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I am currently a first-year master's student in a field of study with a strong international focus. The school's program that I am enrolled in is ranked in the top ten for the major, and the school is located in an ideal location. However, I have serious doubts about my program, and I am a disillusioned student. Other than the fact that I had gained acceptance to the school, the main reason that I chose to enroll at my current school was because of its emphasis on professionalism. Most of the professors in my program seem to be adjuncts who are employed full-time elsewhere and teach at my school on one of the weekday evenings. I thought that by learning under such instructors, I would be able to gain a more practical, realistic knowledge. However, I feel that I am proven wrong. All of my courses are scheduled in the evenings to allow students to work or intern during the daytime.

I am just a second-semester student, and I have taken four courses the first semester and am taking four courses this semester. So, out of my eight courses, only one last semester and one this semester are taught by a full-time professor at the university. The other courses have been or are being taught by adjuncts who work full-time elsewhere. The problem is that the ones being taught by adjuncts, especially this semester, lack clear guidelines for the expectations for the course. Also, most of them do not even have office hours, nor do they respond to emails. I only feel very lost and frustrated. Grades are highly unpredictable, too. In terms of how grades go, I am in the situation of crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. At my current university, strangely enough, undergraduate grades seem to be inflated, while graduate grades seem to be deflated.

Also, what else frustrates me is that my courses seem to only revolve around theory. It's about trying to apply the theory in real-life situations. They don't even encourage creative thinking, just theory. One of my current courses gives out a lot of abstract reading assignments, but the instructor who is an adjunct does not make an attempt to explain them. In each session, it's like, "Hey, what did you think of the readings? I want you to talk about them."

Is it common for a master's program to have so many adjuncts who lack availability? Is it also common in most master's disciplines to feel totally lost without any faculty guidance? Would the situation have been different for a PhD program? Is my situation common or unique? If my program is in the top ten for its discipline, would it be beneficial for me in the job market? I feel very embarrassed to tell anyone, especially family members about how I actually feel about my program. I don't feel motivated about challenging myself further because I feel that taking a unique viewpoint is risky to obtaining a decent grade.

  • That sounds like the precise opposite of professionalism. Run like the wind. – JeffE Mar 19 '17 at 0:44
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    Is there anyone in the faculty that you can discuss your concerns with? – user70612 Mar 19 '17 at 1:04
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    Graduate school shouldn't and needn't be like this. I'm glad to hear you have developed an awareness of the problems inherent to the overuse of adjuncts. That's the first step! // If you do not receive a response to an email, forward it to the department chair. – aparente001 Mar 20 '17 at 5:15
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This sadly does not surprise me very much, especially if you are in a field like public policy or international studies, and especially if it is a graduate-level interdisciplinary program that is not directly run by a department with its own undergraduates and doctoral students. (In the U.S., at least, undergraduate programs have very strict accreditation, and doctoral programs are a point of pride for faculty. Masters programs often get lost in the middle, especially if the masters students don't have classes with the undergrads or doctoral students.)

If you want to stick with this degree, you will have to rely on yourself, as YakovK suggests, to get the most out of this program.

  • It's at the top of rankings because highly qualified students attend (and vice versa). Make the most of your classmates' knowledge and enthusiasm, and work on side projects with them.

  • Try to take the maximum number of classes with full-time professors, even to the point of petitioning for graduate classes from other departments to replace your requirements. See if you can do an independent study with a few other motivated students and a willing full-time professor.

  • Make the most of the entire campus you're on. I am guessing that, for this program to be so highly regarded, it is part of a busy university, so get on the mailing lists for departments you're interested in, try to discover funding sources for research projects open to you as a student there, and/or try to find a professor to do research with (for a limited number of volunteer hours, for course credit, or as a job).

  • Does your program have a capstone project or thesis? Figure out how to make that serve your career goals. (If you're interested in further academic study, then try to make the research as well-thought-through as possible; if you're interested in working in a particular company or industry, find a topic that's in demand there.)

  • If there's a campus writing center or tutoring center or statistical consulting center, use it as much as you can to improve your project/thesis.

  • If there are career counseling resources on campus, use them. You may be able to be part of the campus alumni network.

If you don't see this "self-driven" option working out, you could also find something related to do for a year and ask for a leave of absence. (E.g., if this were a public health school, you could find a relevant job in some level of government somewhere, or a job at a health-related NGO/non-profit.) See how necessary it is to finish your degree to advance in that world, and give yourself time to make that decision. (While you may have to live with low wages or no wages while doing this, it may be a better choice than paying tuition and living expenses toward a program you are not seeing much value from.)

Good luck!

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Unfortunately, many US masters programs are viewed as a source of considerable income for the respective departments. They are typically sponsored by companies, which don't necessarily care about the knowledge that their employees get. Being an independent masters student in such a department is not great. Adjuncts are definitely hit and miss. At any rate, while in grad school, the main rule is to rely on yourself. If you can't learn by yourself, don't go there.

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