Hidden College Expectations

Your col­lege instruc­tors have a whole set of stan­dards that they’ll hold you to, but most won’t tell you what they are. Oh, they’ll tell you what they expect out of this assign­ment or that assign­ment. But they prob­a­bly won’t tell you that a fold­ed cor­ner instead of a sta­ple on a paper makes them think that (1) the paper will be bad and (2) the stu­dent who wrote it doesn’t give a damn. To them, it’s just OBVIOUS that papers should be turned in crisp and sta­pled in the upper left cor­ner (some pre­fer it par­al­lel to the top of page, but I pre­fer it at a 45 degree angle). They’ll tell you gen­er­al expec­ta­tions for class­room behav­ior. But they prob­a­bly won’t tell you that they’ll be very offend­ed if you wear ear­buds dur­ing class. To them, it’s just OBVIOUS that you shouldn’t wear ear­buds dur­ing class.

They’re not try­ing to be sneaky or to trick you. They real­ly don’t real­ize that what’s obvi­ous to them isn’t obvi­ous to you. My point is that in col­lege, just like every oth­er part of soci­ety, there are vis­i­ble expec­ta­tions and there are hid­den expec­ta­tions. You are just expect­ed to some­how learn the invis­i­ble expec­ta­tions through tri­al and error. Some stu­dents do. Oth­ers don’t, but it doesn’t real­ly cause them any prob­lems. And then some don’t and they end up drop­ping out of school because it feels like they’re try­ing to nav­i­gate a maze with trans­par­ent walls.

I’m not say­ing that fail­ure to live up to these expec­ta­tions will hurt your grades (although it like­ly will in some cas­es) but rather that it will cause unnec­es­sary fric­tion between you and your instruc­tors. Being aware of these expec­ta­tions will, hope­ful­ly, help you avoid that fric­tion and make your col­lege expe­ri­ence a bit eas­i­er.

I’m going to try to make those invis­i­ble expec­ta­tions vis­i­ble. I’ve got my blind spots, too, and I’ll have to update this guide over time as expec­ta­tions change or things that I was tak­ing for grant­ed are point­ed out to me. But, in the inter­est of fair­ness, I’m going to do the best I can to clue you into the not-so obvi­ous aspects of col­lege cul­ture.

  • You are expect­ed to turn in assign­ments in the for­mat request­ed.
    • So, if the assign­ment is sup­posed to be print­ed in 12-point Times New Roman type­face, dou­ble-spaced with one inch mar­gins all the way around (this is the stan­dard, by the way), then turn it in like that.
    • Don’t ask if it is ok if you email it to the instruc­tor.
    • Even if they say it is ok, they don’t mean it. They think, “Seri­ous­ly? How hard is it to print the thing out? Do you think you’re spe­cial or some­thing, like the instruc­tions don’t apply to you? Ugh.”
    • If you can­not be in class the day it is due, send it in with anoth­er stu­dent or arrange to drop it off to the instruc­tor before it is due.
    • Obvi­ous­ly, most papers are turned in elec­tron­i­cal­ly via Can­vas now, so these last few points might not apply.
  • Speak­ing of for­mat­ting, don’t mess with your for­mat­ting.
    • Instruc­tors are grad­ing dozens of papers and they will notice any shift in for­mat­ting.
      • If you used one and a quar­ter inch mar­gins instead of one inch, they’ll notice.
      • They’ll notice 13-point font.
      • They’ll notice slight­ly larg­er than dou­ble-spac­ing.
      • They’ll notice that you put an extra line in after each para­graph.
      • They’ll notice how your head­ing is all down the left side of the paper instead of across the top.
      • They will notice EVERYTHING.
    • So, best case sce­nario, they don’t care and just think that you think they’re an idiot.
      • Worst case sce­nario, they’ll down­grade it or return it ungrad­ed.
      • Either way, you gain noth­ing.
    • And, in any case, what are you try­ing to achieve?
      • You think a three page paper will be bet­ter than a two and a half page paper just because it is a half page longer?
      • That’s sil­ly.
      • Length does not make a paper good.
      • Con­tent makes a paper good.
      • So, focus on con­tent and let the length sort itself out.
  • With hard copies, don’t hand in creased or crum­pled assign­ments.
