Tuesday, June 28, 2011


After several days, dozens of web pages, about a dozen phone calls, and multiple online forms, I am now registered for my marketing PhD seminar for the fall!  It was amazingly complicated, but I feel great to be an officially registered PhD student.  Even better, the seminar is in attitudes and persuasion, a topic that I am very interested in, of course, and which provides a nice point of entry into the program for me (compared to, say, an econ-heavy modeling course).

The funniest of the many convoluted aspects of this process was that to register, you have to give your health insurance information.  (If you do not have other insurance, you will automatically be signed up for the university insurance.)  My health insurance is about 95% subsidized through the grad assistant plan at the university (this is different from that default, much more expensive insurance that is available to all students), and I will be filling out all the forms for that in August at the department orientation.  The insurance plan is only available to graduate assistants registered for a full-time load.  You can see the dilemma: I need to register, so I can qualify for the health insurance, so I can register.  And the registration page warns us that misrepresenting ourselves on this question can result in disciplinary action according to the university rules of conduct.  But the guy at the registrar's office said it was fine to give the grad assistant plan details now so I did.  (I only had the details because I thought to look up a url given in my notification of acceptance/funding from the department.)

One thing that I was happy about -- I could fill out the immunization information online and did not need to provide hard copies from a doctor's office confirming the information, nor did I need to get a physical exam.  So it was a simple matter of typing in the information from the physical exam form my doctor completed for My Masters University (which I was pleased to find almost immediately in my file cabinet in a file labeled Health Info so I didn't have to call my mom and ask for my ancient vaccine records like I did last time). 

Of course, I do not plan to take only one class in the fall.  Oddly enough, we don't have any specific courses other than the 5 marketing seminars that we have to take, nor are we required to get the department to sign off on the courses we select.  Course selection is very surprisingly laissez-faire.  In fact, the DGS (director of grad studies) told me that I should just start signing up for psychology classes that look relevant.  At first, this hands-off approach kind of bothered me, but I have come to see the advantages of this (e.g., ain't nobody gonna make me take neuroscience again). 

I asked about transferring credits from my masters program and that doesn't happen until the end of my second year, when my advisor looks at the courses I have taken so far and makes sure I've hit the requirements (the dept seminars plus a certain number of credits in methods/stats, a certain number in my minor [psychology], and an overall of 40+ credits).  But the PhD program contact person (who is awesome, btw) said that we could sit down with the DGS and look at what classes I plan to transfer.  I'm definitely doing that before school starts because if nothing else, I'd like some thoughts on the stats classes from my masters program.  It's devilishly hard to figure out what their equivalents are at U. of Snow, especially given that stats programs are offered in a bunch of different departments and not much detail is available on these classes on the university web pages (though this varies a lot from dept to dept).

So, I also want to take one methods/stats course and one social psychology course in the fall but I've run into some roadblocks (surprise!) in signing up for additional classes.  The psych course was easy to pick, but it's full and is technically only open to psych PhD students, so I have emailed the department to see if I can get an override number that will allow me to register.  (In a series of email exchanges with an incredibly helpful 4th year student in the program, I found out that it is usually not a problem to get permission to take courses in the psych department.)  If that one doesn't work out, there is another one with a couple open slots that would also be fine as a substitute.

Picking the stats/methods class was a lot harder.  Actually, there was one course in the stat department (on regression) that after many, many hours of slogging through all the options (and talking to the 4th year) kept rising to the top for me - unfortunately, this is a course that a LOT of people want to take so it's full and the department said they do not give overrides for this course when it fills.  So I've decided to defer taking that stat course until next semester and instead want to sign up for a psychology research methods course.  (In case it's not clear, in this context, you can basically think of "methods" as being about how you design your studies and "stats" as being about how you analyze your data.)  And because that class is also only open to psych PhD students, I've had to request permission for that one, too.  (Fortunately, it's not full...yet.) 

Registration for grad students started on May 6 or something, so obviously most students - returning students and first year students in programs with more rigorously defined course requirements - registered a long time ago.  I don't have any reason to believe that I'll be facing this problem of classes already being filled up in the future because I too will register right away rather than 6 weeks late.

I am really, really hoping that one of the benefits of the laissez-faire course selection process is that nobody is going to say boo about my taking 3 rather than 4 classes this semester.  The 4th year student says that people typically take 3-4, so I should be fine, esp. given that I will have courses to transfer too. 

The psych department apparently likes to schedule their social psych PhD classes at 9 in the morning, which surprises but kind of pleases me.  I'd rather avoid classes that run into my doldrums period (about 3-5 p.m.), though I think the marketing seminar is likely to end up happening during or close to that time frame.  The social psych seminars are also set up just like the seminars at My Masters University (weekly response papers, presentation of articles, discussion, term papers), only without exams.  Nice.  It'll be interesting to see whether I agree with the typical finding of My Masters grads that their PhD classes seem kind of easy compared to the ones at My Masters.  (In part, that may be because we're taking classes in our own area of psych, where we have more interest and knowledge, in the PhD program rather than all areas like in the masters.)


Tam said...

It's interesting to read about this - it is so different from how things work here. We each sat down with the DGS to make a whole degree plan and to negotiate which courses we were taking (he had a plan, but you could get it changed if you had a different idea). Our grad courses NEVER fill up (I think literally never), and we are encouraged to hold off on actually registering until the last minute, I think so we won't be dunned for money for months in advance.

The coursework part of your program sounds more like undergrad - more selection in your courses, the need to register early, etc.

Sally said...

Yeah, the classes in my own department don't fill up, but it seems that a lot of departments count on their grad students taking stats courses in the stats department, so there's a problem there specifically. I'm hoping the psych classes won't have that issue and I'll get the override/permission pretty easily.

In future semesters, there's no reason for me not to register right away because I'm fully funded.

And yeah, this is very different from how I understand it works in most PhD programs, but looking at other departments at this university (e.g., psychology), the more laissez-faire approach might be more the thing here than at other schools.

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