Female Science Professor's blog recently featured a discussion of annoying things students do, like asking "Did I miss anything important" or "Is that going to be on the test" (the two questions FSP's readers voted the most annoying.) The purpose of the FSP posts is, in part, to generate good practical advice for students, and they do. For example, when in doubt, start an email to a professor with "Dear Professor X..." When sending a file to a professor, use a title like "MyName_resume.doc" rather than "resume.doc".
Yet when I talk to students, it seems that some are so afraid of annoying their professors that they do not ask for - and thus do not receive - the support and assistance they need, deserve and pay for. So I've put together my own personal list of things that don't annoy me - or don't annoy me much. If you're a prof, before you read this, please take this one-question quiz and tell me some things that you don't find annoying. If you're a student, please talk about some of the things that you don't do, because you're worried about annoying your professor, in the comments.Click here to take the one-question "What's not annoying?" survey
Things students do that don't annoy me
1. Coming to office hours. It's office hours. I've come to my office expressly for the purpose of meeting students. Helping students understand the course material is what makes holding office hours worthwhile.
2. Confessing ignorance. When a student walks into my office, my first assumption is "most likely this is an average student." Most people, however, think of themselves as somewhat above the average. (This is a well-documented psychological tendency that goes by various names, including overconfidence bias, illusory superiority, and the Dunning-Kruger effect.) It's embarrassing, if you think you're an above average student, to confess that LM curves, indifference curves, or Ricardian equivalence leave you absolutely baffled. There's no need to feel shame. I've seen it all before. Feeling confused is completely normal.
Warning: No effort = no sympathy. Come to class, read the textbook, then ask for help.
3. Sending emails late at night or on weekends. I usually answer email on weekends, but some other profs don't. It never hurts to send an email - the worst a prof will do is ignore it.
4. Asking for letters of reference (if a B+ or better student). Writing reference letters is part of a professor's job. It's helpful when students provide a folder with a list of the references they need, a transcript, a CV, and a couple of old exams/assignments/essays. The reason I say "B+ or better" is that a B+ average is usually the minimum criterion for graduate school admission, and I really do not like writing negative or equivocal letters for students.
5. Disagreeing with me. Some might say that I give higher marks to students who share my views. I don't think I do - at least I try not to. Generally I would much rather engage with an intelligent student who disagrees with me than read an assignment consisting of quotations from the textbook and lecture notes.
6. Crying in my office. It happens. That's why there's a box of kleenex on the desk. Just don't expect that crying will persuade me to change grades/forgive academic integrity offenses/grant deferrals.
7. Making spelling and grammar mistakes (especially if a non-native English speaker). This is probably the most controversial item on the "not annoying" list, and there are definitely days when I get seriously irritated by bad spelling and grammar. But, overall, structure is more important than spelling. What matters is that the paper/exam presents a logical argument, with each idea in its own paragraph, and that there is an introduction and a conclusion. Use a spelling and grammar check, read your work out loud (this does help), and take note of any corrections that I make on draft copies of the work. Trying matters. Putting in an effort matters. Improvement matters. Perfection doesn't matter. Everyone makes mistakes.
8. Being unable to read my handwriting. This is a very common problem. Lots of students really struggle to read handwriting, especially ones who grew up in countries where the Roman alphabet is not used. I'm pretty good at reading students' handwriting, but even I struggle when it comes to reading my own script. Bring the essay/exam to my office during office hours and ask for a translation.
9. Asking to review their final exam. This used to annoy me, until once a student found a massive addition error that the TA had made, that I'd not spotted, and the student's grade changed several letter grades. Now I'll happily let students look over their final exam. Arguing or begging for a change of grade is another story entirely.
This is my own personal list of things that do not annoy me. They may annoy other professors, however, so it's wise to be careful. I would have liked to have made this a top 10 list, but I couldn't think of any more things students do that don't annoy me.
By the way, here are some alternatives to asking the ultra-annoying "Is this going to be on the final exam?" question: "Do you have any suggestions about how I should study for the final?" "Is the emphasis going to be on material before or after the midterm exam?" "Can you give me any information about the format of the final?" (Multiple choice exams tend to cover lots of material in not that much depth, and it's important to know definitions as they're easy to examine. Short-answer or long-answer exams tend to cover less material in much greater depth.). Old exams are invaluable - if it's possible to obtain them. Another strategy is to come to the professor's office hours with several questions. If something's not on the final, the prof is unlikely to want to spend half an hour explaining it.