    • Put your assign­ment in a fold­er to keep it safe until you turn it in.
    • Also, don’t fold the cor­ner instead of sta­pling it and don’t wait until you’re in class to sta­ple it.
    • Every time stu­dents ask me, “Can I use your sta­pler?” I think, “Why in the world would I have a sta­pler with me?!”
    • But then I remem­ber that in high school, your class­room was also your teacher’s office and they did have sta­plers.
    • But that’s not how it works in col­lege.
    • In col­lege, you have to find your own sta­pler, just like back in the pio­neer days.
    • On a relat­ed note, don’t turn your assign­ment in with a pre­sen­ta­tion sleeve or binder or any­thing like that.
      • It’s no big deal, but it will have no pos­i­tive effect and might have a minor neg­a­tive effect, e.g., the instruc­tor thinks you’re a kiss-up.
    • And print your assign­ment no lat­er than the night before it’s due.
      • Every time a print­er gives you trou­ble the day some­thing is due, it takes six months off your life.
      • Who needs that stress?
      • And if you use “my print­er is out of ink” to buy your­self some extra time to work on the assign­ment, that might work, but the instruc­tor is still going to think ill of you because it is your respon­si­bil­i­ty to print your assign­ment.
  • Don’t hand in the assign­ment late.
    • Even if the instruc­tor accepts it with no penal­ty, they will think ill of you.
  • Fol­low instruc­tions for assign­ments.
    • Seri­ous­ly.
    • When you receive the assign­ment, read it over.
    • Begin to think about how you can accom­plish the assign­ment.
    • At that point, if you have any ques­tions, ask your instruc­tor.
    • Do not ask your instruc­tor some ques­tion about how to do the assign­ment the day before it is due. (See also Due Dil­li­gence)
  • Treat assign­ments like you’re proud of them.
    • Make sure that the assign­ment print­ed clean, e.g., that the ink didn’t run low or skip spots.
    • Read the hard copy over one last time to check for typos and, if there are any, cor­rect them and reprint.
  • If you’re send­ing an elec­tron­ic copy of a doc­u­ment, send it as a .pdf unless you’ve been told oth­er­wise.
    • This will pre­serve the for­mat­ting and avoid com­pat­i­bil­i­ty issues.
  • Write all your papers with Google docs.
    • This way it will be auto­mat­i­cal­ly saved and you will have access to it from every­where.
    • Then you won’t have to wor­ry about your com­put­er crash­ing.
    • Seri­ous­ly, this is on you.
  • Speak­ing of com­put­ers, print­ers, and sta­plers, there are com­put­ers, print­ers, and sta­plers in the library.
    • Use them if you don’t have your own.
  • Here’s a big warn­ing to start with:
    • Issues con­cern­ing attire, appear­ance, etc. run the dan­ger of cross­ing the line from the aca­d­e­m­ic to the per­son­al.
    • They also run the risk of express­ing entrenched racist or sex­ist atti­tudes as though they were gen­uine nor­ma­tive fact.
    • So, I will pro­ceed here with this in mind and I ask that you keep in mind that I am report­ing com­mon expec­ta­tions, not my own expec­ta­tions.
  • What you wear has an effect not just on how you are per­ceived by oth­ers but also on how you are per­ceived by your­self.
    • There is some evi­dence to sug­gest that when one dress­es in a fash­ion that is asso­ci­at­ed with the task at hand, one tends to per­form bet­ter at that task.1
    • Since your task in this class is not to sleep or engage in ath­let­ic activ­i­ty, wear­ing clothes in which you might sleep or play sports may well have a detri­men­tal effect on your per­for­mance in the class.
  • In any case, many of your instruc­tors would appre­ci­ate it if you would show that you respect the class by tak­ing the time to dress appro­pri­ate­ly.
    • I am not talk­ing about busi­ness wear (though most would not be opposed to it, either).
    • Rather just not ath­let­ic shorts, sweat pants, paja­ma pants, mus­cle shirts, etc.
    • It’s also a good idea to not wear hats or sun­glass­es in class.
  • Talk­ing
    • There are two kinds of talk­ing in class: pri­vate talk­ing and pub­lic talk­ing.
      • Pri­vate talk­ing occurs when you are speak­ing to anoth­er stu­dent and don’t mean for the whole class to hear.
