able to do this, I thought about dropping the course. It would have been unfortunate if it was because I happened on a defective board.

Should I have put more pressure on the TA to help me or make sure my equipment was working properly?

  • 4
    I understand your frustration, but I really don't see how anyone outside of your environment can tell you what to do - it's so situation-dependent.
    – ff524
    Sep 18, 2015 at 13:30
  • 1
    if you want to see the bright side: these kind of things are not particularly rare when actually developing a new systems... Drivers contain bugs, circuit boards are imperfect, etc. Debugging is probably one of the skills you REALLY need in the industry. (But yes, this is not ideal for a beginners course...)
    – Gerhard
    Sep 19, 2015 at 10:16
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    You probably learned far, far more about real circuit board work identifying and proving the problem with the circuit board than you would have learned if everything had worked perfectly. One thing you could have done is to swap boards with another student to see whether the problem follows the board or stays with the student. Feb 4, 2017 at 8:41
  • Defective equipment is unpleasant. Someone suggested to switch equipment to prove your point and I agree that this is the fastest way to make your point. Feb 4, 2017 at 12:29
  • I dropped out of this course due to the poor quality equipment we had to work with. It's not really fair we pay lots of money to learn and the equipment doesn't even work.
    – Celeritas
    Feb 4, 2017 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


The answer for your question is based on three cases.

Case 1 -- Inadequate instructions: If you feel that you did not have enough tutoring from the instructor. You ought to request for a demonstration of the exercise. The instructor is obliged to answer. Otherwise you could try consulting a peer for help; one who knows enough to do the exercise.

Case 2 -- Defective equipment: Once you are able to follow up with the instructions then you should be able to detect faults, if any, with the given equipment. If defect is suspected, have the instructor inspect it. Then she would be obliged to set you up with a new set of equipment. If such an arrangement is not available, then report to the department regarding the defective equipment.

Case 3 -- Inadequate knowledge: If everyone is able to execute the exercise without any issues, then you want to contemplate on your prior knowledge of the practicals. You should have clarified your doubts in the pre-lab session. The solution: ask the instructor in her free time to catch up with the basics. Although the better option would be learn it yourself if the TA is really not approachable as you describe so.

If your problem is a mixture of the above three cases, then resolve in the order case 3, then case 1, and then case 2.

  • 1
    It turned out case 2 was really difficult to detect, or at least prove.
    – Celeritas
    Sep 18, 2015 at 17:08

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