Back in the 1990s, when I was teaching Introductory Psychology, I invited my colleague, Jeanne Day, to give a guest lecture on social intelligence. It was so fascinating and good that all 160 students applauded when she finished. She must have felt so appreciated.
The reason I mention this now is that you are about to get the chance to express appreciation for your great professors, as well as to criticize the poor ones, on your Course Evaluation Forms (CIFs). But why should you stop there? If you want to applaud your professor, go ahead. If you want to give a small gift or leave a thank-you note, do it. You will feel really good about yourself for making your professor feel appreciated.
…and easier to get caught at it. Sadly, as the Chair of Notre Dame’s Arts and Letters Honesty Committee, I have been seeing more and more cases of plagiarism. I’ve seen perfectly intelligent students take word-for-word from the Internet several long passages or even their whole paper and try to pass it off as their own work.
It’s as if they don’t realize that professors can spot wording that is too professional sounding, too formal, or just plain too good to be the student’s own work. Then their professor can run the suspicious paper through a an Internet plagiarism detection service called TurnItIn. The service will tell the professor what percentage of the paper has been plagiarized.
The professor will then report the case to our Honesty Committee. The evidence from these TurnItIn reports can be so compelling that we are left with little choice but to find the student guilty and impose a hefty penalty to the student’s overall grade in that professor’s course.
So here’s a simple solution if you want to use written material from the Internet in your paper. Just rephrase everything — don’t take anything word-for-word unless you use quotation marks around it. And whether you paraphrase or put something in quotes, you must cite the source. Is that so hard?
I have invited Sam Stryker, a first-year Notre Dame student and reporter for the Observer, to write a reaction to last week’s post. Here is what he has to say about making the right impression in class:
It’s very easy to say that being smart is “in” at college, and in order to succeed in class one must sit in the front row of class, raise one’s hand at every available opportunity and try to show off to the professor how smart you are in front of the class. I however will argue that in doing so one in fact could be making an incredibly stupid choice. Now why would sitting in the front of the class be such a risky proposition? Because in order to be a truly successful human being, one must achieve both the respect of one’s peers and one’s superiors. Remember, when you get hired down the road by some corporation you are being hired for what you have achieved as a person, not just a student. There will be an interview component and I heartily believe that personality is as valuable a trait as scholastic achievement. Though Dr. Kelly would advise me from saying this, I know for a fact that I am not the smartest person in any of my classes and in fact I am in the bottom half in terms of academic talent for some of the classes (I am in the Honors Program, so I would be surprised if I was). You know what? I am completely fine with that. In fact, I know I can be more successful in life than a lot of the kids in my classes who receive better grades than me. Why is that? It’s two things. One, I know I have the respect of my professors. The brown nosers of the class may have this one down pat, but I do too. When I raise my hand in class, I do so because I have something to contribute to the class that will further the discussion. It may be an idea I have, or outside knowledge I think is important. The key difference between a brown noser and me is that I am not TRYING to look smart. It’s all about appearing effortless. This is how you gain the respect of your peers, something that brown nosers tend to ignore. Your peers will be your friends, your coworkers, and your networking when you graduate from school. It’s very easy to suck up and act all nice to a professor who is older than you and holds a position of power, but one can truly learn something by how one treats their equals. When I see someone brown nosing, I lose respect for them because they are treating the professors like they are stupid and can be easily buttered up. Brown nosing shows little to no true knowledge of the topic being discussed, because in and of itself it is about showing off in the most shameless way possible. In summary, being smart is “in” and college. There is just a very precise way of doing it—don’t look like you’re trying too hard! And remember, you want to gain both the respect of your peers and your professors, because your relationships with both determine how far you go in life, not just one or the other. –Sam Stryker
On separate occasions this week, two students told me almost exactly the same thing: “There are so many students around here way smarter than me.” What’s funny is that it turns out that both these students have really high IQs.
In addition, over the years, many students have told me on the first day of class that they are not particularly interested in studying anything.
So, the question is, “Why would students meeting a professor for the first time shoot themselves in the foot by telling the professor that they are not that smart or motivated?” After all, professors do not grade papers blind and can be heavily influenced by the impressions you give during class. If you tell professors bad things about yourself, they are likely to believe you. And this negative impression has the potential to hurt your grade.
I believe that the answer to this question lies in what you had to do to make friends long before you came to college. You had to look like you weren’t conceited or trying too hard in high school to fit in, because the motivated and brainy kids weren’t the most popular.
But now you are in college. Smart is definitely “in”. It’s time to consider shedding any ”dumb” persona. Instead of sitting in the back and acting barely interested in the class material to fit in with your current friends, you could try sitting in the front and formulating brilliant questions for your professor. Beyond impressing your professors, you might discover that your brilliance is downright attractive to your classmates.
Also, please never, never tell a professor that you did not do well on the SAT. Professors can be total geeks when it comes to standardized testing and may conclude that you are not smart because of that darn test score.
