Monday, February 04, 2013

What Am I Missing Here?

This has surely been written about 57 million times before, but somehow it would be nice to get the message out to students about the perils of asking a professor the following question about a missed class:

Did I miss anything? or
Did I miss anything important?

How can we broadcast the information far and wide so that this question will never again be asked in this way? Is that asking for too much?

In fact, when my teenaged daughter heard her parents discussing this recently (we had both been asked this very question in this very way), she was a bit stunned, having asked a somewhat similar question of teachers in the past and intending no offense. Despite being the offspring of two parents who have infused her with secret professorial knowledge since the moment of her birth, she somehow escaped the knowledge that this question is considered offensive by sensitive professorial souls.

Her response, which is likely common to many students who ask this question sincerely, was: But sometimes my teachers don't say anything important during a class.

OK, understood. Ouch, but understood. But: if that is true, are you really going to get a useful answer out of aforementioned teacher if you ask them this question? So why not rearrange the words slightly, avoid causing offense, and maybe get some useful information?

So then we had an intense family discussion about how you should and should not ask that question. The difference between what a teacher might consider acceptable vs. not acceptable apparently seems subtle to some (students) even though others (teachers) think the distinction is obvious.


Asking: What did I miss? = good*

Asking: Did I miss anything (important)? = bad

* Well, not really. By "good", I just mean 'not as offensive as the other statement'. This question at least assumes that something was missed. And yet, professors may not like this question because it is so open-ended. When asked this question, I tend to reply, "Did you look at the review materials that I posted after class? Did you read the relevant part of the textbook? Did you get notes from a classmate?" The answer is typically no, so then I say "I recommend that you do those things, and then I would be happy to answer any questions you may have about the material." etc. This is just part of the normal day-to-day interaction of professors and students and is OK with me.

But anyway, back to my original question, which I hope you didn't miss: Do any universities/colleges include topics in their 1st-year student orientation sessions along the lines of 'how to communicate with professors' (writing and speaking)? This might be a way to give some helpful hints about such things.

What would these hints be? I am sure most professors could quickly come up with a list of their top 3 or 5 or 10 pet-peeves that are easily avoided. I wonder: can we collectively come up with a short list, or would it actually be a very long list (perhaps with conflicting ideas about dos and don'ts) because we are all such unique individuals with our own special eccentricities and so it is essentially impossible for students to avoid offending us? I don't know, but I think we should find out. So, if you are a teacher of some sort and want to participate in this important effort:

Leave a comment with your top-n list of annoying things that students make when communicating (in speaking or writing) with you.

Then, depending on the results, I will attempt to do a poll, and then we will know something, perhaps.


Anonymous said...

1. Dear Sir/Mr X.... (I am not a dude).

2. Will the course be hard/difficult (slacker alert!! Deter at all costs from joining the course!)

3. Did I miss anything important? (yup, it's annoying)

4. "I know what the course guidelines say, but is there any room for negotiation?" No. No. and No. Especially since the course guidelines include the phrase "These things are not negotiable except in the following very specific circumstances" (none of which apply).

5. "I need you to give me a higher grade because otherwise my entire future is in jeopardy. " Did you consider handing in the assignments? Because that might have helped.

Old MD Girl said...

Is this going to be on the test?

SocSciProf said...

"Is this going to be on the test?" and "Do I need to buy/read the textbook?" Nope, I just assigned that text for funsies.

zed said...

Students who submit assignments via email with the title "homework.doc' and without including their name in the document.

There are others, but this one just really annoys me

Anonymous said...

"Will this be on the test?"

"Because you took off 0.5 points from that question that I almost got right, my entire future is ruined, I won't get into medical school, my children will die in poverty, and it will be all your fault"

Texting/watching movies/chatting/anything distracting and irrelevant in class

Elizabeth Meckes said...

Thank you! It is such a relief to have the opportunity to vent about these things in a possibly useful way. Every year, I intend to have a discussion with the orientation staff about these sorts of issues and never do; perhaps this time I will, and armed with more than just my own irritations (I'm sure they will be glad to see me coming).

In some kind of approximate order from most unpleasant to least:

1) Exactly the issue you raised: "Did I miss anything (important)?" I generally respond with "Yes! You missed lecture." I then go on as you suggested about the things they should automatically do before asking me to repeat the missed lecture for their personal convenience.

