Posted on 22-01-2010
Filed Under (Appropriate behavior) by Anita Kelly

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

(3) Comments   


Sarah on 22 January, 2010 at 8:46 pm #

I find both arguments to be compelling – it is true that “sucking up” can easily lose the respect of peers and even of certain professors, but it is also easy to fall through the cracks and to not be noticed by a professor at all. I’ve done both – gone unnoticed and noticed – and I find it’s not necessary to be “that kid” who raises their hand at every speaking opportunity to form a relationship, but instead to find a tasteful balance. As Sam says, saying something when you believe you have a true insight can be very valuable, or talking to the professor only when you actually have something to talk about (until the student-professor relationship gets to a level of casual friendliness and conversation).
I found that often in cases, it is better to err on the side of more effort. The classes where I have little to no relationship with the professor are the most forgettable ones, and the ones where I feel comfortable remaining in contact with the professor are the most interesting and rewarding. However, this could be attributed to my own personality, just as Sam’s opinion could be attributed to his and Dr. Kelly’s to hers. Each student will probably have a different take on this subject, but I find that what works best for me is making the effort to get to know your professor without being overbearing to him or her, or obnoxious to your classmates.

Emily Nguyen on 23 January, 2010 at 4:11 pm #

I think Sam has a lot of good points, especially his insight about maintaining relationships and the way one treats their peers versus their professors. Speaking for myself, I agree that yes, as a student, when I sit in class, I do not appreciate brown-nosers if they do not contribute anything meaningful to discussion. However, what if they do contribute thoughtful discussion… what if their participation is just more frequent compared to their peers because of the extra effort they put in not to butter-up the professor, but to learn? Is that still considered brown-nosing? If Sam’s advice is to not look like you’re trying too hard… which means students trying to be thoughtful have to look like they are not, how could you tell the difference between a brown-noser and a thoughtful student?

Anonymous on 27 January, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

I think this is one of those arguments where both sides are compelling and there is support for both ends of the discussion. Yet, I just wanted to give my opinion on the following comment, as made by Sam Stryker: “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.” This reminded me of a discussion I had with my mom my freshman year. My first semester of freshman year was overly difficult for me. I struggled often with my classes. I reached a point where I definitely felt like throwing in the towel. But in talking with my mom, she gave me some very valuable advice (which sounded somewhat similar to Sam’s comment). She started by asking me: Do you know what kind of people makes the best doctors? Well… if I had to guess… I would assume that it is the super smart people who make no less than a B+ in physics, biology, chemistry,etc. To my surprise, she answered that actually… it is sometimes the “brown nosers” and “super geniuses” that aren’t the most qualified to be doctors, but conversely, the people who had to struggle in college that make the best doctors, lawyers, surgeons, etc. I am more than sure that she was not implying that smart people could not qualify in prestigious fields. No not at all. But what she was trying to remind me is that those people, who had to struggle in school, tend to be much more appreciative when they finally earn a degree in their field of choice. Also, unlike “brown-nosers,” those who do not appear to be the brightest in class can often better relate to the people they serve, while keeping in mind his/her own struggles, triumphs, and the like. In simplest terms: Those who may not be “brown-nosers” or seen as the “brightest student” in the class tend to relate to people better because these people tend to act like normal people with normal struggles and normal lives, instead of spending every moment, trying to prove that he/she is so much better than everyone else around them.

Again, either side of the comment can be argued. I have just as many pros I could list for being a “brown-noser” than I have cons. But the example I gave, above, is often neglected, unconsidered, and unmentioned.

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