University Etiquette 101: How to Deal With Your Professors

Hopefully not last on your list of your on-campus priorities, the courses you are taking require work, time-management, and careful dealing with an unusual form of life known as universitatis professor, or, in simple English, the college professor.
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Dear college students,

As a new semester begins, it is time for you to jump back into the fun-filled world of college activities, friends, intense late-night conversations, strange roommates, parties and other forms of early adulthood angst...

And, oh yes... classes. Hopefully not last on your list of your on-campus priorities, the courses you are taking require work, time-management, and careful dealing with an unusual form of life known as universitatis professor, or, in simple English, the college professor.

The college professor, for all of her occasional odd behaviors, is, in fact, a rather close cousin of Homo sapiens, or a human being. As such, some of the social conventions that you would apply with respect to older, experienced humans also can work well when trying to interact with your professors. The following simple five rules are offered with the intent of helping you maximize the chance to make the most of your connection to people who are likely to evaluate you and have an effect on your future. You can consider it a basic guide to working with these strange, but surprisingly useful, creatures.

1. Show up to class. Some of your classes will not always be the most exciting things you imagine doing with your time. But hopefully, many will. And, although you may enjoy trying to win the game of getting a decent grade in a class without showing up, professors are generally pretty smart. Not only do we try hard to make class time useful for you, we have experience designing tools to evaluate you that reward your attendance and involvement. Indeed, many of us in university classrooms actually listen to suggestions you make about what we can do to engage you more in the material we teach. So, by coming to class, you are helping yourself and those students who will follow you.

2. Look at course materials before asking a very basic question. You know the old saying, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Right? Wrong! College professors spend lots of time putting together their syllabi, course websites, readings and other material. Why do we do this? So that students can find basic information like when the course meets, where our office is and what the requirements are without having to answer a bunch of emails or in-class questions. Always check course syllabi and websites before asking a question like "do you have office hours."

3. Unless the professor tells you otherwise, refer to them as Professor or Doctor and their last name. Your professors have spent more time in school than pretty much anyone else, faced really long odds to get a job at your university, yet get paid less than pretty much anyone else with their level of education and intelligence. Despite the media image, because of the pressures to get research grants, publish original research, become excellent teachers and keep their universities running, we work very hard, including during periods of the year we are not teaching. At the very least, if we're not going to enjoy great wealth or long vacations, we should get to hear the basic title we've spent decades earning. So, call me to my face "Professor" or "Doctor," or my first name if I tell you it's okay, and call me anything you'd like behind my back. But don't let me hear you say me "hey Prof," "Mister" or "Yo Prof-ster," and I won't call you "yo stud (for student)," "dude/dudette," or "hey Frosh."

4. Treat the appointments you make with your professors as firm, not something to do if you aren't too busy with something (anything) else. You wouldn't email your doctor, lawyer or even hair stylist 30 minutes after an appointment that you made and make a lame excuse about forgetting the time or getting stuck somewhere else, right? Your professors have the same level of expertise as these folks (well, maybe not as much as the hair stylist), and just as many obligations on their time. If you need something from a professor, don't blow him off. And if a genuine, honest-to-God emergency like a tornado or alien abduction really happens on your way to a scheduled meeting, be sure to be contrite and expect that it may then take time before you can get another appointment.

5. Rid yourself of the silly saying "those who can't do, teach," learn not to fear professors and enjoy what they have to offer. Contrary to some popular wisdom, college professors are capable, and usually not dangerous predators, at least inside of their natural university habitats. Our jobs require us to do a variety of things, but most of us sought out these positions (not for the money, see 3. above) because we like to work with, and talk to, students. So, even if you come to see us because you are in some sort of trouble, we will not kill you, but are likely to have at least some sympathy and appreciation of what you're going through. And, if you come to see us not when you are in trouble to talk about mutual interests, your possible career goals, or something else, you may well find us relaxed, knowledgeable and helpful. Instead of "those who can't do, teach," think, "those who can teach enjoy seeing you feel good about your ideas, learning and growth."

Students, if you follow these simple five rules, you may not only find your professors easy-to-deal with and remarkably human-like. If you treat us with basic respect, you will receive respect in turn. And you might even feel that the stuff you do during the day while you're in college is as enjoyable and useful as the stuff you do at night.

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