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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Monday, August 4, 2014

On handling professors

I am in the middle of marking right now and continuing my discussions with my nephew on what university life is like.

I am also aware that this fall I will be dealing with a new batch of new students.

Here are some thoughts, and I know they seem pretty basic, on professor management tools most students have to learn.

In no particular order, meaning I have mixed up big and little ideas:

  • Read the syllabus. This will tell you when the assignments are due and when the exams are written. It should also tell you what the expectations for each are. If it doesn't make sense go and talk to the prof after class. (Students have caught typos in my course outlines and it has been helpful to know that).
  • Read the syllabus. Most of the questions I am asked can be answered if the student read the syllabus.
  • If you are going to submit an assignment electronically (more and more courses, like mine, have you upload assignments to a course website) save your document as a .doc or, if the prof asks for it, a .pdf . If in doubt submit .docs, they are easier to mark with track changes. If you are a Mac person and believe the whole world should use Macs still have Office installed so you can save .docs. It is the industry standard. A prof marking a mountain of assignments doesn't like to have to email a student asking for a resubmit when they can't open the document. (I work on a Mac but still run into this).
  • Always put your name and student number as the file name in assignments you hand in. (I get many sent in as "Final assignment" then I have to resave after I have added the name etc.)
  • If you have any questions at all, about an assignment, what any course expectations are etc., go ask the prof directly. Do not ask other students. Repeat do not ask other students. If I had a dollar for every time 15 students misinterpreted something because one student had it wrong and that was the student every one else asked, I would be golfing in Florida right now.
  • Profs have office hours. This is time they sit and wait in their offices for customers with questions. If you are worried about a course or an assignment go early and go often. Do not be the kid who only shows up the week before the end of term and says "I'm going to fail this course what can I do?"
  • If you are unsure about what a prof wants in a paper or an assignment see above but even better give it back to them in your own words to see if there is a match, as in "OK so you want me to do some research on this topic and make an argument on why this theory is useful using 5-10 scholarly sources, 10 pages double-spaced 12 pt, font."
  • If you get a bad mark in an assignment never, ever whine about it or tell the prof you feel bad. To be honest this is about learning and work not about feelings. Make an appointment and go in and say "I didn't get the mark I expected for this assignment so what can I do next time so I get a better mark?" Keep your eyes on what you can do instead and on making this assignment a learning experience. This stuff is music to a prof's ears and they will be more than glad to help you regroup and raise your mark next time.
  • If you are really stressed or sick and think you are not going to make the deadline go and talk to the prof at least 48 hours before this is due and ask for an extension. Be prepared to supply a doctor's note.
  • Never plagiarize, whatever your friends tell you. You can get a zero in the assignment, the course, or even be asked to leave the program. You never know what prof is going to come down hardest on this (I do) and once that process starts there is no going back.
  • If you are in your first year and managed your time horribly and are freaking out go and see your prof and be honest about that (they are still not obliged to, and most won't, give you an extension but honesty is always your best bet).
  • Never go with a problem without a solution. "I am not going to get this to you Friday at 6:00, I have been sick, can I have an extension until Monday at 9:00?"
  • Do not under any circumstances send an email, or go see a prof with a fake excuse. Profs have fake excuse radar like you wouldn't believe.
  • Do not say your grandmother is sick. I once had six grandmothers go down the week before exams. Miraculously they all recovered. 
  • Do not write emails that say "I was on a family trip over the weekend and we didn't have internet access so I couldn't hand in my assignment."
  • Do not write "my computer crashed and I lost all my files including this assignment and I have had to start all over again." I this has never happened to me so it makes no sense it happens to certain students every term. Back up if you have to and be prepared to have no one believe you if this does happen.
  • Do not write that your computer fell out of the window.
  • Do not write that your room mate took your laptop to class by mistake.
  • Do not write that your boyfriend ran over your laptop in his car by mistake.
  • Do not put a smiley face at the end of an email asking for an extension.
  • Do not put a picture of a sweet kitten at the end of an email asking for extension because someone has said I like animals.
  • No smiley faces and no kittens.
  • I mean that.


Anonymous said...