2) Offices are private spaces -- knock!!! I _hate_ it when I am working in my office with the door open and a student just barges in and starts talking. Again, some that are fresh out of high school may not recognize the difference between a professor's office and a teacher's classroom, but someone should clue them in.

3) Being addressed as "Mrs. Meckes". I realize that many students don't realize that this is offensive, and especially so for women because we get it more, but someone should tell them. If I am addressed as "Mrs." by a professional adult, I am extremely offended. With young students, I am merely vaguely irritated.

4) Email address: I detest receiving emails from students that begin "Hey,..." I don't actually mind "Hi,..." much and don't mind "Hi Professor,..." at all, but I have colleagues who find the use of "Professor" without a name offensive. Also, see above about "Mrs.". The appropriate way for a student to begin an email to me is "Dear Professor Meckes,..." or just "Professor Meckes,..."

5) (Warning: vague) General disrespectful/aggressive/hostile attitudes. Anecdotally, women also get this a lot more -- students aggressively behaving as though a bad grade or some other problem is the professor's fault. Some students need to get the power structure here straight -- it is not okay to talk to a professor like he/she is a peer.

pyrope said...

It bugs me when students address emails to me that start out "Hi," (i.e. not "Hi, Professor X"). It also bugs me when when I get emails addressed to "Ms. X".

sleddog said...

"Do we need to know this?" / "Will this be on the test?"

"I know the finals period ends on the 17th, but I have a flight scheduled for the 15th and need to take it early" -- or some variation of this, without a very good reason for why the student scheduled a flight before the end of finals period.

Alex said...

Yeah, files without student names are high on my list. Like I don't already have a dozen files named "lab report.doc" Also, they never get that compatibility across Word versions is an issue so they never send .PDF files.

My least favorite is when somebody who isn't even my advisee shows up at 5:30pm on the day of their registration appointment and wants me to drop everything to sort out their registration issues. The department office is closed, so the people who can actually issue the necessary codes are gone, and just sorting out what they need to do takes forever because these are disorganized students who haven't thought anything through and haven't taken the right classes. And I am supposed to drop everything at the last minute to fix their problems. Frankly, they deserve to miss the chance to register for a key class.

plam said...

My top peeve is being addressed (mostly by first-year students) as "Mr X". I tell them "look, Firstname is OK for me in particular, but Mr X is for high school."

I don't mind so much "is this going to be on the test"; I understand that students need to optimize and learn the things that are most likely to be on the test.

It also happens pretty often that textbooks got assigned but aren't actually required.

As for lectures, I've grown to think of them as a 36-hour (or whatever) ad for the course, but not where actual learning takes place. That's at home or wherever students do homework. I also don't mind texting or whatever, as long as they're not talking and making it impossible for other students to hear (which is not hard in a 150-student class!)

Anonymous said...

I'm just wondering what these students' definition of "important" is. Did you daughter give any insight about that?

Anonymous said...

I get annoyed when students say they couldn't ask me something because they had a class during my office hours. My syllabus also says I can schedule outside assistance if you can't make office hours. There is no way I can make my office hours fit into 50 students schedules. I do have a working e-mail as well.

OtherBecky said...

"Clearly stated course policies should not apply to me, because it's not fair." They seldom say the first part of it so explicitly, but it's generally what the complaints boil down to.

"I deserve a higher grade because I worked really hard." Yes, and your final output was mediocre.

"Is this going to be on the test?"

"Miss/Ms/Mrs." No.

Do not send me an email during class asking about something I just said. Raise your hand and ask.

If you have a question regarding course policy, schedule, assignments, etc., try reading the syllabus and associated documents before asking me.

Any emails sent to instructors should use correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. Note that emoticons don't fall under any of those headings.

Anonymous said...

Oh, the Ms./Mrs. is really annoying. I am co-teaching a class with a similarly aged male professor and we received an email addressed Dear Dr. Man and Mrs. Woman...
Somehow this bothers me even more from students asking me to be their graduate advisor. It's hard to believe that they respect my work enough to want to be in my lab if they can't even give me the appropriate respect in an email. I try to let it go for the international students for whom it's culturally difficult to separate gender from titles but the American applicants will find their application gets read last.

Anonymous said...

