Instructors say things like:
- "This looks like an ambitious project."
- "That's an aggressive schedule."
- "I think you're being very optimistic."
What students hear, respectively:
- "You're an ambitious student. You've got tons of initiative. You're a real self-starter. That's a valuable thing to have in the world."
- "You've got the guts to do what it takes, without letting obstacles get in your way. Go get 'em, you aggressive tiger you!"
- "You never lose hope or let things get you down, and you've got a positive attitude. I value your optimism."
What the professor actually means, in all three cases:
- "You don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of completing this project. It's way too much work and/or way too advanced for the time you've got available, and if you attempt it you're going to fail miserably... if you don't kill yourself in the process. Reduce your scope and bring things back to something remotely reasonable. But... if you insist on trying and failing anyway, in spite of my repeated warnings, it is your right and privilege to try. But don't say I didn't warn you."
I think we professors need to be a bit more clear. Next time I see an overly "aggressive" student project, I'll be a bit more direct when I say so.