Learning to follow these rules is SO IMPORTANT in other parts of life besides university.....having had a job where I supervised large groups entering the workforce I can tell you that kittens and smiley faces don't work for workplace excuses either. Doctors notes and programs from the grandmother's funeral DID work with me......


annie said...

I have been sending these posts to my daughter. Her daughter is starting university in 2015. Such sage and succinct information.

As far as plagiarism is concerned, I had a friend who came down on a young lady for that offense. Ultimately, the prof was forced to back away b/c the girl's father had "influence." Not helpful to the girl, may I say. Clearly your school supports you.

Anonymous said...

This is hilarious. You have the best student advice! If only some of them would take the advice :-)

Anne Frances said...

I am retired now but 30 years of teaching undergraduates before that causes me to endorse almost everything you say. I would just add, to the student
1. check your programme's policy on extensions. In some places the rule is "if you can't submit on time, submit as soon as you can with the explanation, and the programme committee will decide whether or not to accept your excuse". You may need to provide doctor's certificate, copy of relative's death certificate or other document. This is only fair to the other students who did manage (sometimes with difficulty) to get the work in on time.
2. DO keep a backup. A student once came to tell me that her computer had burst into flames (power supply unit fault). No damage done and she said "I had kept hearing your voice in my head saying 'keep a backup' so I had!". She was so thankful.
3. Not only NO kittens or smiley faces, but speak politely to your professor even when emailing. Think boss, not buddy.

Your advice has been just spot on. Your nephew is a lucky lad and I hope a lot of his contemporaries are reading your posts too.

Andrea said...

This is great. Brought back memories... I also sent to my daughter, as she begins University in less than 3 weeks!

Unknown said...

I teach study skills at a US community college and have recently found two books that are gold mines for students who want to succeed: Straight A Study Skills by Muchnick & Muchnick and Make it Stick by Brown, Roediger & MacDaniel. - Brenda

Claire R. said...

Ahh so lovely that the ill grandmothers recovered. All of the grandmothers I heard of during my university faculty career died. Some of them repeatedly I fear.

Lynn Barnes said...

I am so glad I went to school pre-computer and pre-cell phone. (Well, pre-personal computer, anyway. My first computer course taught us how to punch holes in cards for a jacquard reader. Next year: personal computers were installed throughout the school.) There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with an actual, live human being. Makes you have to practice basic civility. Trains you to keep your face still and not telegraph to idiots that you think they are idiots ... am still working on that one, thirty-five years afterward.

Mary said...

I was a middle school teacher for 30 years and these tips could be modified for the younger student set. My husband taught Communications and Writing at the college level for his career. It is amazing how many computers crash and grandmothers get sick, or even die twice.

Kay said...

I once got a call from my son at 3:00 a.m. (his school was 3 time zones away). His girlfriend had an application-based project that had to be submitted to the professor's dropbox by midnight. She was required to use an application for which it was very difficult to save backups.She had finally completed the project at 11:55 and made the final save. At which point the whole thing went bluuey. While my son was talking to me, his girlfriend was in the background packing, sure that she would fail the course, be kicked out of school, lose her student visa, and be deported. I recommended that she put a note in the dropbox saying what had happened, with a request that she be given an extension till the morning in exchange for a lowered grade. They assured me that no late projects would be accepted, no exceptions, no way. I promised that even when there are no exceptions, sometimes there are exceptions. If you are sincere and truthful, and you accept that there will be consequences even when it isn't your fault, you can usually prevail. In the process of talking my son down (at 3:00-freaking-a.m., remember) I managed somehow to talk her down as well, and they followed my advice to send a note to the prof.

Once they had a course of action to follow, they were able to think clearly enough to troubleshoot. They managed to get a partial recovery in about 20 minutes and file that in the dropbox. With another hour or so of work they were able to recover and/or recreate the whole project. By the time the instructor got to his box in the morning, he had the note, the partial recovery, and the completed project to look at. I guess the whole thing was convincing because he accepted it. I think he didn't even lower her grade.

So an exception was made for extraordinary circumstances, the girlfriend didn't fail the course, didn't flunk out of school, didn't get deported, and is now my daughter-in-law. Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly with your advice!

Sarah Liz said...

Very timely hints. I'm doing a post grad psychology degree, and agree with all you say - plus, read the question, again and again, and make sure you are answering it, if you are doing an essay).