Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yet Another Comparison Between Law School & Grad School

Harris Hall

I've noted before the difficulty of comparing how hard law school is to grad school in the first year. In ways, yes, it is comparing apples to oranges. The format of the tests, substance between the courses, and teaching styles differ between law school and grad school making a valid comparison difficult. I think learning kinetics and thermodynamics is harder than learning the Erie Doctrine or covenants and easements. However, grad school softens the blow by giving students homework problems and answers so students can gauge how they are doing. In law school, there is rarely any homework making it quite easy to fool oneself into thinking one knows a subject without that crucial feedback that homework can give.

However, I had enrolled in a class that was remarkably similar to law school in the class format: minimal teaching and no homework. We didn't even have a textbook for Christ's sake! This class gives a good indication how difficult grad school can be compared to law school.

Notice I used the word 'enrolled' and not 'took.' For me to say I 'took' the course would imply that I finished the course and received credit for it. I did not. Within 6 weeks, I dropped that motherfucker as fast as I could.

The course I had enrolled in was inorganic chemistry. I didn't do that great in it in undergrad so I was hesitant taking it in grad school. All throughout the time I was in that class, I had an uneasy feeling. The professor was a newly hired faculty member. No one had any idea what his tests were like, and he sure as hell wasn't tipping his hand of what his tests would be like.

After I took a test in that class, I knew I had done poorly, but not a "28" bad! (Yes, that was a 28/100). I almost shit a brick. I was stunned. The whole class did poorly. We sat in quiet disbelief. I kept thinking "What happened? How could I have done better?" I had already taken tests in physical chemistry and physical organic chemistry. If one took the grades in my tests in those classes and divided by 3, I still would have done better than in inorganic chemistry.

I then thought "Is there a problem with me, or is there a problem with the professor?" At the risk of sounding self-centered and having an exaggerated sense of self-worth, I had to say it was the inorganic professor and his course and not me. This course was an elective for me, but there were others who had to take inorganic because they didn't do well on the competency tests during orientation. If someone didn't pass the competency test in a subject area, that person had to take a course in that subject area. Many students didn't pass the inorganic subject test and so had to take inorganic. They were stuck in that course, couldn't drop it and were shit out of luck.

I wasn't. The next day, I dropped that course. The graduate school director confronted me about dropping that class a couple of months later. He was mad, for what, I don't know. This was a tip-off of things to come in grad school. It was one of those warnings I didn't heed.

I still resent the shoddy, half-assed educational skills that inorganic professor had. His class was why over a third of my class ended up on academic probation. This guy is now a full professor at State. Universities often receive criticism for crappy emphasis they place on teaching at the expense of research. Professors at research universities have notorious reputations for their poor teaching abilities.

This inorganic professor ranks as one of the worst educators in my academic career.

So, the moral of the story is that if done poorly enough, a chemistry course in grad school can be much more difficult than a course in law school. A chemistry professor can play 'hide the ball' much better than a law school professor. Fortunately, most courses in grad school were not that awful.


  1. Grad school and law school? Wow, I can't even imagine doing both. I did consider law school once upon a time, but the 3 years to complete instead of 2 for a masters was the deal-breaker. As well as the fact that I'd probably be a really crappy lawyer.
    I think it's good that you knew when to get out of that inorganic chem class. So many students take stuff--myself included, unfortunately--just because they already started it and don't want to catch up in something else.

  2. Crappy lawyer? Don't worry, I am not the next Oliver Wendell Holmes or Learned Hand, myself. I keep saying that I have things to offer outside of grades.

    And as far a dropping a class, there is no shame in it at all. Grades last forever.