My university produces a handout entitled "Questions and Comments You May Think Twice about Asking Your Professor."

#1: Is this going to be on the test?
#2: Sorry I missed class. Did anything important happen?

... etc., etc. There are 11 items on the list. Each one is elaborated with a little paragraph explaining how the professor might not be sympathetic to the question when phrased in this way.

Unfortunately, this document is not distributed to all students automatically, just included in a packet of handouts that first-year seminar instructors may choose to discuss with their classes. I don't know how many of them do. And even if they do, I'm not sure how much of it sinks in during orientation week anyway.

For the record, my top pet peeve is "I was looking forward to making the dean's list this term. Is there any extra work I could do [after the term is over and grades have been submitted] to bump up my grade?" Like Anonymous #1 said, if this was so important to you, seems like you could have worked a little harder during the term, and/or talked to me about your grade before it was all over.

Anonymous said...

Anything starting with "Ms. X" and especially anything that could be answered with "It's on the syllabus."

Basically any question that demonstrates that you haven't made any attempt to read the course materials on your own.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Text-speak in e-mails, no punctuation in e-mails, rudely brief e-mails. Even "Hi" as a salutation is better than "what did i mis kan i turn in ppr late" as the complete e-mail, though "Dear Professor Hull" is optimal.

Anonymous said...

1. My name is not "hey." Learning how to use a proper salutation in an e-mail would go a long way.

2. Along the same lines, e-mails sent from a non-school related e-mail address that aren't signed. I am not going to try and figure out which of my students is

3. "Is this going to be on the test."

Lisa Buckley said...

I was a graduate student seminar instructor, but we would still hear these comments come from undergraduates who thought they could negotiate more with a grad student than a professor.

My absolute "favorite" comment: "You gave me a C on this assignment, but I'm not a C student!"

My response always was "You may not be a C student, but this was a C essay."

JuniorProf said...

The "did I miss anything important?" question actually doesn't bother me! I tend to translate it as "were any course announcements made in lecture" -- did I change an assignment due date, announce a study session for the exam, etc.

Here are some things that do bug me:

1) E-mails that aren't signed -- they just end. I am so surprised that this is a problem, but it really is! And many of my students have e-mail addresses that don't make their name clear (something like ""), so I have no idea what to write back. "Dear student?" "Dear blm574?"

2) E-mails written in text speak.

3) Questions that are clearly answered on the syllabus -- things like "when is the assignment due?" or "What is your policy on late work?"

4) Attempts to negotiate an extension on the assignment at the last minute for a non-emergency reason (e.g. "I forgot to buy the textbook").

Anonymous said...

This is interesting to me. I'm a 3rd year physics major at a liberal arts college in New York, and I usually use either "Hi" or "Hello" without the professor's name as a salutation in emails (depending on how well I know the professor).

Most of my professors start emails with "Hi" or "Hello" or "All-" (that one is very common). I understand that I'm not on the same level, hierarchically, as my professors, and that makes perfect sense to me.

I wonder, do you, as professors, think that it's inappropriate of me to address my professors this way if they address their students this way? I always had tried to use their correspondence as a measure of how casual or formal they wanted to be, but I don't know if there should be more of a dichotomy between the two groups' salutations.

Any thoughts?

I also find it interesting that so many of these comments complain about students using "text talk" in emails - at least 2 of my professors usually use "text talk" themselves in emails (or at least they neglect capitalization and punctuation - they've never used "u" instead of "you" or anything like that).

Anonymous said...

I don't mind the Hi/Hello emails from students. Hey or Yo are somewhat less OK, but not because I think the student is being disrespectful. I just think they should learn to be more professional and know that this is one situation when being professional is a good starting point.

GMP said...

-- I don't like it when students assume it's OK to call me by my first name. It's generally not. Among students, I am on the first name basis only with my group members and some others I often and closely interact with (e.g close collaborators' students), in which case I will tell them that first name is OK. But for just random undergrads who take a class with me, it is not OK to address me with "Hey GMP".

-- Salutation of Mrs/Ms/Miss grates my cheese. Various professors and their administrative assistants tend to refer to me by this way. Students are actually not big offenders in this regard, they are more on the first name faux pas.

-- "Is this going to be on the test?"

-- "Why did I get this grade, I expected a higher grade. I will be kicked out of program, lose my scholarship, have no future."

