Siddhartha Gunti

Down by a grade. Up by a lesson.

I actively avoid conflict. I can count on one hand the times I've pursued conflict. Such an introverted scared 18 year old me found myself at footsteps of my professor’s cabin 12 years ago. I saw that the professor was in a meeting. I waited for an hour. I was furious. I was impatient. How could the professor not entertain the biggest problem of my life? I was sure my problem needed solving right then and there. So I barged in.

So what made an almost invisible backbencher shy kid knock on his professors door? -

I chose computer science because it felt like a closest bet to something that I might like. First semester and first course CS 101 - it was clear that I made the right choice. I was loving coding.

At the end of the course, there was a group assignment with self grading. What it means is that the group members decide how much score everyone else gets in the assignment. No grading from the professor’s end. Since it’s self grading from students, it’s established that everyone gets 9/10 or 10/10.

The coding part of the project is simple. But there is an extroverted part of the project that I wasn’t enthusiastic about: Group discussions. So I took the easy way out and skipped few group meetings.

When our scores came in, I found out I scored 2/10. Reason? There was one person in the group who was adamant that I get lower grade because I didn’t take part in meetings. On the side, I could see my friends who never attended any meeting score 10/10 in their own groups.

For me, this meant that I will miss out on top grade for the course. A course I really liked. My solution was to complain to my professor about this gross grey injustice.

Cut to my professors glare in his cabin -

He barely recognized a teen from his class of 400+ students. It was clear he was in an important meeting. But he asked me to sit down. He listened to my rant about low score. He didn’t stop me one bit during my monologue. He offered me snacks while mulling over my story. Then he calmly said-

“I can do two things. I can edit your score for this assignment. I can give you 9/10 like almost everyone got. But life is not always fair. You will not always find someone to go to fix things. So here’s the next option: I can leave this grade as is.”

I said, that means I would miss my top grade. He replied- “You probably will. This grade won’t change your life. But what it can do is to serve as a reminder. What do you pick?”

If my choice wasn’t clear. I came out of that cabin with a grade less. But I thought about that day many times. How he conducted himself. How he stopped a serious discussion. How he requested his guests to accommodate this teen. How he listened to my rant patiently before schooling me.

Life isn’t always fair. I probably deserved a 6/10 in that assignment. I missed my top grade. But I figured out, there won’t always be a jury you can go to. You have to figure out which battle is worth it and how you would want to fight it.

For the curious, the professor who taught my first programming course with a good zinger on top is - Prof. Deepak B. Phatak (Computer scientist, academic and a recipient of the Padma Shri Award).

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