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How to Impress Your Professors

Updated on December 31, 2017

Insider Information for College Success

I know quite a bit about what professors like and dislike. What are my credentials? I have been married to a professor for decades. I have also been a college student and the wife of a graduate student (the aforementioned professor in his younger years.) What would I like you to know for your own benefit? Here it goes!

Your professors are people who have worked very hard to learn things most people never learn. The path to a Ph.D. required tremendous discipline and dedication. Having done that, they then care enough to want to teach you. Think about how fortunate you are to have somebody able and willing to teach you. All they ask in return are a few simple things from you, so memorize this very short list:

  • Read and follow the syllabus.
  • Come to class and listen.
  • Be a responsible adult.

The Syllabus is Important

Road Map for the Class

Most professors will give students a detailed syllabus at the beginning of a term. Read this! Experienced instructors know the questions you are likely to have about the course and seek to answer these questions in the syllabus. Think of the syllabus as a FAQ web page.

Your syllabus should cover the grading and attendance policies for the class, dates of examinations, and required textbooks. Major projects and papers will be mentioned, along with due dates for various milestones, e.g. project proposal, literature review, and final paper.

Almost every syllabus will also include several pages on plagiarism. Plagiarism is the ultimate academic crime. Do not think you are smart enough to get away with passing off another's work as your own. After all, if you are really that clever, why not write your own brilliant papers? Your professors were not born yesterday. Earning a Ph.D. takes time and discipline. This means your instructors have no patience with those who try to take unethical shortcuts.

Get the Most Out of Lectures

Listening and Note-Taking Strategies

Do you know your learning style? In other words, how do you take in information?

  • Auditory learners learn best when somebody tells them about something. Discussions and lectures work well for this learner.
  • Visual learners need to see things to understand them. Charts, graphs, and videos help this learner.
  • Kinesthetic learners are hands-on types. They thrive in laboratory and studio courses, but fidget in lectures.

While you can't control your instructor's teaching style, you can adapt how you listen and respond. Auditory learners may need to record lectures in order to listen to portions again or join a study group to discuss the class. Visual learners can write notes or use graphic organizers to process information from a lecture. The kinesthetic learner may find that writing notes with a pen or pencil is better than typing notes into a laptop.

Lighten Up a Little - Ph.D. Humor

Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School
Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School

This book make me laugh from cover to cover--largely because I know so much of it is true. This is worth reading, as long as you can ignore some of the rude language.


Be Responsible

Time to Grow Up

Professors want to teach adults. If they wanted to teach children, they would have become primary or secondary school teachers. You can be that adult they want to teach!

Take responsibility for your own education. Do not bore your professor with lame excuses about sleeping in because you worked late, doing badly on a test because you had a hangover, or forgetting about an assignment that was in the syllabus. Professors were once students. They too held jobs, got tired, and did stupid things on occasion--but they did not get their doctorates by making excuses.

Professors are people, though, and will work with students who honestly want to learn. If you have a legitimate crisis such as a death in the family or a serious illness, communicate with your professor as soon as possible. If you are having difficulty understanding the course material, be sure to get help early in the term.

College is a time to take charge of your own learning. Your professors are partners with you. Do your part, and have a great semester!

Will you impress your professors?

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