      • Some­times you need to speak to anoth­er stu­dent (“Con­nor, your fly is down”), but usu­al­ly you should not engage in pri­vate talk­ing in class.
      • This is true even if you’re ask­ing a ques­tion about class.
      • No mat­ter what you’re talk­ing about, your instruc­tor will prob­a­bly think you’re talk­ing about things that are irrel­e­vant to class or, worse, that you’re mak­ing fun of their sense of style.
      • Either way, they’ll not be hap­py about it.
    • Pub­lic talk­ing occurs when you mean for the whole class to hear.
      • First, raise your hand and wait to be called on before you speak.
        • Instruc­tors must engage in class­room man­age­ment.
        • They need to make sure that no stu­dent is dom­i­nat­ing the class and that stu­dents who haven’t con­tributed have a chance to.
        • Put your hand up and wait to be called upon.
        • If the instruc­tor doesn’t call on you, that doesn’t mean they hate you.
        • It was just a choice they made regard­ing when it is time to move on.
      • Sec­ond, some­times, and I hate to dis­cour­age stu­dents from par­tic­i­pat­ing, but some­times one or two stu­dents are real­ly insis­tent that the class hear their thoughts on every top­ic.
        • Don’t be that stu­dent.
        • You might think that your ideas are great, and they might be, but that doesn’t mean that every­one needs to hear all of them.
        • Here’s a good stan­dard to live by: engage in pub­lic talk­ing only when doing so will increase your under­stand­ing.
        • That is, ask ques­tions, or pro­pose ideas to see if you’re mak­ing some kind of mis­take, but don’t pro­pose ideas because you know you’re right and you want every­one else to know it, too. (See also this arti­cle in The Onion (Links to an exter­nal site.))
  • Phones
    • There is prob­a­bly an explic­it rule on your syl­labus about cell phones.
    • It prob­a­bly says, “Don’t use your cell phones.”
    • This match­es the stan­dard expec­ta­tion of col­lege stu­dents. So, trans­par­ent, right? Not so much.
    • This is so because, while your instruc­tors say they expect you to leave your cell phones in your bag, they don’t actu­al­ly think it’s going to hap­pen. What’s more, they have just as hard a time keep­ing their cell phones in their bags when they’re at fac­ul­ty meet­ings.
    • The fact is, most of us are addict­ed to our phones.
      • One of the core mech­a­nisms of addic­tion is inter­mit­tent rewards.
      • If a rat gets a pel­let when it push­es a but­ton, its brain releas­es some dopamine (aka feel good juice), which tells the rat, “do that again”.
      • If the pel­let is released each time the rat push­es the but­ton, the brain stops releas­ing dopamine. Why reward behav­ior that the rat already knows will pro­duce results?
      • But if push­ing the but­ton releas­es a pel­let only some of the time that the but­ton is pushed, the brain will keep releas­ing dopamine until the rat dis­cov­ers the pat­tern, the trick to get­ting a pel­let.
      • If there is no pat­tern, if it is ran­dom, then the brain just keeps releas­ing dopamine until the activ­i­ty itself gets asso­ci­at­ed with feel­in’ good and then, my friend, you’re addict­ed to that activ­i­ty.
      • Slot machines are a good exam­ple of this. It seems like there is a pat­tern, a trick, but there isn’t.
      • Sim­i­lar­ly, some­times when you look at your phone there is a pre­cious, pre­cious mes­sage, sta­tus update, tweet, snap, or what­ev­er await­ing you. Some­times there isn’t. What’s the pat­tern? There is none, but try telling your ner­vous sys­tem that.
    • And, if you’re being hon­est with your­self, you know that look­ing at your phone is detract­ing from your edu­ca­tion.
      • It is a dis­trac­tion.
      • It inter­rupts your thought process.
      • It makes you shift gears.
      • Some­times it rings, and now every­one knows that you have a stu­pid ring­tone.
      • So, you know that you should leave your phone in air­plane mode in your bag or pock­et or, bet­ter yet, at home (yeah, right).
    • So, here’s the deal: instruc­tors tell you not to use your cell phones, but they know you will and they know that they will, too.
      • But that doesn’t stop them from think­ing ill of you when they see you using it.
      • And they see you using it.
      • Do with this infor­ma­tion what you will, I guess. I leave my phone in my office.