-- I actually don't mind "Hi" at all. "Hi Prof. Lastname" or "Hi Dr. Lastname" is great. "Hey" is just silly. I don't think I have had a "Yo" from a student.

Amy said...

Addressing me by Ms. So and So.

I am a Professor. I have a PhD. This wouldn't be quite so irritating except the same students refer to my older male colleague by Dr. or Prof.

studyzone said...

Number one on my pet peeve list:

"Dear Dr. so-and-so,

I am applying for the following internship opportunities, X, Y and Z. Please send a letter of recommendation to each one ASAP.

Thanks, student"

- yes, this is a direct quote. It wasn't even in the form of a question, the student did not say "please" (although that word seems to have been lost from most of my students' vocabulary), the student had not asked me about it prior to the email, there was absolutely no information on where to submit letters, or when, etc.

單中杰 said...

"Did I Miss Anything?", a poem by Tom Wayman

LM said...

Some of these fascinate me. Like the physics major before me, I too use 'hello' and 'hi' as an email salutation with my professors (I am an MFA student, for context). I had no idea this might be offensive, especially as many of my professors have used the same salutations in emails to me.

Tangential question for the crowd: Would you prefer Dr. or Professor? (Assuming you're a professor with a doctorate, of course — in my fields of study they're not always guaranteed.)

Anonymous said...

- I am co-teaching a class with a male professor EXACTLY THE SAME AGE AS ME and we received MANY email addressed Dear Prof. Man and Ms. Woman...

- I get a lot of inappropriate comments regarding my being young/approachable/in shape and it makes me want to cry... so I think general disrespect.

- I agree with "homework.doc'' "resume.doc" bleh!

sravana said...

I have a small class so I gave them a doodle survey to list out when they're free, and carefully chose my office hours so that everyone was free during at least one of them (even though those hours are not my first preference). I still get students telling me they can't make office hours and need to set up an appointment. Before I know it, any free time I have in the week is booked up with individual appointments.

E-mails that start with Hey or Hi and no name are pretty annoying too. Especially since I make it clear that I'm fine being addressed by my first name. Just address me by something! I have one student now who puts "Could you" or "Did you" or "Will you" in the subject line, and continues the demand in the e-mail. Eg., subject line: Did you, message body: finish grading the test? Drives me insane.

Alex said...

This very week we had somebody coming by campus to interview students for something. I agreed to book a conference room for the interviews, and I told the students to CC me on emails to the person doing the interviews, so that I could be in the loop on conference room scheduling.

The email etiquette left much to be desired.

Anonymous said...

1. Did I miss anything (important)?
2. Asking when my office hours are (it is in the syllabus and discussed the first day of class)
3. Requesting an appointment without stating that one cannot make it to my office hour...
4. Do we need to know this for the exam?
5. How can I do better? - when asked during the last few weeks of the semester.
6. What will the comprehensive final cover?

Alex said...

I have a small class so I gave them a doodle survey to list out when they're free, and carefully chose my office hours so that everyone was free during at least one of them (even though those hours are not my first preference). I still get students telling me they can't make office hours and need to set up an appointment.

Me too. I used Doodle to schedule office hours and they are still the loneliest hours of the week.

Anonymous said...

- Being addressed as Ms/Miss/Mrs. X drives me bonkers. As does calling me by my first name without an invitation to do so. I think because I'm relatively young and female students tend to assume we're peers or that I couldn't possibly have the same title as the 60 year old man down the hall?

- Entering my office without knocking/asking permission/announcing themselves. Holy personal space invader, Batman. I kind of want to start storming into the dorms in kind.

- Did I miss anything important?

- Any question answered by the syllabus.

- But I'm an A student, and I need an A in this class for med school/dental school/so my parents love me

Anonymous said...

Oh this is fun!
1) Did I miss anything? (or anything important?) - either is bad
I really want to say - "nope I just stood up there and talked about eff-all for an hour" but I'm usually more diplomatic
2) The no name turn-in - I get them electronically and under my door
3) "I think you should give me more points on this assignment because I'm making the effort to come ask for them and effort should count for something."
4) Anything written in all caps from a student. It is shouting and it is rude.
5) "I think you should count my improvement into my grade." You know I will actually look at this in borderline cases but go from a 30 to a 60 might be a doubling of your grade but it still isn't going to get you the B you want.

