To impress a prof -

To impress a prof

You have to think like a prof.


There has never been a shortage of advice for university students, some of it good, most of it obvious. Keep up with your readings, get plenty of sleep, and so on.

One bit of advice that you hear less often, however, might be the most valuable of all.

Understand how professors think.

For the most part, after all, professors don’t think like you, because you are a normal person and they are intellectuals, driven by the need to argue, and discover, and innovate, finding joy in exploring the tiniest reaches of the most obscure subject. And as such they want to be valued for their intellect, because there aren’t that many places where intellect is valued.

Now, I am not advocating outright sucking up, but seeing the prof’s side of things might change your academic approach. For instance:

1. If you have to skip class, never skip the last class of the week. Professors tend to plan their courses by week and so as the week draws to a close, they will try to fit everything they can into that class.

2. Unless you are scheduled to do some kind of presentation, never tell your prof that you won’t be in class for whatever reason. Similarly, don’t explain your absences. To you, it seems respectful and open, but most professors take pride in not being high school teachers and not having to deal with attendance and other similar vulgarities. By providing an explanation, you are implying the professor would want one, and this will offend his sense of laissez-faire academics. He wants to be able to say, “My students are adults, and it is not up to me to keep track of their comings and goings,” and you up in his face about your son’s soccer game is cramping his style.

3. See your prof in person. Email is convenient and sending an email message might seem like it would make the professor’s life easier. And you probably are. But what you don’t realize is that professors are generally contractually required to be in their offices for so many hours a week, and it is discouraging when no one ever shows up. Getting there in person shows you really care about the subject matter and makes the professor feel like she’s changing your life. We love to feel like we are changing your life.

4. Never tell your prof that you are willing to settle for a middling grade. To you this might sound like you are being reasonable and that you are putting your prof at ease by showing you are not going to be too demanding. But remember that nearly all your professors were straight A students when they were students, and not wanting an A will seem like laziness, apathy, or a sad lack of ambition to them. Better to stroll your way to a  C and let them think you were doing your best.

5. Never ask more than two questions per hour in class. Professors like a certain number of questions because it shows enthusiasm and interest, but too many questions from one person makes other students tune out and your prof will become annoyed by the growing restlessness in the room.

Of course, you will have to adjust the particular approach depending on the kind of program you are in and the kinds of instructors you have. But the basic idea is the same. Try to see it from their side. Doing so may not convince your instructor to give you an A you didn’t deserve, but it will build good will and good will can give you a benefit of the doubt here, and extra helpful tip there. And it all adds up.

Related: Having trouble? Talk to your profs


To impress a prof

  1. Nice article, but very ambitious. As a professor at a public university, I will be impressed if my students:

    1. Come to class more than once a week
    2. Do the required readings, or at least pretend to
    3. Have a basic grasp of grammar and punctuation
    4. Show that they care even 1% about being in University
    5. Show some sense of responsibility towards the course requirements
    6. Write e-mails that begin with “dear professor/sir/dr” rather than ‘Hey!!’
    7. Stop playing with their phones and Ipads all the time
    8. Stop whining about having to do work

    There’s more, but I am too jaded to write it all.

  2. In response to Alex’s post above, I am a first year student at a major public university. As a student I can totally commisurate with you.

    The people in my classes are by and large coddled, egocentric babies. They feel that the whole process of university is unfair, and that is why they are now pulling failing grades when they were met with adulation when they actually turned something in on time back in high school.

    And I am in nursing. I actually had a classmate ask me “what does the umbilical cord go to?” during a presentation. Others publically profess not wanting to treat old people because they are icky, or disliking Aboriginals because they are drunks. These people are going to be the caregivers of tomorrow.

    Needless to say, this is not at all what I expected. I hope the first year will weed a few more of the worst ones out.