  • Ask­ing Ques­tions
    • Instruc­tors expect you to ask ques­tions when you aren’t sure that you under­stand some­thing.
    • This isn’t great, since know­ing whether or not you under­stand some­thing is actu­al­ly a pret­ty dif­fi­cult skill to mas­ter.
    • It would be bet­ter for instruc­tors to find ways to assess for them­selves whether or not you under­stand some­thing.
    • And many do in var­i­ous ways, e.g., quizzes.
    • But it is like­ly that your col­lege instruc­tors will con­duct few­er infor­mal assess­ments of your under­stand­ing than your high school teach­ers did.
    • You are expect­ed to make up the dif­fer­ence by ask­ing your­self, “Do I get what’s going on?”
  • Atten­tive­ness
    • Your instruc­tors expect you to stay awake.
    • Many peo­ple are quite offend­ed when stu­dents fall asleep in class.
      • Maybe it’s their fault for being bor­ing.
      • Maybe it’s your fault for stay­ing up late doing who knows what.
      • Maybe it’s nobody’s fault: you’re work­ing two part-time jobs to pay your way through school and you’re exhaust­ed.
    • What­ev­er the cause, this expec­ta­tion remains.
      • So, try to get enough sleep.
      • Don’t take class­es at times you know won’t work for you, e.g., 8 am or right after lunch.
      • But also try to get engaged with the mate­r­i­al.
        • If you’re active­ly strug­gling to under­stand what’s going on, you are more like­ly to stay awake.
  • Mis­cel­la­neous Class­room Expec­ta­tions
    • Don’t eat obnox­ious food in class.
      • Food that makes a lot of noise, e.g., chips in crinkly bags, or that has a strong odor, e.g., any­thing hot, makes itself known.
      • It intrudes into the learn­ing envi­ron­ment of oth­er stu­dents.
    • Don’t wear ear­buds or head­phones in class, even if they’re not on and you can hear what’s hap­pen­ing per­fect­ly.
      • The instruc­tor doesn’t know that they’re not on and will like­ly think that you are inten­tion­al­ly ignor­ing what’s going on in class.
    • Don’t be late to class.
      • There is prob­a­bly a tardy pol­i­cy in your syl­labus, but it is worth repeat­ing that instruc­tors expect that you won’t be late to class.
      • In fact, it’s prob­a­bly a good idea to be five min­utes ear­ly.
      • Note that “I couldn’t find a park­ing space” is not a valid excuse for being late.
        • Park­ing is an issue on cam­pus.
        • Fig­ure out how long it takes you to get to class from the clos­est place you know that you’ll be able to park, e.g., Cedar st., then leave home with enough time to park there, walk to class, and still be five min­utes ear­ly.
    • Atten­dance
      • Your class­es all prob­a­bly have atten­dance poli­cies, but even if there is no penal­ty for miss­ing class, don’t miss class.
      • There’s a whole bunch of rea­sons for this, but the one most rel­e­vant here is that your instruc­tors expect you to attend class.
      • If you don’t, they will notice and it will cause fric­tion.
    • Depar­ture
      • Have you ever noticed that about five min­utes before the end of class, the room starts get­ting real­ly noisy?
      • Papers are shuf­fled, books closed, back­packs opened, etc.
      • I was a stu­dent and I under­stand that there is a mys­te­ri­ous urge to get ready to leave class like a sprint­er from the start­ing line.
      • Fight that urge.
      • Don’t pack up your class mate­ri­als until your instruc­tor dis­miss­es you from class.
      • No one will prob­a­bly notice if you are among the 90% of stu­dents get­ting all fid­gety before class is over, but there is a decent chance that your instruc­tor will notice if you aren’t, and that will make you look good.
  • How to com­mu­ni­cate
    • This one is par­tic­u­lar­ly tricky because you have fresh, new instruc­tors who might want you to text them ques­tions (because, you know, they’re hip and fresh and down with youth cul­ture) and you might have cranky old­er instruc­tors who refuse to learn how to send emails (pre­sum­ably, you should use car­ri­er pigeons or send telegrams).
    • But the stan­dard way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with instruc­tors, apart from face to face com­mu­ni­ca­tion, is Can­vas mes­sages or emails.
    • How­ev­er, there are stan­dards for how these emails are writ­ten.