The new semester is right around the corner. What can you possibly do to increase your performance in your courses that you haven’t tried already?
Well, have you considered the following?
Professors grade your in-class participation and your papers subjectively. And they can be influenced by the seemingly small things you do in class. So, this semester, I suggest you try the following:
I know this sounds manipulative. But you’ll find that when you act this way, you will genuinely become that conscientious, dream student that professors love. Try this for one whole semester, and let me know how it works out for you. Sticking to it may take as much resolve as your toughest New Year’s resolution, but you may be amazed at the results.
This week Sarah wrote:
“I have a question for you about the appropriateness of thanking your professors at the end of a semester. Every once in a while, I feel so strongly about a professor that I want to thank them in an email or letter. I have had a few professors who have really gone out of their way to help me out. When this happens, and the end of the semester comes, it feels so unnatural not to send them a thank you letter. At the same time, it feels slightly unethical to me to send a professor a thank you note or email whenever my grade is not yet determined. I fear that they will feel pressured to give me a grade higher than I deserve. I also fear my professor will perceive my gratitude as an attempt to get a better grade. Do you think that thank you letters are appropriate, and if so, how can I write one in a way that my professor won’t perceive it to be an attempt to obtain a higher grade?”
A solution is to send the thank-you letter after your grade has been submitted. But don’t worry if you send it a little early. We professors very much appreciate the sweet letters that students sometimes send us at the end of the term. We don’t see it as ingratiation. You can be as extreme as you want in your appreciation, which goes a long way to make your professor feel good and want to help students even more.
Thank you for your question for all of us to read! –Anita
The semester is over. Is it okay to ask that single instructor you’ve been hankering for all semester out for a drink or to dinner?
Uh, no. One reason is that instructors are bound by the ethical rules laid out by the American Psychological Association or their employers to avoid dual roles. As long as you are still a student and the instructor is still employed at the same university, you will necessarily become involved in a dual role if you get romantically involved with your instructor. A relationship could cost your instructor his or her job.
This doesn’t mean that your instructor won’t be tempted by your interest. Instructors develop crushes on their students, too, but they are the ones responsible for saying “no”.
Sometimes we professors forget that most college students find repulsive the idea of dating anybody over 30. As a 19-year-old undergraduate at Northwestern, I was creeped out when immediately after the semester ended, a professor offered to bake me one of his “famous apple pies” to be shared at his apartment.
So, you will just have to wait until you graduate to ask out that instructor. But by then, you will probably have moved on to somebody a bit more appealing from your own classmates. Just like that itch you never scratch, your interest will likely go away on its own.
Today a student sweetly pointed out that I had spot on my sweater. I thanked her and slunk from my office to the restroom to rub it off.
Thinking about it now, I realize that as a student I would have been too mortified to tell any professor that he had a spot on his shirt, spinach in his teeth, or his zipper down. No way.
But things have changed a lot in 20 years. Students have much more informal relationships with their professors. Many students think it’s perfectly okay to leave to take a phone call or bathroom break at any time during a lecture, even from the front row. The problem is not that they are taking a break. The problem is that their professors are likely to become furious and see those breaks as disrespectful, disruptive behavior.
What do you think? Is it okay to leave the class unexcused any time you want?
Around 12 years ago, I tried to put the key into my office door only to discover that someone had put glue in the lock. That someone was a student who had failed my Introductory Psychology class. (She had scribbled an angry note.) She had really wanted to stick it to me, and it worked. I was very upset.
You might hate a particular professor because he or she is a tougher grader than your other professors. You want revenge, but you feel so helpless. They have all the power over your grade. Why can’t they just be more generous?
Maybe it would help if you understood why any professor would give tough grades. It’s typically because they are trying to help students learn more and help their university maintain high standards. I once visited a psychology department where the top students told me that they were ashamed of the low standards and easy grades of their major. They wanted tougher grades from their professors!
If you want to share your experiences or feelings about a too-tough professor or one you want revenge on for any reason, please post your comments!
What a shock it was yesterday when my large Psychology of Personality class pulled a prank on me. As I entered the classroom, a student yelled, “It’s really hot in here. Could you turn on the air conditioner?”
Thinking nothing of the request, I opened the small closet by the chalkboard to pull the AC switch, as I had done hundreds of times before. Inside the dark closet, a super-tall man dressed in black wearing a Scream mask was standing there facing me. He moved his hands, and I screamed. My reflex was to think, “Oh my God! Here is another Virginia Tech about to happen!” It was too late for Halloween, so what was up? Some students started laughing, so I realized it was a prank. What a relief.
Later I told one of my colleagues about it, and he said I should have called campus security. It had never crossed my mind to do that. I tend to be very open and casual with my lecture style, so I understood why my students thought that was funny.
But the incident does bring up the issue, Did my students cross the line? More important, have your professors crossed the line with you as a student in their class? Please let me know what you think!