February 19, 2003

Advice for Undergraduates

This was written with the help of many cynical friends long ago. Enjoy.

Part 1 - In-Class Behavior

#1. If you are reading the newspaper or other non-class-related material in class, the professor will notice. You should hope you are reprimanded directly because the alternative is that the professor will do something evil to you that you can't detect until too late.

#2. If you do decide to read something non-class-related, at least have the decency not to try it on the first couple of rows. Remember, there is a difference between an in-class reprimand and a public humiliation. Direct insults like reading a newspaper or shuffling through another class text while sitting on the front row will likely meet with the latter result (and, in some cases, "accidental" physical harm).

#3. Yes, the professor notices you talking. See (1).

#4. Yes, there are stupid questions. They are questions that make it very obvious you missed a previous class (such as questions that make it obvious you missed an important announcement about an exam date or review session).

#5. Before you openly challenge a professor's factual assertion in class (or, in some cases, even offer a correction), think of the tone of voice you would use when faced with a gun-wielding maniac and try to go one step more submissive than that.

#6. It is a fairly common (and dangerously mistaken) practice for students to engage in silent (potentially embarrassing) commentary either to themselves or to neighbors in the margins of their notebooks. Should you make the (even larger) mistake of badmouthing the professor or the course in your notebook, take care to ensure that you don't leave your notebook behind in class. The next place it is likely to wind up is in the professor's office.

#7. Don't bring your cell phone to class. Sooner or later, you will forget to leave it turned off. And For The Love Of God, don't *answer* it when it rings. This goes double for office hour visits.

Part 2 - Grades

#1. Low grades, in and of themselves, are not necessarily an injustice. Professors feel quite strongly on this matter, and it is not a good idea to contradict that belief in their presence.

#2. Avoid insulting your professor until AFTER grades are in.

#3. If you intend to argue with a professor over the grading on an exam, be sure you have valid points. Leading off such a conversation with, "I only need 3 points," for example, is to guarantee failure.

#4. Brown-nosing is more likely to help at the A/B threshold and not the C/D or D/F threshold. If you're making a D or an F, you're probably not coming to class, and encouraging the professor to remember your face (so that he/she can therefore notice your frequent absences) is probably not a good strategy.

#5. No matter how much you delude yourself into thinking otherwise, a comprehensive final exam will not improve your overall average.

#6. Claiming that you got a low score on a test question because the professor misled you is something you can do exactly once, because it has the side effect of causing the professor to subsequently examine and remember everything he says to you and you say to him.

#7. Using the lecture notes as research paper source material (when you are asked to search the library for references) is like getting a date to the Senior Prom with your brother or sister. It shouldn't count. If it *does* count, you should both go to prison.

Part 3 - Absences

#1. Don't skip class. Ever.

#2. Remember that, regardless of what pieces of paper you may hold in your hand, no professor considers any absence "excused".

#3. There is never a good time to tell a professor, "Oh, I've missed so much class; I have no idea what's going on." Saying this before an oral exam is probably the worst possible time.

#4. If you call your professor with the intention of pretending to be sick, be sure to clear your throat frequently, noticeably pause or otherwise make an effort to display symptoms over the phone.

#5. If you are flunking the class and/or skipping frequently, be sure to pick up your most recent exam/homework so that you are aware of your grade. This also helps hide from your professor the fact that you aren't attending class.

#6. There exist no professors who feel that your athletic event SHOULD have priority over classroom attendance, so don't rub it in if you have an excuse. Professors can be vindictive when provoked.

#7. When asking questions about class topics, try to avoid making it obvious that you skipped class; otherwise, your professor will respond with, "Well, what do your notes say about that?" and (worse) possibly call your bluff and ask to see them.

#8. There exists no situation more suited for abject grovelling than the visit to the professor's office after an unexcused absence from an exam. "Oversleeping" is really only an acceptable excuse for classes that begin before 9:00 am, according to most professors.

Part 4 - Cheating

#1. Don't EXPECT to be able to cheat.

#2. You may feel that it is your right or even your duty to cheat on multiple choice exams. Professors don't share this sentiment.

#3. Don't write cheat notes on anything that can be easily identified as belonging to you, such as a favorite baseball cap. You can't write enough on there to make it worth the risk anyway.

#4. If you secretly copy some notes onto a desk for the purposes of cheating, make sure to do it in erasable pencil, and don't forget to erase it after you get up to turn in the exam. Since professors who have fallen victim to this will typically perform a "desk check" prior to exams, you'll probably either be caught or too stressed to concentrate anyway.

#5. Most professors think that burning at the stake is too lenient a punishment for cheating, but they'll go along with it anyway because it is cheap and convenient.

#6. If you've cheated at some point during the semester and your parents don't know about it, be sure to avoid any kind of formal grade appeal situation in that class. It is certain to be the first thing brought to the attention of your parents.

Posted by Observer at February 19, 2003 01:01 PM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

While I never cheated at UW, in large lecture classes I often read the newspaper or a novel or something. Especially in a class where the professor wrote the textbook, since the text usually matched up with the lecture so well I didn't need the lecture.

I was pretty good about not skipping, missing an average of two classes per year.

The whole concept of cell fones in classrooms cracks me up. Nobody had them in college 10 years ago.

Posted by: Humbaba on February 19, 2003 01:41 PM

I should add another one: You may think the lectures are a waste of time because everything said is right out of the book. You are correct, but remember that when it comes to grading time, it is the professor's opinion about the value of his lectures that counts, not objective fact. :)

FWIW, I make a point to not lecture out of the book, but I do ask students to learn some material from there or at least use it as a backup reference for more detail on something I just gloss over.

Someday, though, I'll probably write a textbook based on what experience tells me is the best stuff students need to know about the subject. Then I think I will be at a loss to stray from the book in lecture. But at least I'll be pocketing some fat royalty checks! Woo!

Posted by: Observer on February 19, 2003 06:58 PM

Even if s/he's lecturing from the book, they are bound to give some clues about what they think is important. Plus, helps to put the information into your head via a few different mediums.

On the challenging of factual assertions and the related submissive tone: the hardest adjustment for me as an adult re-entry student was figuring out how to talk to the profs and how to ask them questions. I initially spoke to my professors as peers. Ultimately I figured it out, but it sucked until I did.

Posted by: Justmary on February 20, 2003 12:27 AM

An additional note on cheating from an English professor: It takes us far less time to find what you have used to plagiarize in your paper than it took you to find it and use it. If you think that we can not recognize something that you have taken from another source and run through the "auto summarize" function on a word processing program, think again. It sticks out as if it were written in screaming purple ink. And even if we can not find the exact source that you used, we will find a way to fail that paper. I usually use the "improper citation of a paraphrased source" clause and deduct 10% of the points the paper is worth per instance. Students can occasionally end up with negative points on a long research paper.

Posted by: Meara on February 14, 2004 02:34 PM