September 8, 2009

Advice for college students.

Probably good for law students too.

Here's "Don't Alienate Your Professor," by Carol Berkin:
During class, do not: a) beat out a cadence on your desk while the teacher is lecturing; b) sigh audibly more than three or four times during a class period; c) check your watch more than twice during the hour. Do: a) practice a look of genuine interest in the lecture or discussion; b) nod in agreement frequently; c) laugh at all (or at least most) of the professor’s jokes.


Lyle said...

This just encourages more faking it at schools to get ahead. Laughing at all one's jokes? Faking genuineness? Bah... get over yourself professors.

People should be friendly with some of their professors though, particularly law students who need references, etc...

traditionalguy said...

Also, don't act like the teacher needs correcting to help teach the course correctly. He is the boss because he has the job. Affirm the teacher and he will respond affirmatively to you.

EDH said...

Whatever happened to sleeping with your professor?

Is that only for high school boys now?

Dark Eden said...

The thrust seems to be, 'nod and smile and parrot the Professor's opinions back to him/her and you'll get an A.'

Is that what you are saying?

Aaron said...

well the first ones seem to be about basic politeness, the second seems to be about dishonesty.

be honest with your professors. in my experience they find it refreshing.

ironrailsironweights said...

Best advice of all for college students:
Study engineering.


Pogo said...

Pretty high level advice.
I'd start with:

1. Treat college like a job. Go to class, every day.
2. Do the homework.
3. Don't get drunk if you have class the next day; you know you'll skip or be worthless.
4. There are, in fact, stupid questions. If you haven't read the material, one of them will be yours.
5. No, all opinions are not valid. Yours may be worthless, but since you didn't take Logic, you don't know that. So take some Logic.
6. Don't go to class in PJs. It's either ugly or distracting. (Yeah, great thong. Go get dressed.)
7. Do not surf the internet during class. At least do homework if you're bored. You're paying for college; in fact, a huge amount, remember? And shut off the goddamn cell phone.
8. A few teachers want you to think and respond to what they say. Others, however, want you to think the way they do about everything; if you do not, you will get a bad grade. The game is to decipher early on which kind of teacher you have. It can be a fun game, in its own way.
9. Athletic scholarship? Great! Use it; get back that pound of flesh. Once you're gone, you'll be forgotten.
10. Learn to like coffee and ramen noodles.

Big Mike said...

You know, these are also good rules for attending lengthy meetings with your boss and peers.

Theo Boehm said...

I totally agree with Pogo, except that in the Humanities, there were NO professors who wanted you to think for yourself. Well, maybe one. But he left before he got tenure.

And particularly in grad school, the best approach is to read as much as possible that the important professors in your department have written. Your job through the PhD is to smilingly regurgitate it. Do NOT go off on a tangent with a PhD dissertation topic, even though your committee might allow it. Your advisor is your patron, and your job is to make him or her feel good about their scholarship and that the torch is being passed on to the younger generation in good (your) hands.

If this sounds like deceitful toadying, just remember the bad reputation academic politics have always had. The reward isn't money or power, but a tenured teat to suck on for life, and people are more vicious about security than anything else.

If, like the vast majority of PhD's in the Humanities, you don't get that teat, and find yourself working at the Department of Motor Vehicles, you will have learned the valuable life lesson to only go into the hard sciences or engineering, where social skills and slimy politicking have much less to do with success than mastery of some part of an objective reality.

Chase said...

The dilemma for most college students is the never-ending question, what do you do when the teacher/professor expects answers that don't correlate to valuse that you don't agree with or believe in?

We're not talking about silly stuff, but illustrations like the Lesbian asst prof who (and I saw a copy of this exam) had as one of her questions on the final exam in her class on Modern American History a true/false "all homophobia is directly related to prejudice, whether overt or subsumed".

My daughter was in the position of saying false - which she believes because such a question is patently ridiculous and vague on its face - and then losing points, or saying yes to just get the question right.

In this case, my daughter got to know the the asst prof early in the semester and they had several discussion regarding my daughter's evangelical beliefs and the beliefs of the teacher. My daughter knew what to expect in this situation, and was not penalized by the teacher for questions that were "value loaded".
Sadly, though, many if not most students have a more difficult time navigating the dilemma.

BTW, My daughter is now a high school teacher, and that asst prof wrote one of her best recommendations)

Marcia said...

I thought students didn't wear watches anymore. Shouldn't it be "don't check your smart phone more than twice?"

Crimso said...

I give my students a hint by warning them I am much more aware of what's going on amongst them while I lecture than they think I am (classes of 100). Many don't take the hint. Some sit and roll their eyes and sigh. If I said something idiotic that would be understandable, but they roll their eyes because they're thinking "I'd rather not be here." Fine, don't show up if you'd rather not be there. But if you're going to show up, don't be rude. I actually want very little respect from my students, but not none.

Shanna said...

The game is to decipher early on which kind of teacher you have. It can be a fun game, in its own way.

That is the crux of it all. I would say, always attend the first day of class and pay attention. Read the syllabus cover to cover and use this information to help you decide what kind of teacher you have.