GradStudent said...

I'm a graduate student, and when I TA, my big pet-peeve is sending files without a name. Is it really that hard to re-save your file as lastname_homework.doc?

As someone who has was relatively recently a more naive undergrad, I can recall asking "did I miss anything important" to mean "did I miss anything unusual or anything that might not be obvious from the course syllabus description of what was supposed to be covered"

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 11:30am: will you share this list with the rest of us? I can imagine using something like this!

Anonymous said...

I agree with most things that have been said, especially the anonymous files and not converting word files to pdf.

I am extremely happy though to be living in Northern Europe, where we hardly use titles at all. It seems like such an unnecessary thing to be upset about to me. The obvious solution would in my mind be to skip titles, like here, and noone would be upset about that anymore. Even though I obviously understand it's cultural and nothing you can change easily.

Here the normal address to all staff, professors as well, is to use the first name, and "Hi first-name" as email address. Sometimes we even get confused when foreign students ask for "professor common-last-name", because it really can take us a little while to figure out the first name of the person they mean.

Tammy said...

I'm a student and these are definitely interesting. A few comments:

1. Regarding anonymous homework submissions, why not make a policy for assignment nomenclature? I've had professors do that and no one seemed to mind. Otherwise, we assume that you have a system of your own in place or that Blackboard (or your grader) takes care of it for you.

2. I'm interested by the conflicting opinions on email salutations and first name/title usage preferences. "Dear Professor XYZ" seems overly formal for someone in your department whom you know, especially when it seems like so many profs encourage first name terms with PhD students. "Hi" seems like a general purpose go-to for an email opening. Can you write a post about this, perhaps with a poll?

Anonymous said...

Rats--I thought I was going to be the first to post Tom Wayman's poem--which is, the VERY PERFECT answer.

Tom Wayman
From: The Astonishing Weight of the Dead. Vancouver: Polestar, 1994.
Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren't here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I'm about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren't here


Mark P

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I think parents need to take a lot of blame for the many complaints that are seen in this discussion. The relationship between students and teachers (oops, I mean Professors!) is not what it was 100 years ago. Why? Because parents have let it erode. Analogy: teenagers and 20-somethings from "good families" texting at the dinner table when invited to a dinner party. This is just shockingly rude. Except that apparently it isn't, any more.

Yes, I find all the complained-about things annoying, too. But I'm afraid it's just because I was raised differently and it's a sign of the times. (And not a good one, IMHO.)

Anonymous said...


I think the issue with titles in emails is more in keeping with instances where you *aren't* on first names with the prof. I teach a largish (80 students) intro class that started less than a month ago. I don't any of the students well yet, and many of them send me very informal emails for our first contact. (Informal either in salutation, or in the assumption that I am Miss/Ms/Mrs. or calling me by my first name, even though introduced myself very specifically in class) It does not give a very positive first impression.

Anonymous said...

I'm an undergrad engineering student, and it is good to know that these things irritate my professors. My comments:

1. "Hi/Hello" as an email greeting
I don't know if things are shifting towards this as current email etiquette elsewhere, or just in my area (Pacific Northwestern US, where things are more liberal than in most other parts of the US). I get many emails from professors or other administrators with "Hi [firstname]". I actually don't like being greeted with "hi" or "hello" in an email either. However, I usually look at the professor's emails for guidance on email etiquette, so if you don't like "hi/hello", please make sure you're not using it in an email to me.

2. Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms/[not "Doctor" or "Professor"]
Likewise, I usually look at how the recipient signs his/her emails. If you sign it with your first name, I will probably use that in my next email. If you sign it with "Professor X", I will probably use that.
Another thing to note is how to address community college professors. I've called one teacher "professor" when they really felt more comfortable being called "Mr/Mrs/Ms". I've accidentally called somebody "Doctor" that didn't have a PhD. This gets kind of tricky because a lot of CC instructors are just teaching on a part-time basis alongside another job, or teaching a non-credit course. Since I take classes at the local CC AND at a university, it gets confusing to decide the proper title sometimes. Please help us out and let us know explicitly what you want to be called!
For example: I had one professor that preferred to be called "Doctor X". If she caught you saying anything else (even "Professor X", she'd correct you, whether it was in email or in person.

