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AIBU - or is my fellow student? What is 'normal' behaviour on an MA course?

(215 Posts)
nonnomnom Sun 20-Dec-15 18:33:54

I've nearly finished a taught MA at a British university. There are many students from around the world and generally it tends to be the British students (including me) who put their hands up and volunteer answers to the course tutors during our weekly taught sessions (about 25-40 people in a room).

I'd assumed those who didn't contribute did so partly because of lack of confidence at speaking in a foreign language or in some cases I know (because they've admitted it!) that some Far Eastern students believe that student interaction is a bit pointless and they just want the teachers to tell them the 'right' answers.

But I was really shocked when I inadvertently stumbled across a bitching session by a couple of students on the course about those who participate actively in the course. I'd assumed that all native speakers would view interaction as positive and indeed, what we were there for! But here this was an American and Brit, really laying into those who put their hand up too much, saying that others want to speak too but think more slowly so they (the quick ones) should wait and give them a chance to speak. She was really vehement and I was a bit horrified to think that fellow students were thinking I was really rude because I hadn't 'waited' for them (obviously I had no way of knowing if they had great ideas brewing, were just shy, hadn't done the reading etc).

So what is normal/expected on an MA course? Were I and my 'chatty' fellow students being unspeakably insensitive and spotlight-hogging? Or was I being reasonable, and actually, active interaction and participation is what MA tutors wish to see and students ought to expect to do?

Advice please - bit late for me as I've nearly finished my course now and have been blithely chatty to date. But hoping all my fellow students haven't hated me as a result... confused

ChristmasZombie Sun 20-Dec-15 18:46:10

Do you really care if the other students hate you? Does it matter? As long as you've made academic progress and done what you set out to, I think you ought to just forget it. I've done two PG courses, one taught, one research-based. PG courses are very different to doing an undergraduate degree: as an UG you want to make friends, have the social side of university, and you probably have the dreaded group projects to do. But PG studies are a lot more independent. You won't keep in touch with the others on your course.

goodnightdarthvader1 Sun 20-Dec-15 18:55:37

Personally it drives me mad in academia, or even group classes (eg antenatal), where people are asked a question and just sit there looking blank. If you don't want to interact, don't blame it on other people. I've waited and not answered only to hear a shy mumbled answer from elsewhere 10 seconds later. And I'm very shy!

MultishirkingAgain Sun 20-Dec-15 18:56:36


Don't give it another thought.

ComposHatComesBack Sun 20-Dec-15 18:58:01

I think there's two sepeerate issues here.

1) Students from a different educational culture not having their expectations met. In a British masters course, seminars are absolutely about discussion, exploring ideas and sharing knowledge. It is not school and students at that level should not require or expected to be spoonfed the 'correct' answers.

I realise that this isn't the case across the world and there is inevitably a period of adjustment, but frankly they should have researched what an MA at a British university entails before signing up.

2) Seminars being dominated by the same strident voices, making irrelevant comments at the expense of other more reasoned, yet quiter voices. As far as I can make out they aren't complaining about the format or learning style like the first group are, but feel they are being poorly delivered.

This shouldn't happen and the seminar tutor should manage the seminars better to make sure the discussion isn't going off track and the tutor should be doing more to steer the discussion and making sure everyone should have an opportunity to participate.

WildStallions Sun 20-Dec-15 18:59:12

If they have a problem they need to take it up with the tutor.

I think they don't really have a problem / know the answers and are just bitching for no reason.

Ughnotagain Sun 20-Dec-15 19:08:54

They sound like dicks. Of course YANBU.

SilverOldie2 Sun 20-Dec-15 19:09:02

I wouldn't give it a second thought and continue answering as you do.

goodcompany2 Sun 20-Dec-15 19:11:19

ComposHatComesBack agree wholeheartedly, tutor should manage the giving of feedback, answers to questions. It's a tricky one if questions are directed at less vocal or engaged learners then they can sometimes feel 'picked on' and uncomfortable but good tutors will manage the group to allow 'slower to answer' learners and allow thinking time.

Don't worry about it OP; not your problem not your issue. they could have piped up to the tutor earlier or given module feedback etc to let the tutors know they weren't okay with the current dynamic. just enjoy your classes and continue to participate fully, tutors would prefer that to the silence of tumbleweed when no-one volunteers to talk.

kaitlinktm Sun 20-Dec-15 19:17:34

YANBU - unless you are being like Hermione Granger - ten points for Gryffindor! fgrin

JenniferYellowHat1980 Sun 20-Dec-15 19:20:12

I think that many people dislike those who are keen to voice their thoughts / opinions, not just academically.

At uni it was always the mature students volunteering to answer questions. It got on my nerves a bit because sometimes it seemed one of them in particularly related everything back to her personal circs.

As I got older I found myself more willing to contribute to discussions (in everyday situations). It weirdly meant that I was ostracised by a group of it-mums but mattered nothing.

Perhaps there are some who only like the sound of their own voice and those of a chosen few.

BluePancakes Sun 20-Dec-15 19:21:21


When I did my masters, it was in a science subject, so not much group discussion, but the tutorials were all either 1:1 or 1:2. I always opted for the 1:1 id I could because I felt uncomfortable being in a tutorial with others because I think slower. That's my issue, so was up to me to find a resolution. I certainly would be worried/bitching about other who got in first to answer questions. I was worried that I was holding everyone else up!

