36

I wonder how it is perceived if a student does not attend the course in which attendance is not taken.

I am a PhD student and I skipped most of class in two courses. Now, both of the instructors are mad at me. In one course the professor gave me an F on an oral exam because I could not explain one point in a chapter, after explaining the rest correctly. And the other one ignores me when I try to greet him, as opposed to 3-4 weeks ago. I feel that I have been very strictly judged, and not fairly graded by the first Professor. An F means zero points, and I am afraid the second Professor will grade his oral exam with some biases, based on the previous Professor's behavior

Is it natural for them to behave this way? What can I do to convince people that my intentions were not to offend? I feel that most of them believe me to have a "big head" who just moved in from another country. And think that I'm a know it all. This is completely wrong; I know it is a very, very bad habit to not attend lectures. But I feel I don't need to when I've studied and understood the concepts.

To clear out some points in the comments, let me explain my train of thought. But please note that the examples given below are just some stupid examples. They do not reflect real situations and my thoughts:

1) I think it is very impolite to deliberately refuse a greeting from a colleague, especially when that colleague is on the same floor. I understand that it's a teacher-student relationship, but wouldn't you agree that it is common courtesy to greet back after being greeted? I feel that this teacher has a vendetta of sorts.

2) I'd like to give an example. Suppose that the professor is speaking English, and it's clear that they have a bad accent. When students arrive, they'd like to be able to understand the professor. Sometimes, they get mad at the professor because they can't understand them. But ultimately it's the faculty committee that they should be getting mad at. The faculty committee is the one that hires the professor. I feel that being angry at the professor is pointless. Similarly, if the university doesn't require professors to take attendance, but they want students to attend they shouldn't be angry at the students. Instead they should take it up with University Policy

3) Finally, is attending class considered a matter of respect? I don't think so. At the end of the day, the professors are there for teaching the specific subject. Students, according to university rules and policy, are not obligated to attend these classes. I feel that the professors are not doing students a favor. On one hand it's their duty, and on the other hand people have free will. I feel it's worse to attend class and not even listen.

--

After viewing your detailed answers and comments, I am fully convinced that attending classes is a matter of respect to the professor. I understand now that it is easy to be misunderstood and misjudged by not showing up to class, without any excuses. I see now that it can be easily interpreted as an act of carelessness or self-importance.

Adapting to a new culture is harder than I thought.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Dec 18 '16 at 19:18
53

I think the question is not "Is it rude?" but "Do lecturers find it ok?" as the answer to the latter is not universal but varies a lot.

Here is what I think about students skipping classes: Personally, I also do not have any attendance requirements (actually, where I am it is currently forbidden to have such requirements) for my classes and there are students who skip some or most classes. Since I do not have such requirement, I am not mad at them, but I note that they miss opportunities to get into a dialogue about the contents which help them learning the material deeper. I do get mad when these students come to office hours asking for clarifications of stuff I treated in the lecture since this basically amounts to unnecessarily teaching the stuff double. When I note that students skip many classes I get thinking "Hmm, let's see how they manage to grasp all the material…". When it comes to exams and I note that the students missed some point which has been stressed in the lectures over and over, I feel like the students really missed a crucial point (even if it is just one) just by skipping the lectures and I do not give any benefit of doubt. It's like "it was obvious that I considered this to be a central point, and you did not get it - sorry for you." However, some bright students that skipped classes managed to impress me during an exam and scored great grades.

As for not greeting students: If you haven't shown up in classes that often, your face may probably not be that familiar to the lecturer… Here in Germany we often have hundreds of students every semester so it is impossible to know the all students who are enrolled but did not show up.

As for the question What can I do to turn it around?: Show that you learned a lot by being great at exams and show that you deeply grasped the material. Do not go to office hours with questions that have likely been answered during the lectures.