    • Basi­cal­ly, you should write emails (and Can­vas mes­sages) like you were writ­ing a for­mal let­ter.
    • Your email should con­tain all the fol­low­ing com­po­nents:
      • Sub­ject Line
        • If the email is class relat­ed, the sub­ject line should include the course num­ber, sec­tion num­ber, and top­ic of the email.
        • Note that any mes­sage sent through Can­vas will auto­mat­i­cal­ly include the course and sec­tion num­bers in the sub­ject.
        • If it is not class relat­ed it, just include the top­ic of the email.
        • For exam­ple, “PHL 250 Sec. 1: Final Paper Top­ic” or “Let­ter of Rec­om­men­da­tion”.
      • Salu­ta­tion
        • Begin your email by address­ing the recip­i­ent.
        • Use what­ev­er name is appro­pri­ate (see Names above).
        • For exam­ple, “Dr. So-and-so,”.
        • You can begin with “Dear”, but I steer away from it, most­ly because I am a mis­an­thrope and most peo­ple are not dear to me.
        • DO NOT begin with “Hey”. Just don’t do it. It’s bet­ter to have no salu­ta­tion.
      • Body
        • Begin the body of the email below the salu­ta­tion.
        • Be sure to use cor­rect spelling, punc­tu­a­tion, com­plete sen­tences, upper and low­er­case let­ters, etc.
        • This is not an infor­mal piece of writ­ing, like a text mes­sage or an email to friends of fam­i­ly.
        • It is a for­mal piece of writ­ing and should con­form to the stan­dards of for­mal writ­ing (see Writ­ing below).
      • Sub­scrip­tion and Sig­na­ture
        • Below the body of the let­ter include a sub­scrip­tion and a sig­na­ture.
        • I usu­al­ly use “Best,” for the sub­scrip­tion and below that use one of the fol­low­ing: “Dr. Loughrist”, “Tim Loughrist”, or “Tim”.
        • Each one is appro­pri­ate for dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.
        • When com­mu­ni­cat­ing with instruc­tors, I’d use “<First Name><Last Name>”.
        • The sub­scrip­tion is falling out of style, so no one will care if you don’t include it.
    • Note that you should fol­low your instruc­tor’s lead. Start for­mal, and if they respond with­out a salu­ta­tion then you are free to do the same in fur­ther emails in the same thread.
    • There is a dif­fer­ence between reply and reply all.
      • If you reply to an email, it will only be sent to the per­son who sent the email.
      • If you reply all to an email, it will go to every­one that the orig­i­nal was sent to.
      • It’s kind of rude to reply all when you are just address­ing the sender. You clog up every­one’s inbox. It also makes you look like an obliv­i­ous chump.
    • The To: line is for those peo­ple who the email is addressed to.
    • The CC: line is for those peo­ple who you want to keep in the loop but to whom the email is not real­ly addressed.
    • The BCC: line is for those peo­ple you want to keep in the loop when you don’t want the email’s recip­i­ents to know that you are keep­ing that per­son in the loop.
    • It is gen­er­al­ly a good idea to write emails to instruc­tors between 9am and 5pm.
    • Expect a response by the end of the next day that class is in ses­sion.
      • Don’t be sur­prised if you don’t get a response to an email sent Fri­day evening until Mon­day after­noon.
      • Don’t send a fol­low-up email, e.g., “Just check­ing to make sure you received my email regard­ing the term paper top­ic”, until sev­er­al days have elapsed.
      • So, don’t send a fol­low-up to a Fri­day evening email until Wednes­day of the next week.
    • Your instructor’s email address should be on the syl­labus.
    • Your instructor’s office phone num­ber should also be on the syl­labus, but it is real­ly rare for stu­dents to call instruc­tors. It’s not rude or wrong, but it is…weird.
    • But, first and fore­most, try to con­tact your instruc­tors in per­son.
      • Go to their office hours (see Office Hours below) or stay after class.
  • What to com­mu­ni­cate
    • Whether you need to let your instruc­tor know that you will miss class varies from class to class.
    • If you aren’t sure, err on the side of cau­tion and let your instruc­tor know if you’re going to miss class.
    • Inform them of this as soon as you know; don’t wait until ten min­utes before class.
    • If you’re hav­ing trou­ble get­ting the text­book for the class, let the instruc­tor know that.