Hissy Sun 20-Dec-15 19:25:17

This is a teaching issue. The tutor should wait and allow others to answer and encourage those who don't get a chance ordinarily to do so.

If you all know the answer, why not wait and see if others can answer it before sticking your hands up? It is it the validation you need?

Veterinari Sun 20-Dec-15 19:26:38

I'm a lecturer and often encounter this situation. When I'm teaching and ask a question I'll leave a decent pause before picking a student to answer to ensure that everyone has time to process the question. If it's a new class or a challenging topic I'll ask students to discuss a point with the person next to them for a minute first - this allows shyer students to 'test' out their thoughts towards a single safer person, boosting their confidence for oncoming questions.

It's not your responsibility. Don't worry about it.

hefzi Sun 20-Dec-15 19:26:55

Just another one backing up what PP have said: it's up to the tutor to manage the class - if it's always the same people jumping in (rather than waiting, and waiting, and waiting... and still there's silence!) and especially if they are often incorrect/irrelevant etc, then whoever is leading the class will tactfully ensure that this doesn't happen. We're encouraged not to "pick on" individual students by name, but there are definitely ways of ensuring that everyone who wants to participate fully can, irrespective of how shy/slow thinking/whatever the girl was bitching about, and if a class leader isn't doing this, it's up for students to take up with them, not just to moan about.

I hate asking a question and just ending up with the wall of silence: so now I just wait - and I have a much lower embarrassment threshold than my students, so will wait until the bell if necessary grin FWIW I think you are your mates are exactly the type of students that would be excellent in a seminar group. And if your tutor was having a problem, then he/she would have pointedly made comments like, "Doesn't anyone other than nomnom have anything to add?" etc It's often a problem on taught MAs in particular that cultural issues impact significantly on the process - people want the cachet of a British degree, but don't want to participate in the rigorous learning process that is one of the reasons British degrees have such strong international reputations. Sod 'em, anyway - if your "chattiness" was a problem with the lecturer, you'd know by now: and if it's a problem with your classmates, they only have themselves to blame for not speaking up.

(And I say this as someone who has a Master's from another country, with a different educational style and language: but you research this stuff before you do it, and play the game, otherwise you're wasting your time at the very least!)

Congrats on being nearly done!

JeffreysMummyIsCross Sun 20-Dec-15 19:28:20

This is the tutor's responsibility and fault, not yours. I say that as a lecturer who has taught on masters courses for many years.

JeffreysMummyIsCross Sun 20-Dec-15 19:29:16

This is the tutor's responsibility and fault, not yours. I say that as a lecturer who has taught on masters courses for many years.

nonnomnom Sun 20-Dec-15 19:29:17

Thank you - relieved that most seem to thank IWNBU.

The same vehement American student was bitching about another (really helpful IMHO) student who posts loads on our course Facebook group, eg links to books for the course, helpful suggestions etc. I thought this was really kind of her, but no, the American was saying 'Who the hell does she think she is?'

Glad I'm not alone here. Yes, Jennnifer - I'm a mature student so used to more confident 'adult' discussions (I'm probably guilty f viewing the tutors as equals rather than superiors as I'm about their age and have more professional experience than they do though obviously less academic knowledge).

But basically, I'm genuinely interested in what all my fellow students have to say and what I can learn from it - and try not to hog the limelight so I can hear it.

But I can't mindread!!

iloveeverykindofcat Sun 20-Dec-15 19:33:10


I teach in a UK university. Seminars are for discussion and debate. There is nothing worse than being faced with a room of non-participants and an hour's session; it's truly the one teaching scenario I dread.

On the other, whilst we lecturers tend to hold a special place in our hearts for eager participants, there is a danger of the room being dominated by the same voices week after week. But it's the tutor's responsibility to manage that in a way that's respectful to everyone. We're trained for it. The student's responsibility is to engage, which you are. If others aren't, that's their (and to an extent, the tutor's ) problem.

nonnomnom Sun 20-Dec-15 19:36:31

Hissy - agree it's a teaching issue - and that's exactly what I said to the bitchy students. That we just put up our hands up and it's up to the tutor, not us, who she/he chooses to speak.

I disagree, though, that there is a 'right' answer - the reason I answer is not because I want it to be ME who gives the 'right' answer but because I might want to make one point and another student a different one - the answers are complex and hence it's interesting to discuss them as a group.

nonnomnom Sun 20-Dec-15 19:39:42

Thank you hefzi - very relieved nearly done!

wishingchair Sun 20-Dec-15 19:48:01

We have this same issue in working meetings and discussions with Asian colleagues not speaking up. It's very much a cultural issue and can be difficult to manage.

wishingchair Sun 20-Dec-15 19:48:23

The American just sounds like a bit of a bitch!

nonnomnom Sun 20-Dec-15 19:55:29

Thank you, wishingchair - I'm beginning to think this too!

My dh just suggested it could be that American undergrad degrees are a bit more like our high school, so maybe she's not used to the level of personal responsibility for learning that we expect here? Maybe she expects to be 'chosen' to answer questions and views us who put our hands up as cocky upstarts?!

Would never have thought there'd be cross-cultural issues with US students though! Asian yes, but American no! But maybe that is part of what's at stake here?

iloveeverykindofcat Sun 20-Dec-15 20:00:16

IME American and Canadian students are keen to participate and talk. A generalization, of course, but I don't think there's a cultural expectation of passive learning there.

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