  • Thank you for answering the second part of the question in a brief and very clear way. – padawan Dec 15 '16 at 18:46
  • 2
    I believe, especially in intro undergrad classes, class size can go up to 400+ in the states. In upper-level and graduate-level classes, sizes can be as small as 5 or 6. I assume classes are tiny at PhD level, enough that you can tell when someone is missing. – Compass Dec 15 '16 at 20:11
  • One of the classes have 200+ people. Maybe tutor really counted on me attending. – padawan Dec 15 '16 at 21:03
  • I always attend lectures, even if I'm pretty familiar with the material to be discussed, for that purpose, concepts or subjects that are emphasized, along with interesting discussions that arise during the class, whether they pertain to the subject or from a whole another subject – Abdul Dec 16 '16 at 15:40
  • 4
    Years ago in grad school I took a grad-level quantum mechanics course. I had a fabulously well-taught quantum course as an undergraduate. I knew the book's material cold. Still, I went to every single lecture and got a lot out of it. Why? The grad course was taught be Ed Salpeter, and what I learned was not the nuts and bolts of quantum, but how he thought about quantum mechanics. That alone made it all worthwhile. I could attack real problems correctly and easily, not just by following the book or syllabus. Soaking up the professor's experience can be very useful. – Jon Custer Dec 16 '16 at 16:38
43

To begin with, start going to classes. Your professors have assumed that you are an adult, mature enough to understand what is important in life. Further, they likely believe their classes are important to your degree, or they wouldn't bother with them. (Professors at that level have a great deal of influence over the curriculum.)

As others have said in the comments, not taking attendance does not necessarily mean attendance is not expected; it depends on the culture, the regulations of the institution, and the expectations of the individual professors.

Is it legit? Consider that the first professor didn't "give" you an F. He gave you an examination, which you failed. You earned that F. As for the other one, I'm not sure I understand "try to" say hello. If you're passing in the hall and he ignores a "Hi," then it's safe to assume he's preoccupied, or perhaps irritated. If, however, you're trying to engage him in smalltalk, you should assume he's busy.

To try to turn things around, call on each professor during office hours. Apologize for being absent, and ask whether there is anything you can do, other than studying the text(s) and talking to classmates, to learn the material you missed. Then show up for every class.

  • 27
    +1. The only thing I might question here is the part about asking the professor for suggestions on ways to learn the material you missed. I always find that very annoying in these cases; if you wanted to learn it from me, you should have come to class. The point being, it's up to you now to figure out how to learn what you missed. For example, you could try asking classmates who did attend classes, or reading material or reviewing posted lecture slides. – Jeff Dec 15 '16 at 14:43
  • 3
    @cagirici:Because, in your question, you wrote, "One just gave me an F because I could not explain one point in a whole chapter in oral exam..." – Bob Brown Dec 15 '16 at 15:43
  • 11
    @cagirici For institutions I know, for Ph.D. students both D and F are failing grades. The only real difference is just how much lipstick you put on the pig. That someone with decent attendance got a D for missing the same point indicates that the professor thought it was a majorly critical point -- perhaps something you'd have known if you attended class. (BTW, I do agree that the professor should be honest, and disingenuously marking you down "for the question" when it's really "for attendance" would be bad - but I don't see that here.) – R.M. Dec 15 '16 at 16:43
  • 4
    @cagirici: You are quibbling about trivia when you have a real problem. If you do not address the real problem, your progress toward your degree is fraught with peril. – Bob Brown Dec 15 '16 at 18:54
  • 4
    This is a very strange answer, to say the least. The goal is to learn the material, not to "attend the classes." -1. – Artem Dec 15 '16 at 20:06
19

The short answer is Yes, at the PhD level, not attending courses is rude. At a guess I would say that these professors do not have a specific attendance policy because their experience is (a) at the graduate level, the students are motivated to be there and they don't need a formal policy to drive home the fact that (b) attending class is an important part of mastering the material and becoming part of a learning community.