Richard Dolan said...

The advice for the students seems both predictable and sensible. It would be interesting to see the NYT's how-to advice for college professors.

Tony Ryan said...

It's really an intelligence test.
Are you smart enough to figure out what the professor wants? Are you smart enough to give it to them?
If the professor loves to discourse on his or her political beliefs, do you have to brains to feed it back to them, and get a good grade?
Sure, is has nothing to do with learning.
Old quote: Don't let formal education get in the way of learning.
Meaning: Learn as much as you can, but also learn how to get the good grades. It's the best preparation for the real world that you can get in college.
Also, find the profs who won't let on as to their political beliefs, and who really grade on the basis of how well you write, not what you believe. Take their courses, regardless of what they're teaching. That's where you will learn to think.

rocketeer67 said...


(Checking my watch right now)

Joe said...

How about a list for professors?

* DO look at your students and try to discern whether you're making sense to them.

* DO try very hard to make your lectures interesting, and show how they apply to the real world.

* DON'T lecture at all if you really don't speak English well or intelligibly.

I once had a philosophy professor who showed up at one lecture in the form of a desktop tape recorder, because he had decided to skip class to attend a conference.

Bob_R said...

Well, I just got done a 75 minute lecture on Fourier Series and Partial Differential Equations. A few head nods don't bother me much. Hard for them to concentrate that long.

For items a) and b) on the "Do" list I'd substitute "be engaged with the material." A lot of the stuff that I teach is a tool to get something done. It may not be that interesting to the students. I don't care if they are interested as long as they learn how it works, and that can't be BSed.

Doug said...

A famous professor (or maybe it was a clergyman) once said,"I don't mind if people look at their watches during my lecture, but I do object when they tap their watches to see if they are still working".

Scott M said...

I had an extremely liberal 400-level poli sci prof who didn't even want you to make eye contact. He said on the first day that his exams were taken completely from his lectures and if he saw you not taking notes, there was something wrong.

He would literally stop in the middle of a sentence if he made eye contact with you, stare at you, then sigh and shake his head before continuing. This went on every M-W-F for four months.

The one time I ran after him to get a clarification on a point he had made, he blew me off and repeated what he had said in class...without the explanation I had asked for.

It was academic torture. Finally, I put technology to work and bought a newfangled (1995) digital recorder for class and just sat there and stared at him.

Got a B-, by the way, but didn't want to give him the satisfaction of my coming to his office to plead my case.

Fred4Pres said...

Politeness and respect are fine (and should be granted), but this seems like good advice if you want to woo your professors.

Fred4Pres said...

I have been lucky, with far more good professors than bad. Liberal or libertarian, even a few conservatives (not that there are many out there). Most have been relatively generous with assistance and willing to help you if you meet them half way (by carring about the subject matter). Asskissing was definitely not required.

dick said...

I had one that I can never forget. The class was Contemporary American Literature. She lectured from day 1 to the end of the class - no questions from the class. She gave us the title, author, main characters, plot and political meaning of over 285 novels, 50 plays and 100 poems. We had to regurgitate this krep right back to her on the tests. There were 5 papers to be written which was the only good part of the course. And you had to agree with her political basis of the literature or no credit. The worst part was she was the English Dept chairman.

The only good thing I carried from the course was a list of books that might be worth reading some day to see if I agreed with her. Worst class I ever took. Only one close was Quant/Qual Analysis in Chemistry where the test papers were so old they were yellowed. Every frat on campus had copies of every version of the test. The man taught the class from rote, I think. No life to it at all. I took it again just because I was interested in the subject but not the way he taught it. Got a different prof and it was one of my best courses.

jacksonianlawyer said...

Advice when it comes to the liberal bastion of academics? Very, very simple:

Learn, early on, the enormously high degree of veracity to the adage, "those who can't do, teach." Once you realize that most professors are private-sector failures, their true "ideals" and/or the "wares" which they peddle, become patently obvious.
Most I know have gone on to flourish in their careers and become successful not by virture of their professors, but, rather, despite them.

Michael said...

Skip every class you can; just remember to show up on test days.

Remember that the professor is not the boss. If you get one who thinks he/she is, drop that class.

Find professors in your major who actually are worth respecting. Go to their classes often.

Find a major that's actually worth something.

I've hired somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 people in the last 20 years. Not a one of the ones right out of college was fit to put to work without significant retraining. This covers a wide variety of job roles and college majors. If I had Bill Gates' money, I'd invest it to fund a totally new set of schools that actually trained kids in business, science and other useful stuff, and prepared them for a useful career in 2 years. Sort of like DeVry for careers more challenging than auto mechanic and med tech. We'd include logic training and history, but sadly, we'd have to omit Gender Studies, art history, Sociology and speech codes.

Kylos said...

I once audibly snorted at professor's serious suggestion that in the future we would have to deal with weighty ethical issues such as the baptism or circumcision of self-aware robots who desired spiritual communion with the rest of humanity. The course was History of Technology in America. This is why I have very little use for the Humanities.