The CMU Way?

I know that I haven’t written much about school here since I actually got my situation resolved, but I’ve been pretty busy with school itself. In general, it’s been going okay, but I will admit that there are some things about CMU that have been getting on my nerves lately. I thought Stanford was an administrative mess, but compared to some of the internal operations at CMU (especially in Pittsburgh), Stanford is a well oiled machine. But aside from the administrative crap I’ve been dealing with for the past few months (maybe even over a year now), I had a weird experience last night at a kickoff meeting for the second part of our current project:

A faculty member was giving an overview of what’s involved in this next task and he mentioned that we could use Together to generate some skeleton code. It was mentioned in passing really and if you didn’t recognize the word “Together” as anything other than an adverb, you probably wouldn’t have caught the reference. You probably wouldn’t have even realized that there was something to ask about because it just sounded like he was saying that we would be “generating the code together” rather than “generate the code WITH Together.”

In any case, so we let the reference pass by and in general, people weren’t asking many questions. Towards the end of the meeting, another faculty member asked if we knew what they were talking about when they mentioned “Together.” Frankly, I don’t think people even understood the question– this is the problem with naming a piece of software a common adverb. Well, maybe it was the blank looks that set him off, but the faculty member asked why we didn’t ask what Together was if we didn’t understand the reference and then proceeded to go around the room and ask every single person (about 10 in the room and another three on the conference line) whether s/he knew what Together was. In the end, only one person knew because he was already familiar with the software from his job. This whole episode digressed into a “why didn’t you ask if you didn’t understand?” and “what else have you not asked about?” scolding session.

I’ll admit that we were, in general, not a lively bunch last night, but as I’m discovering, there’s very little direction in general. Now, I’m not saying that they should be holding our hands the whole way and I understand that they’re trying to simulate a real working environment through the “story-centered” curriculum, but sometimes, there’s so little to go on that you can’t even get enough information to ask the right questions. For example, even after asking for more info, there was no real information given about last night’s meeting– all we knew was that it was a kickoff for the next task (in fact, they even rescheduled it with only a few days notice because they didn’t realize they had originally scheduled it for Valentine’s Day). After actually having gone to the meeting, it seemed like they had expected us to have gone through all of the materials for the task and come prepared with lots and lots of questions.

Well, gee, I would have had I known.

Frankly, most of the time they were looking at me with annoyed expressions at our lack of questions, I felt like shrugging my shoulders, rolling my eyes and yelling, “Quit looking at me. It’s not that I don’t care– I just don’t know enough yet to even ask any questions.” I suppose we could have asked questions on exactly how to execute all these tasks we’ve been given, but I think we figured that for the most part, those are things we need to try to learn on our own and this meeting wasn’t supposed to be about walking us through our homework.

The really disturbing part of this whole thing was that I felt like I was being yelled at. I don’t think I’ve ever been just plain yelled at in an academic setting since middle school. In an academic setting, the primary disclinary structure is grading, not scolding. What are you– my mom? If I don’t do my homework, if I don’t participate enough in meetings, if I don’t know the answer when you call on me, what are you going to do– tell on me? For chrissake, I’m a grown ass woman. I mean, take off points, give me more work, give me a lower grade, but I don’t think I really need to be flat out berated.

In any case, the whole thing was very bizarre to be in a graduate program at supposedly one of the best engineering schools in the country and to be yelled at like a bunch of little kids. Hopefully, this isn’t the CMU way.

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