This post is written by a member of the Debut Student Publisher Network. Read on for Christine’s guide to dealing with bad seminar tutors, whatever form they take:
No one told us how to deal with bad seminar tutors.
If you had a bad teacher at school, meh, there wasn’t much you could do but grin and bear it. At university, it’s a different story. You and your seminar tutor are both technically adults. You’re dealing with them not as childish, naive students, but mature, intellectual grown-ups. Therefore, if your tutor isn’t doing what’s right for you, you can absolutely change the scenario.
I decided to reach out to people who’ve had bad experiences with their university tutors to see how they dealt with it. Hopefully, sharing these experiences will help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.
1. The not-so-personal tutor – Anon, age N/A
The experience: “My personal tutor met me just the once. It was in my first term at university – with 20 other people in the room. When I needed help changing my course, or accessing grades, he directed me to the school secretary.”
The response: “I tried contacting my school about my awful tutor, which was apparently a running issue in the faculty. They eventually sent a survey around, which was used to improve the system. However, my tutor was never pulled up on any of my issues.”
The advice: “There is always a second person to talk to, whether they’re the nice face at the school office, or the other class tutor. Use these people!”
2. Wrong priorities – Anon, 21
The experience: “[My tutor] told me they didn’t have time and weren’t prepared to make [our appointments]. Apparently they were busy with academic paper submissions and October-December was the “hottest” time to get published. Their words exactly.”
The response: “I switched out of their course and moved into a different module straight away – nobody’s got time for that!”
The advice: “Find someone else. Don’t waste your time with people that don’t work for you. There are as many awesome academics as there are terrible ones and it is up to you to find something that works for you.”
3. Ungrateful and unenthusiastic – Soph, 21
The experience: “[My tutor was] awful. He was very negative, always telling us that our uni was awful and we should have gone to a better one.
He casually mentioned we didn’t need to even attend his lectures, as he just read off the PowerPoint slides, He would also use group work done by class members to show bad examples of work yet hardly offer any support.”
The response: “We just got on with the year.”
The advice: “Report them, because at the end of the day you pay for your education.”
4. The ghost – Charlotte, 21
The experience: “In three years I’ve seen my personal tutor twice. Despite problems with the marking and grading on my second year exams he still hasn’t replied to my multiple emails. I fail to see the point in having personal tutors if they are this disengaged.”
The response: “Tried to continue to email and ask questions but after a continual lack of responses I gave up. Instead, I now ask relevant seminar tutors for advice.”
The advice: “Email the relevant departments undergraduate office and ask for the complaints procedure.”
5. Lack of contact – Anon, 25
The experience: “Research MSc, finished now apart from minor corrections. I met my tutor roughly 5 times in a full year. Spent the first 3 months with no project to work on resulting in a 3 month extension at the end of the year. Due to the lack of contact, I didn’t feel I could approach my tutor for advice/feedback in the final thesis. What small requests I did submit were rejected.”
The response: “[I dealt with the situation] badly. Mostly tried to just work around it, but realistically I should have been more forward in demanding the support I needed.”
The advice: “Make sure you build a connection early, ask questions and follow through on obtaining answers. Don’t be afraid to complain to higher ups if they are failing to support you.”
6. Mismatched and misunderstood – Anon, 21
The experience: “I am a person who requires a more proactive tutor, one willing to ask me questions and make sure that I am on track. Unfortunately, my tutor did not notice when things were going wrong for me.
I identify as female, but I was placed in an entirely male tutor group. Often, I felt speaking up and being wrong would make me look stupid. I ended up failing the module that my tutor taught. At the time I also did not know I was autistic, which has made everything make much more sense in retrospect.”
The response: “[Especially] after I was diagnosed with autism, my department transferred me to another tutor. I was really lucky that the department made things work better for me.”
The advice: “Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you are having problems with your tutor, talk to them about it first. They may be able to make some adjustments for you, after all, it is part of their job to make sure you are on track.
If this still doesn’t work, don’t hesitate to go over their head and talk to someone else, you can change to a different tutor and if you are specific enough about what you want, your department may be able to work with you.”
7. Bad vibes and bias – Anon, 21
The experience: “I had a seminar tutor who very clearly favoured certain students in the class. I was sadly not one of them, and never felt like I was able to ask this tutor for anything. The modules I took with this tutor were quite specialised and niche, and I ended up barely passing them.”
The response: “I couldn’t do much about the tutor because I had already decided on my modules. Instead I relied on my peers for discussion after class and tried to read all the supplementary material provided.”
The advice: “In hindsight, I should have at least tried to approach this tutor personally. If that hadn’t worked, then I would have just done what I did. But the fact that I didn’t even try to talk to the tutor because I was so intimidated is something I regret.”
Based on these experiences, it seems safe to say that the overwhelming advice for if you have a bad university tutor is this: Talk to someone.
Whether it’s the tutor themselves, another tutor, the departmental staff, or even just your peers, you have to let someone know you’re having a bad experience. That’s the only chance you’ll get at improving your learning opportunities.
*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.