This is my first time asking for advice on here, but I have seen some great advice given here.

I am a first year student in a graduate program and I am currently enrolled in a course on advanced topics in Algebraic Topology, the second course of year long sequence. Going into the program, I had read the first ten chapters of Peter May's Concise Course in Algebraic Topology, however, in these first ten chapters, the book does not touch on any homology and though a beautiful book, it may not have been the best place to start with the subject.

I took the first semester of the sequence, which covered chapters three and four of Hatcher (cohomology and higher homotopy respectively). There wasn't actually a lecturer, the professor more or less assigned topics from the text to the students to present in 30 minute presentations. The talks were often out of order and often presented poorly, I was also very lazy and did very little on my personal time to learn the material on my own.

Now, in this second semester, the professor is very friendly, but assumes we are comfortable with homology and cohomology. I am also enrolled in three other classes and must spend significant time on teaching duties this semester. I fear, I have over stepped my limitations by enrolling in this course. At this point, it may be better to drop to course and pick up a text like James Munkres's Elements of Algebraic Topology or Hatcher, to rebuild the foundation, I have in the subject (Also completing May). Doing so, I may gain more by losing. In general, I seem to learn better on my own than from my classes. Doing this would also give me more time to study for my qualifying exams which are pretty important here.

I was wondering if I would be doing the right thing here.


closed as primarily opinion-based by Adam Hughes, user147263, Yiorgos S. Smyrlis, user149792, Namaste Mar 8 '15 at 0:35

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ If I were in your position, I would drop the course. Being overburdened is unpleasant and usually not worthwhile for learning purposes. $\endgroup$ – Newb Feb 6 '15 at 22:13
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    $\begingroup$ This is something you should better discuss with your professor, it seems. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Tamaroff Feb 6 '15 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ A key question is the nature of your goals. Do you want to learn math or do you want to succeed in some program ? $\endgroup$ – Rene Schipperus Feb 6 '15 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ That's a very interesting point and thank you for making it. I believe the right thing to say is that I would rather math, $\endgroup$ – user135520 Feb 7 '15 at 0:01

The answer to this depends on a lot of factors.

If you are on a fellowship, dropping the course might also mean that you have to pay for the credits, which are not cheap for graduate school. This prevented many of my fellow graduate students from dropping courses they were not ready for. You may want to talk to your graduate secretary, or graduate coordinator, before making the final decision to drop a course.

The best advice I could give you is to talk to the professor about your difficulties. They would understand if you are having trouble following the material. It would be better to talk it over with your professor than just dropping the class without saying anything. You don't know what options are available until you discuss it.

All that said, four classes in graduate school is a lot. I would advise taking only 2 or 3 a semester, especially if you have research to consider. Dropping the course will give you more time to devote to your other subjects for sure.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks, for taking the time to respond. I don't think this will count against me financially, I've already spoken to the graduate secretary. Most of my worry stems from the fear that I maybe just holding myself back. You make a great point that I would learn a lot from my other courses in the event that I did drop. I'll be alright, the person to talk to may be the professor of the course. $\endgroup$ – user135520 Feb 7 '15 at 0:06

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