You say that these professors know you and see you in the hall every day. I assume you know what you are talking about, and since this is a PhD program these are not large courses and your absence is noticed by everyone, including your fellow grad students, who probably resent you for not showing up. Let's assume that your read of the situation is correct, in terms of the professors knowingly and intentionally acting in certain ways towards you. Since you believe that "There is no explicit attendance requirement" means "I do not have to show up if I don't want to", Professor 1, without revising her syllabus, decided to show you that (a) you are missing things by not showing up, and (b) if you're going to fall back on the letter of the law, the letter of the law says I can ask you anything I covered in lecture on an oral exam. Professor 2 is letting you know that if you don't have time for him, he doesn't have time for you.

I will finish with your question of "What can I do to turn it around and convince people that my intention was not to offend them?" But first I want to address (a) your graduate program, and (b) the purposes of attending class other than learning the course material.

You have clarified in the comments that these two courses cover material which you are already quite adept in. Assuming you know what you are talking about, then you just may be in a program that is a poor match for you, because they are not working with you to structure the program to your interests and capabilities. If that is the case, you have to decide whether to try to get into a program that is a better match, or to get the most you can out of the program you are in. Getting the most out of it would mean repeating some material you already know, but trying to go deeper in your studies. This would require communicating with the professor about your preparation, asking whether you can demonstrate your competency, and then asking whether you can take the work in a more advanced direction. This does create a certain time demand on the part of the professor, so they may not be willing to do this, but you should still do your best to impress them with your competency and maturity. If you are not willing to leave the institution, you may just have to grind your way through a handful of uninteresting courses, which may not be fun, but will at least be easy. Try not to yawn in class.

Beyond that, attending class, especially at the PhD level, is also a way for your professors to get to know you personally, learn what your interests are, and possibly figure out if they would want to work with you. It is also a way for the PhD cohort to bond--an important part of having required courses early in a program and in a fixed sequence, before students move into more specific research interests. Even if you know the material, you could be helping the other PhD students learn it, both by your insightful contributions during class meetings (which hopefully are not just straight lecture) and by working with them on assignments outside of class. If you intend to go into academia, this is an opportunity for you to learn to be a teacher, possibly helping the other students learn material that they may find more challenging than you.

If you want to stay at this institution, want to start attending classes (this is important--you're not getting out of this with "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings but I'm still not coming to your class"), and you agree that these there are legitimate reasons to attend a class beyond just being an information-delivery system, then you need to sincerely apologize to the professors involved and let them know that you intend to change your behavior (i.e. come to all class meetings going forward). I would start out with a written apology and then request to schedule a time to meet to discuss the course. I would try to avoid making a claim that you already know the material, which obviously Professor 1 doesn't believe, and doesn't seem to be the issue with Professor 2. You might say something like you have always worked independently, and thought that the lack of attendance requirements meant that you could treat the course like an independent study. You of course now realize how disrespectful you were being towards the professors, and you apologize for acting like an undergrad. You reiterate your intention to attend all future class meetings, and ask if there is anything else they would like you to do to demonstrate your commitment to the course and to the PhD program.

  • Thank you for your response. I will indeed apologize. However, it is not that I don't have time for the professor or for the course. This is the point that was misunderstood. The professor might not have time for me, this, I cannot even question. He might even hate me just because of my hairstyle, and this I cannot argue with. But I just don't want to be judged based on a misunderstanding. I think of course do not think that I am "something" and underestimate other people. I am well aware that I am just a student. – padawan Dec 16 '16 at 1:08
  • 3
    @cagirici In a graduate programme, you are both a student and an apprentice colleague and not just a student. This is part of what makes it disrespectful not to attend. This is somewhat so, but much less so, at undergraduate level. – cfr Dec 17 '16 at 3:35
16

