Sine Qua Nonsense

Get With the Program (of Study)

In honor of Halloween, you should visit a fortune teller. Ask the seer to look into her crystal ball or tarot cards and find out what classes will be available during the years you will be at Indiana University.

“That’s an odd question,” she will say. “People usually ask me about financial matters or their love lives.”

“This has an impact on both,” you should retort. “My committee says the classes I take will shape my marketable skills when I’m looking for a job. Also, before I get this whole program of study thing figured out, I will not have time to go on any dates. If you were a real fortune teller, you would know this!”

Okay, maybe you shouldn’t say that last sentence. Insulting people who commune with the spirits of the netherworld may be dangerous. Just to be safe, I am always nice to Irene, Daphna, and Mona, because of their connections to a country with the word “nether” in it.

You are supposed to have your committee approve a program of study by the end of your second semester. This means that you need to predict the future as much as two years in advance. That is longer than most departments even plan ahead. Not only must you know which courses will be available each semester, you have to know they won’t overlap. By Murphy’s law, they certainly will. The program modification form is your friend.

In the PhD program, try to transfer as many credits from your MA as you can. If you’re continuing from an MA in this department, you will meet the least resistance. If you’ve studied elsewhere, especially abroad and/or more than seven years ago and/or not in a communications program, you’re in trouble. Haggle with your committee over this like you’re in a bazaar. “For every two courses you agree to transfer, I’ll take another stats class.”

Don’t get me started about stats classes (or lack thereof).

You don’t only have to come up with a list of courses, you also have to write a rationale. Here, you have to make clear that you know exactly what you want to achieve with your degree. In other words, lie through your teeth. By the end of your first year, you might know a bit more about your end goal than during orientation, but you’re far from being there yet. In choosing which fictions sound best, you might actually come to useful conclusions about what you really want to do.

Also, I am told that students might be asked about their program of study rationale when defending their dissertation proposal years later. Don’t write anything that will stump Future You. You don’t want the following question to come up: “a quarter of a decade ago you said that ‘Special Topics in Circus Arts: Clowns – Happy or Sad’ would teach you how to apply facial EMG electrodes on top of heavy amounts of makeup. How does this figure into this study?”

Most importantly, schedule your committee meeting as soon as possible after working on the program and rationale. If you wait three months, your memory won’t allow you to optimally defend your program. For instance, you won’t remember that “The History of Plumbing” fits with a program about internet policymaking because, as former Senator Ted Stevens described the web, it is a series of tubes.

Good luck with your program! May your prophecies that the coolest classes will be offered all come true.


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