  • Instruc­tors expect you to try to solve issues on your own before you come to them.
    • We can call this “doing your due dili­gence”.
  • In gen­er­al, and this goes for your work­ing life as well as your aca­d­e­m­ic life, don’t ask ques­tions that you could eas­i­ly answer for your­self.
    • For things relat­ing to the course, check your syl­labus (for the love of all that is good in the world, CHECK YOUR SYLLABUS!), Can­vas, and assign­ment sheets before ask­ing the instruc­tor.
    • For tech­nol­o­gy ques­tions, do a quick web search before con­tact­ing your instruc­tor (use dis­cre­tion here; some tech ques­tions might be bet­ter asked of tech sup­port than the instruc­tor).
  • If you missed class, try to fig­ure out what you missed by:
    • First, look­ing at the sched­ule of top­ics
    • Sec­ond, look­ing at the assigned read­ings, and…
    • Third, talk­ing to oth­er stu­dents in the class.
    • If ALL of those fail, then you should meet with your instruc­tor to dis­cuss the mate­r­i­al you missed.
    • Make sure that you are caught up on the class read­ings and assign­ments before doing this.
    • DON’T email your instruc­tor ask­ing what you missed.
      • This can be per­ceived as you ask­ing your instruc­tor to just send you their notes or boil down the whole class to a few words.
      • It implies that there real­ly wasn’t much in class to miss in the first place.
      • And NEVER ask “did I miss any­thing?”
  • This also goes for your grades.
    • If you want to know what your grade is in the class and your instruc­tor hasn’t put it up on Can­vas, look at the scores you’ve received on your assign­ments.
    • What’s that? You threw out your old assign­ments?
      • DON’T throw out your old assign­ments, at least not until you have a final grade in the class and you know that you don’t want to con­test it.
      • You’ll need those assign­ments if you want to con­test the grade.
    • So, you’ve got your old assign­ments. Now look to see how much they are weight­ed.
      • If the class is grad­ed out of 100 points and each assign­ment is worth 10 points, then you can just add up the points you’ve received and divide them by the total avail­able points.
      • That’s your cur­rent grade as a per­cent­age.
      • Check that against the grad­ing scale for the class.
      • But instruc­tors can set up the grad­ing in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways, and I can’t tell you how to cal­cu­late it for every one of those.
      • So, you’re going to have to try to fig­ure it out your­self or talk to a math­e­mat­i­cal­ly inclined friend.
      • At the end of the day, if you can’t fig­ure it out and you need to know, ask your instruc­tor in per­son, prefer­ably dur­ing office hours.
      • It’s also worth ask­ing them at that point how you would go about cal­cu­lat­ing your grade.
  • Your instruc­tors’ office hours are giv­en on their syl­labi.
    • Those are their OPEN office hours, which means that you don’t need an appoint­ment to come in.
  • Out­side of their open office hours, it is gen­er­al­ly expect­ed that you will arrange to meet with the instruc­tor rather than just drop in.
    • Though this may change as you devel­op a rela­tion­ship with your instruc­tors.
  • Office hours are incred­i­bly use­ful and ridicu­lous­ly under-uti­lized.
    • They are an oppor­tu­ni­ty for you to ask ques­tions of your instruc­tor one-on-one, to deep­en and broad­en your under­stand­ing of the course mate­r­i­al, and to get an expert’s thoughts on your ideas.
    • Don’t be shy about office hours.
    • Stu­dents who have received spe­cial prepa­ra­tion for col­lege know that they should use office hours and they do.
    • Also, it is real­ly hard not to think well of a stu­dent who has been dili­gent about com­ing to office hours to make sure they under­stand what’s going on in class.
      • Although instruc­tors try to avoid this, that good will some­times has a pos­i­tive impact on your grade.
      • We’re only human, after all.
  • Syl­labus (sill-ah-bus):
    • A doc­u­ment that pro­vides basic infor­ma­tion about your class, such as the course con­tent, assess­ment method, sched­ule, instructor’s con­tact infor­ma­tion, and class poli­cies.
  • The syl­labus will be pro­vid­ed by the instruc­tor at the begin­ning of the course, either as a hard copy or on Can­vas.
  • You are expect­ed to know the infor­ma­tion in the syl­labus.
