Here’s how most professors determine if you’re a flash in the pan or the real deal: You consistently handle yourself with ease and grace. You show up to class on time, sit near the front and regularly contribute to the class discussion. You ask thoughtful questions, pay attention and complete assignments.
If a student can master these with a good attitude and mature style, the professor knows he or she is headed for professional success regardless of test scores. Getting ahead in any profession boils down to mastering the ordinary stuff first, long before anyone expects you to be a superstar.
Most professors I know are pretty good at detecting suck-ups. So if you try to butter us up, we’ll likely be more suspicious than impressed. We’re not that easy to fool.
2. IT’S AN ADDED BONUS WHEN YOU ACTUALLY LIKE US
While I enjoy my relationships with students a great deal, those friendships are really just an added bonus. I care more about preparing my students for their futures. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that you like me. But it’s my job – through my course and mentoring – to make sure you’ll enjoy your future field.
3. WHERE’S THE LOVE?
The whole relationship dynamic between the two of us looks very different from your point of view. Face it, you’re going to want letters of recommendation from your professors; you’re going to ask them to serve as references when applying for jobs; you may have to ask them to bend the rules and be empathetic to a late paper submission, missed class or unrepresentative test score.
Furthermore, I’m not just familiar with books. I also know people you might like – and for your intended career, ought – to be introduced to. Which means you’ll need to get more comfortable with networking. I can help you with that. But none of these things will happen if you and I essentially are strangers. Sure, I can ensure you get a good education but not much beyond that.
As previously mentioned, I like to be friends with my students. But, no offense, I don’t gain nearly as much from those friendships as you do. So it’s always surprising to me that students will pay so much to go to college but put so little effort into getting as much out of the experience as they can.
4. THE GRADING SYSTEM ISN’T ALWAYS FAIR
Unfortunately, the grading system in college is set up to reward final outputs, not necessarily processes. Take, for example, a student who isn’t a top-performer in terms of tangible, quantitative grades but who consistently demonstrates high-quality character. I know that student deserves a higher mark. Unfortunately there’s only so much I can do in these scenarios. But I have a pretty good idea who’s going to thrive down the road and who’s not.
Think of the faulty grading system this way: It’s highly probable that no one will ever ask you – much less even care – what grade you got in my course, or any other professor’s for that matter. They’ll only care that you passed the class, graduated from a good school and were awarded the degree you claim to have. This is hard for many students to understand. But believe me, the higher education system is rigged to make you believe exactly the opposite.
5. I’M WILLING TO HELP, BUT YOU HAVE TO LET ME
For starters, some students avoid speaking to or even making eye contact with the professor they’re seeking help from. Many students never stop to chat after class or come by during office hours to talk. They don’t take me up on offers to grab lunch and talk about careers, networking and the like.
And when students do interact with me, they don’t ask enough questions – let alone the “right” questions. If they did, it would allow me to be completely honest and helpful. Students who are serious about achieving success in the workplace should frequently ask for feedback on style, manners, demeanor, leadership qualities, work habits, speaking abilities, networking – you get the idea.
Many students go out of their way to avoid dealing with their professors. But it’s useless to expect a professor to give valuable advice to an almost-complete stranger.
6. KNOW WHAT IT TAKES TO SUCCEED
More than a few of my students are total drama queens and kings when it comes to getting a high grade. They make it seem as if the grade they receive will make or break their long-term professional success. But thinking like that is really playing small ball.
While I do believe my course can advance a student down a particular career path, it’s just one course among many others in the grand scheme of things. And the grade I assign is not likely to be as pivotal as some students make it seem.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t always hit the top of the grading curve in all the courses I took. A few times I had to meet with my professors and make sure I would at least receive a passing grade. Nonetheless, I never let a challenging course – let alone a less-than-perfect grade – stop me from enrolling in courses for the next semester or applying to the program I found interesting. I never let a few less-than-awesome grades define my personal or professional success.
Your future professional success comes from more important things than the grade you get in my class or that of any other professor. I promise you with complete confidence that if you are a sincere student and study diligently, the Grade Gods will treat you with the exact same generosity they once bestowed upon me.