More back-to-school advice from a professor

You’d think these things would be obvious, but, judging from students’ behaviour, they’re not


If you’re so excited to be going to university that you’re reading Macleans OnCampus to get advice in August, you probably don’t need it. But just in case, here are a few more tips:

1. Ditch your childhood email address. It will be (or should be) embarrassing if you email your professor from “cutielikestodrink647@hotmail.com.” If you keep that address, get another one along the lines of “myactualname@gmail.com” and use that with your profs.

2. Speaking of emails, while you may think of them as a kind of instant messaging, most professors over 35 (which is most professors) see them as a kind of letter. Begin with “Dear Professor Smart,” spell words correctly and in full, and sign off respectfully. Never say (or imply) that you expect or need an answer right away. If it really is time-sensitive, say you know she’s busy and you would appreciate a reply as soon as possible. Notice that the above applies only to schools small enough where the professors actually answer emails.

3 a.I once asked the best student I ever had what one piece of advice she would give to students. She said, “going to class should not be optional.” Exactly. Go to class. Getting the notes from the guy who sits next to you is not the same as actually having been there.

3b. Do the assigned readings before they come up in class. You’ll be surprised how many classes are actually interesting if you know what people are talking about.

4. Never ask your professors for copies of their notes.

5. Read your syllabi (sometimes called course outlines) carefully. Try not to ask a professor a question that is clearly answered in the syllabus.

6. Never ask a professor to recommend an “easy” course.

7. If you complain about a grade, do it respectfully. Never demand a higher grade based on how well you are doing in other professors’ classes.

8. There’s no such thing as an exam you can’t study for.

9. If your class is the sort where questions and comments seem to be welcome, try to ask at least one question or make one comment per class. Try not to ask more than three. If the professor doesn’t rush out of the room when classes are over, take the time to make additional comments then.

For more tips on starting school from The Hour Hand, click here.


More back-to-school advice from a professor

  1. Can I add to that: When emailing your professors, don’t request a read receipt. It’s rude, and a growing number of students seem to be doing it. It gives the impression that you don’t trust your professors to reply to time-sensitive issues, and in any case students only ever seem to do it when the issue *isn’t* timee-sensitive (e.g. “sorry I missed class, I was hungover”). Drives me up the wall.

  2. Remember, everybody is busy with other work. You aren’t special. Don’t ask for an extension just because you can’t organize yourself. And to profs: don’t give extensions out like candy. If extensions are so easily granted, don’t bother making a deadline. It’s a slap in the face to the students who work their butts off to make deadlines, only to see lazy students give lame excuses and receive an extension. I worked all through university (2 jobs plus 2 volunteer positions for 3 years), never pulled an all nighter, got A’s and B’s and only asked for an extension once to attend the funeral of a friend. And I didn’t milk it. I was 2 days late. So it can be done.

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