    • This means that if the syl­labus indi­cates that an assign­ment is due on a par­tic­u­lar day, then you can­not be excused from hav­ing the assign­ment com­plet­ed because you didn’t know about it.
  • I rec­om­mend that you get a hard copy of the syl­labus for each class and keep it with your oth­er mate­ri­als for that class. Also, gath­er all your syl­labi (sill-a-bye, plur­al of “syl­labus”) at the begin­ning of the semes­ter and copy all assign­ments, read­ings, and impor­tant dates from the syl­labi into your plan­ner.

See also: Due Dili­gence

  • Titles
    • Fac­ul­ty mem­bers, i.e., all those at the col­lege who teach class­es, can have a whole range of titles. There are:
      • Instruc­tors
      • Pro­fes­sors of prac­tice
      • Adjunct instruc­tors
      • Asso­ciate pro­fes­sors
      • Assis­tant pro­fes­sors
      • Vis­it­ing assis­tant pro­fes­sors
      • Full pro­fes­sors
      • Emer­i­tus pro­fes­sors
      • And the list goes on…
    • Luck­i­ly, you don’t need to know any of that.
    • Gen­er­al­ly, no one will care if you refer to them as your pro­fes­sor or instruc­tor.
    • Some peo­ple might care if you refer to them as your teacher.
    • So, to be safe, refer to fac­ul­ty mem­bers as pro­fes­sors or instruc­tors.
  • Names
    • If some­one has a Ph.D. (doc­tor­ate in phi­los­o­phy, though “phi­los­o­phy” here just means some aca­d­e­m­ic area), an M.D. (doc­tor­ate in med­i­cine), or an E.D. (doc­tor­ate in edu­ca­tion), then the appro­pri­ate title for them is Dr. (doc­tor).
    • Unless they tell you oth­er­wise, call your instruc­tors Dr. <last name>.
    • Even if it turns out they don’t have a doc­tor­ate, they won’t be upset if you assume that they do.
    • It is worth explain­ing why this mat­ters.
      • Peo­ple with doc­tor­ates worked pret­ty hard to get them.
      • Call­ing them Mr. or Ms. So-and-so can feel to them like you are dis­re­spect­ing them and the hard work they did.
      • You’re prob­a­bly not try­ing to do that, but that’s how it can feel any­way.
      • Maybe that’s sil­ly, but it’s still true.
      • In some cas­es, there are real pow­er issues at play.
        • For exam­ple, female instruc­tors are much less like­ly to be called Dr. than male instruc­tors are.
        • Giv­en that female instruc­tors face explic­it and implic­it chal­lenges to their author­i­ty all through­out the aca­d­e­m­ic sys­tem, this slight can be a real slap in the face.
  • There are read­ings assigned for most class meet­ings.
  • You are expect­ed to have com­plet­ed the read­ing pri­or to class.
    • Com­plet­ing the read­ing does not mean just hav­ing read each word.
    • It means that you have giv­en the read­ings care­ful thought, that you have tried to under­stand the read­ings, that you have looked up the mean­ings of unfa­mil­iar words in the read­ings.
  • Com­plet­ing the read­ing for a col­lege class is hard work.
    • It requires you to THINK HARD.
    • It can be very frus­trat­ing and it can be exhaust­ing.
    • Still, you are expect­ed to have com­plet­ed the read­ings because your under­stand­ing, and mis­un­der­stand­ing, of the read­ings is the basis for class­room learn­ing.
    • An instruc­tor stand­ing at the front of the room regur­gi­tat­ing the lessons that they took away from the read­ings is vir­tu­al­ly use­less to the stu­dents.
  • Learn­ing occurs when stu­dents con­struct mean­ing for them­selves.
    • Instruc­tors can­not pour under­stand­ing into you.
    • They can only facil­i­tate your own acqui­si­tion of under­stand­ing.
    • And that means you will have to do the hard work of try­ing to make sense of things.
  • That being said, you should not be expect­ed to know how to com­plete the read­ings in the sense that I have laid down above.
    • It is very pos­si­ble that you’ve nev­er been asked to do this sort of thing before.
    • So, hope­ful­ly, your instruc­tor will tell you how to com­plete the read­ings.