If a professor makes it clear that they do not care whether you attend class, then you ought to be fine skipping it some of the time. (That is my usual policy in upper-level courses.) However, missing almost all the classes is almost certainly a bad idea, for several reasons. First of all, it's going to make it hard to learn the material. You apparently did not master some subject matter that you were expected to in your first class. Conversely, if you are a graduate student and can learn the class material essentially entirely on your own, it may not make much sense to enrolled in the class at all. Second, it makes it difficult to build any kind of relationship with the professor. The professor will not get to know you and cannot get the kind of positive impression of you that might be useful for, say, future letters of recommendation. If the instructor is giving students individually tailored oral exams, they will want to have interacted with the student previously, to gauge what the student's level and interests are. Third, it may give the impression that you are not serious about the material. Even though I do not grade students who miss a lot of classes more harshly, I know from experience that such students very rarely do well. The professor may not expect much from frequent absentees, and they may not feel as inclined to put in extra effort to help a student who does not seem willing to put in the time and effort themself.

If the class does not have a formal attendance requirement, but the instructor has not specifically indicated that attendance is optional, I would tread even more carefully. All the reasons I described above still apply, but even more so. In this kind of situation, an instructor is probably willing to be lenient if you have to miss a class now and then, but they may still be expecting you to be there to learn and participate most of the time.

In the future, I would suggest you attend classes more and get clarification from the instructors if you are unsure what they really expect. For this semester, I would try talking to the professors and explaining that you misunderstood the expectations, but it's unlikely they are going to be swayed.

  • 2
    It is mandatory to take some courses, unfortunately most of them I have already completed during my master's studies. – padawan Dec 15 '16 at 15:42
  • 1
    @cagirici: do the lecturers know that you've taken the courses before? Because mind trading is a tricky business. The rules might be the rules, but I would suspect that you might get a different treatment if you did some explaining for why you didn't show up. – Gerhard Dec 15 '16 at 17:22
  • 1
    @Gerhard or better: get an exemption. However, I have to admit that this may turn out to be a bureaucratic impossibility :-) – Captain Emacs Dec 15 '16 at 17:24
  • 1
    @Captainemacs: agreed, that an exemption is the better option, but as you state, not always possible in rigid systems. But I know very few lecturers who would not find a common sense solution in such cases - like eg. not expecting to attend the lectures if they are not compulsory anyway, and only take the exam. But without knowing the situation, there is the risk the OP experienced that the lecturer will not be particularly happy if his lectures are not being appreciated. – Gerhard Dec 15 '16 at 17:40
  • 2
    @cagirici From my experience, this is the common students fall into. "I have covered that topic during my undergrad studies" is usually false conclusion, if you make it at the beginning of the semester. PhD classes may essentially cover the same topic as undergrad classes, but go in far greater depth. – xmp125a Dec 18 '16 at 4:01
12

Attendance record for classes can say many things about you.

Not attending:

  • it can say that you think you don't need to be taught the material
  • it can say that you don't think the professor has anything to add that a textbook doesn't have
  • it can say that you think you know it already
  • it can say that you think you will just understand it without being taught
  • it can say that you don't care about the material
  • etc.

Attending:

  • it can say that you value the professor's time
  • it can say that you acknowledge that the professor knows more than you
  • it can say that you at least tried to learn the material
  • etc.

Now consider this from the professors: you were given an oral exam in which you think you explained everything from a chapter except one point. Maybe the reason you were given that chapter to read was to understand that one point, or maybe you didn't explain it the rest of the chapter according to the professor's expectations. Either way, that likely would have been indicated in a class, and you may have found out if you attended. If you were attending classes and still missed something about the expectations, the professor may have cut you slack with the understanding of "the student was there, maybe I didn't explain myself well enough".

Also to note, you are not colleagues. You may be performing research, but you are still trying to get your PhD. The professor has a PhD, and is trying to impart that knowledge to you, to which you are saying "I don't need to hear what you have to say" by not attending (whether that is your intended statement or not).

