We often associate bureacracy and red tape which gives us dreadful images of long lines and corrupt babus. But in that light it is often refreshing to see speedy resolution of matters and efficient handling of matters by an organization that is almost a state body. Of course, I am referring to my university. Here at Texas A&M, we have an unique academic requirement – the degree plan. We are expected to file a degree plan that contains the list of courses you have taken or planning to take that will count toward your degree. It is mostly considered to be a kind of contract between the student and the school regards the degree requirements. It is typically filed 2 years after you have enrolled in the doctoral program or a year if it is a Masters program. The degree plan should be approved and signed off by your committee members, program coordinator, Department chair, and the office of Graduate Studies.
As you can imagine, the number of people and offices involved can make this task pretty daunting especially if it involves getting signatures from professors who are likely to be out of town on a conference or working out of office in the summer. By some weird stroke of ill-luck, I was blocked from registration this summer unless I filed my degree plan. I had thought of doing it before fall but hadn’t counted the number of credit hours I had taken which automatically blocked me before I could register for more. I was in full panic mode. If I couldn’t register for summer I couldn’t hold on to my graduate assistantship and that would mean serious monetary loss not to mention pushing back my already-extended academic goals for the summer. And I had mere 15 days to get this done before the deadline.
Now I have two chairs in my committee, one of whom is extremely hard to track down even via email let alone in a personal meeting [in his defense, he is an extremely busy man - academically and professionally]. And I hadn’t actually asked my fourth out-of-department committee member yet since I was planning to do so when I had my draft proposal ready. However, thanks to an above-average performance in her class this semester, she didn’t hesitate much when I asked her while apologizing for not having a draft proposal for her perusal. I guess my one-paragraph description seemed to suffice. And last but not the least, the other chair is an extremely helpful professor who often goes out of her way to help me sort out my academic plans. God (or FSM) bless her.
However the best part of the process that finally got me through was the online option to file the degree plan. Thankfully, it just doesn’t mean that they offer a PDF format of the form that you fill in and print out. That would be just a redundant online option since I would have to still do the running around to get the approval signatures. You fill in your courses from the easily-searchable course directory. Similarly add in your committee members through the faculty search option and audit your degree plan to see if it fulfils the technical formalities i.e. number of committee members, number of credit hours for the degree, etc.
Once you hit the submit button, the degree plan is forwarded via email to your committee members who then also approve it online. So no more frantic emails or phone calls to get an appointment and standing outside their doors for hours to get their precious John-Hancocks. Whereever they are in the world, you can rest assured they are checking their official university email account and approving the degree plan merely requires a click. Approval from all four member took a mere three days (weekend included) after which it was automatically forwarded to the department. Rinse and Repeat. In fact, the Department Chair was out so the plan was proxy-ed by his next-in-line on the adminstrative ladder.
I was a bit wary of the time the Office of Graduate Studies would take since they mention 2-4 weeks as processing time but I guess, that is just to scare you off in doing it before it is too late (like in my case). The approval came within another two days. After which, I had to contact [via email] the department office administrator to process my variable credit hour request since I was registering for research hours. She did so before the end of the day. The entire process of drafting my degree plan to clear my registration block through eight people and three offices took less than 9 days which also included the weekend.
Moral of the story? One, stay on top of things and keep a watch out for university technicalities before it is too late. Two, have at least one committee member preferably a chair who will calm your frayed nerves and even promise to hunt down other committee members. And three, thank heavens (or scientists) for technology that do not eliminate bureaucratic redtape but make it hell lot easier for you to manage.