See also: How to Read Phi­los­o­phy

  • You should expect the fol­low­ing ratios of out­side-the-class­room study time to in-the-class­room time:
    • A — 3:1
    • B — 2:1
    • C — 1:1
    • D — 0:1
    • F — 0:0 (i.e., don’t go to class)
  • If you want an A in the class, you should expect to have a three-to-one ratio of out­side-the-class­room study time to in-the-class­room time.
    • If this class meets for two and a half hours a week, you should expect to, and your instruc­tor will expect you to, put in sev­en and a half hours on this course out­side of the class­room.
  • I rec­og­nize that this is a sig­nif­i­cant time com­mit­ment.
    • If you’re tak­ing four or more class­es and all have the same time ratio expec­ta­tions, then you’re expect­ed to devote 40+ hours a week to your aca­d­e­mics.
    • This is con­sis­tent with your sta­tus as a pro­fes­sion­al stu­dent.
  • That being said, I also rec­og­nize that many col­lege stu­dents do not have the lux­u­ry of spend­ing that much time on their course-work.
    • If you are strug­gling to find the time to get your work done, talk to your instruc­tor.
    • They may be able to help you find ways to meet your aca­d­e­m­ic goals with­out sac­ri­fic­ing pri­vate or pro­fes­sion­al respon­si­bil­i­ties.
  • Writ­ing is hard.
    • Not the phys­i­cal act, although that was hard enough when first you learned it, but rather the act of putting thoughts onto the page in a way that accu­rate­ly rep­re­sents you mean­ing and clear­ly express­es it to the read­er.
    • It takes a lot of time.
    • It takes many drafts.
    • And all that is assum­ing that you’ve already got an idea of what you’re writ­ing about.
    • So, writ­ing is hard.
  • But that’s a good thing.
    • Growth comes from hard work; lift­ing three pound weights will nev­er make you a body­builder.
    • Intel­lec­tu­al growth comes from hard think­ing.
    • So, instruc­tors have you write.
  • Instruc­tors expect you to be will­ing to put in the hard work nec­es­sary to write a good paper and they often expect you to know HOW to put in that work.
    • They shouldn’t. That’s unfair. But they often do.
    • And I won’t lie to you. Writ­ing comes much eas­i­er for some stu­dents than for oth­ers.
    • Like­ly, this is due to hav­ing more expe­ri­ence with it, either in their free time or dur­ing their pre­vi­ous edu­ca­tion.
    • For some of you, writ­ing will mean not just fig­ur­ing out how to express your thoughts clear­ly, but also in how to express them in lan­guage that meets the stan­dards for for­mal col­lege writ­ing.
    • Using appro­pri­ate spelling, gram­mar, vocab­u­lary, and struc­ture will be dif­fi­cult for some of you because it will be unfa­mil­iar to some of you.
    • How­ev­er, there are peo­ple to help you.
      • First, there are your peers. Ask a friend who you think is pret­ty good at col­lege writ­ing to read over your work and make sug­ges­tions.
      • Sec­ond, there is the writ­ing cen­ter. Make an appoint­ment to have some­one at the writ­ing cen­ter read over your work and make sug­ges­tions.
    • Using these resources does mean that you will have to com­plete drafts of your assign­ments soon­er than you oth­er­wise would be required.
    • Part of being a respon­si­ble col­lege stu­dent is bud­get­ing your time in such a way that you can use those resources that are avail­able to you.
  • Get a dic­tio­nary.
    • You’ll need it to make sure that you’re spelling and using words cor­rects.
    • You’ll also need it to help you com­plete read­ings.
  • Pay Atten­tion to the Rubric
    • A rubric is a table indi­cat­ing what should be in an assign­ment and how much each com­po­nent is worth.
    • Look for the col­umn that cor­re­sponds with the high­est grade.
    • Then use that col­umn as both a plan of attack and a check­list after you fin­ish.
  • Don’t use text abbre­vi­a­tions, e.g., “u” instead of “you”.
  • Don’t use slang or col­lo­qui­al ter­mi­nol­o­gy.
  • Don’t swear.
  • The list goes on.

See also: How to Write Your Best Phi­los­o­phy Paper

1Adam, Hajo and Adam D. Galin­sky. 2012. “Enclothed Cog­ni­tion.” Jour­nal of Exper­i­men­tal Social Psy­chol­o­gy 30: 1–8.

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