In summary, you need to attend the classes. They are held for a reason, and the successful completion of them are the expectations of your PhD candidacy. If you fail those courses without attending any classes, you have no recourse to appeal any marks (particularly if you think the professor doesn't like you; your appeal will be thrown out as soon as the professor indicates you were not at any lectures).

  • Thank you for clear reasoning. These are legitimate and logical reasons. But unfortunately not true. I have been taught and therefore I do not think I know the course, I know the course. It is my very own research area and master's thesis topic. It is not that the professor has nothing to add that a textbook does't have, it is that someone else already taught me what is being introduced in a certain level. – padawan Dec 15 '16 at 18:44
  • 5
    @cagirici -- you clearly believe you know the course, but your exam performance is suggesting otherwise. How can you be sure that the prof offers nothing beyond the textbook if you're not there to experience it. – Scott Seidman Dec 15 '16 at 21:28
  • @ScottSeidman There are two different courses and I got F from the first one. I believe my performance did not deserve F. It is not subjective, my answers were approved. I am now worried if second course, which I have taken before and sure know it, will be not fairly graded in the oral part. – padawan Dec 15 '16 at 21:31
4

Hmmmm....having done all the PhD coursework in just two years and attended almost every class, I'd wonder why you'd waste money on courses in which you didn't like the professor or lecture?

Introducing oneself to the professor is simply good manners and should be done early, before dire need arises.

As a single example, I was taking a fast-moving summer course at Oklahoma State University in Electrical Engineering. I asked the professor if I could miss ONE day in conjunction with the Fourth of July to harvest wheat. Much to my surprise, he'd harvested his wheat and was only too happy to oblige. He said that if I believed the theorem about line integrals around poles. I asked what it was. He explained it in just two or three minutes! I was astounded and said I never would have thought of that! (But yes, I believed!) He said he would probably spend all hour trying to recruit believers!

When I came back, I asked how class went and he said something like he had only about 2/3 believers! (Which indicated that I missed nothing!)

So, show up! Get to know your professor! Ask the man who can help you! Be sincere, on time & humble! Best wishes, hope this helps!

2

What can I do to turn it around and convince people that my intention was not to offend them?

You need to stop making so many assumptions.

Though it is not entirely clear from your question, piecing together information from your comments, it seems that there are two things that have led you to believe that your attendance has caused you to be treated harshly.

  1. You received an "F" grade in one exam when you felt you deserved a "D". That could potentially be a fairly subtle distinction. The best thing to do here is to talk to this professor, and ask about your grade. Adopt a humble approach: don't go with the intention of disputing the grade, but say that you were disappointed with this grade, and you would like to know what you could have done to improve it. Again, judging by your comments, you seem to assume that you are the perfect judge of whether or not your answers were valid. Try dropping that for a moment and get an expert opinion!

  2. You are worried that, because your professor failed to acknowledge you in the corridor, that means they are vengeful and they will give you a bad grade. If I understand correctly, you've not even received your grade yet. You are getting way ahead of yourself here. Wait and see what your grade is before assuming that this professor is some kind of spiteful monster.

  • In the question, all reasons why I think like this are clearly explained. I neither claim to be the perfect judge or an expert on any topic. And I did not even imply that the professor was a monster or something. You are just exaggerating my words with your own interpretation and try to make me look like a conspiracist or paranoid person. Your answer is based on "if a student thinks that the teacher is wrong, then student is wrong" which, unfortunately dos not answer any part of my question. – padawan Dec 16 '16 at 13:14
  • 1
    Perhaps it is a language issue, but "vengeful" is a very strong word. My point was that I don't believe it is justified by any of the facts. And I'm not trying to say that you are definitely wrong, but that you could be. There is a huge difference. From what I can tell you have not attempted to get the professor's side of the story with regards to the F grade. Once you have done that, and you have your grade from the other professor, is the time to draw conclusions as to whether or not the professors are being harsh or vengeful. Not before. – user2390246 Dec 16 '16 at 14:53

protected by ff524 Dec 16 '16 at 0:32

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.