I'm enrolled in the last doctoral-level course required for my PhD, and the course material is very difficult, requires a tremendous amount of time, and yet has no relevance to my research. I'm a hard worker who regularly puts in 90+ hour weeks balancing a full time job, research and course work. I'm no slacker, and I love a challenge; I'm no genius, but have a near-perfect GPA.
The course is infamous among students, and I discovered that, due to its difficulty, most students simply resort to cheating on the problem sets, copying answers from prior years. Meanwhile, I've regularly sought assistance from the instructor and TA, and reached out to fellow students in the course (no other student seems interested in working/studying together). You know, the typical things any intelligent adult would do. The problem sets alone occupy about 40 hours a week of my time - yes, really, and I am typically an efficient person.
Sure, I get the fact that the course is helping to identify a weakness in my knowledge of this domain, but it also has little bearing on my research. What are some strategies in dealing with this situation? The course is my "last requirement barrier" to being free to focus solely on research.
Informing the instructor about the cheating would be unwise, because I know that this has happened in the past, and that the instructor simply makes the remaining work impossibly difficult and rescinds assistance. It would just make the situation worse.
"Talk to your advisor" is an obvious thing to do, but my machismo and refusal to fail makes we want to seek other options besides begging to be able to not have to take the course. Any ideas?
I'm really touched and appreciative of the responses. I've chosen to "stick it out" and significantly de-prioritize other obligations besides my job and this one course. I'll update this drama at the end of the semester so others can see what happened.
With one month left in the semester, I've dropped the course. "Toughing it out" has been a rather futile waste of effort. Details below.
The midterm exam had problems that were barely related to any of the lecture topics or problem sets; no assimilation or synthesis, no re-application, and no exam problem was even in the ballpark of our coursework. Despite my preparations, it was not an exam one could prepare for. I welcome and believe in tough exams, but this was absurd; it was as if the exam was from an entirely different course.
Details of a term project have been released with only one month left in the semester, leaving little time to accomplish a very significant project. It's too bad, because I welcome the challenge and it seems fun. But the scope of the project, in addition to upcoming problem sets that alone take 40 hours a week, is a bit unreasonable at this point.
I do encourage others to stick out a tough course by removing other commitments and focusing on succeeding in the course (e.g. doing nothing but the coursework). It's just not possible in my case.