Anonymous said...

Any unsigned email, but especially those with 69, hot, or xxx in the email address. Who are these bozos?

Anonymous said...

Everyone who is annoyed by Mr/Ms/Mrs get over yourself. In many work places people don't address you by your scientific title, especially national labs where most people are PhDs. From my observation the most sensitive "professors" are lecturers with master degrees.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 05:13
You'll notice that many of the complaints about not using scientific titles note that it is customary to use titles within their culture but the honor is not applied to them, even within a single email to two similarly honored recipients. It's not about the title, it's about what not using says about the person's respect for you.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 5:13, you are having issues with reading comprehension. The post and comments are about students communicating with professors, and the things professors find annoying in these interactions. It's not about PhD at large communicating with other PhDs in a national lab or whatever else.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5:13pm:

That's fine if everyone is addressed in the same manner. Most of us who have objected to this in this forum are objecting to being called Ms/Miss/Mrs while our male counterparts are given the designation Dr. or Professor. It's the bias that makes this particularly offensive.

Anonymous said...

Where are the notes for this class? usually in our courses we have notes available online.

Anonymous said...

It is 2013, loosen up profs:)

Anonymous said...

For students asking how faculty would like to be addressed in e-mails -- for me, personally, I would just like some form of my name in the greeting. Dear Prof. Lastname, Hello Dr. Lastname, Hi Professor, Hi Firstname, and Hey there Firstname are all fine. Just Hi, followed by no salutation, or just Hey, start to feel a bit too casual. And if the e-mail is in all lowercase and text-speak on top of that...

Anonymous said...

Here's the list (cf. my comment at 2/04/2013 11:30:00 AM). It's in 2 separate comments because of length restrictions.

Questions and Comments You May Think Twice about Asking Your Professor

1. Is this going to be on the test?
This question suggests you are only interested in being responsible or accountable for the information you will be tested on. The committed student brings to class an intellectual curiosity, realizing that every text has a context. Try substituting, Why is that? How does this make a difference? Or even, Would you repeat that point with a different example?

2. Sorry I missed class. Did anything important happen?
Such a comment invites a smug reply, which most professors will refrain from delivering. Try to see such a comment as this one as rather thoughtless—it places the speaker at the center of the world, suggesting that because of his or her absence nothing at all went on in class. This is an insult to both your peers and your professor. Try substituting, Sorry I missed class. I will take responsibility and get notes from one of my classmates.

3. I realize your class is closed, but it fits perfectly into my schedule. Sign my add slip.
Good manners go a long way in endearing you with the professor. You might want to shift the focus off yourself and try a more subtle attempt to gain admission. Try substituting, I realize your class is closed, but I have had a life-long interest in this subject. I promise you I will come to class every session, take good notes, participate responsibly, study hard, and make you glad you decided to let me in. Will you consider signing my add slip?

4. I put my paper in your box/under your door/in an e-mail to you. I don’t know why you didn’t get it.
Most professors like to receive papers, projects, reports, etc., during class on the day they are due. It is too easy for a paper to wind up in the wrong box, under the wrong door, or get lost in cyberspace. If you must send a paper to your professor outside of class, it is your responsibility to conduct a follow-up check with your professor to make sure he or she actually received the paper. It is not the professor’s responsibility to be surprised at where he or she will bump into your paper. It is your responsibility to make a plan and see if your professor is amenable to receiving the paper outside of class.

5. You gave me a B/C/D/F on this paper. It is clear to me I deserve an A/better grade.
When professors evaluate your work, they bring to the task years of professional judgment. They are the ones who are best suited to determine your grade. If you already know what grade you should receive, then you should either not be taking the class or teaching it yourself. Try substituting, I didn’t do as well on my last assignment as I would like. Please explain how this grade was assigned. Something must be wrong with the way I am preparing/studying/approaching/writing. I wonder if I might meet with you so that I can improve my efforts on our next assignment.

6. You are wrong about what you just said.
Professors have spent years studying their respective subjects and should be expected to know what they are saying, but certainly they can make mistakes. If you find your professor contradicts something you have read in the class text, by all means point out politely the discrepancy. Try substituting, I hear what you are saying, but how do I reconcile that point with what the author says in our text on page 22? It could be just as likely the text is incorrect.

Anonymous said...

The list, part 2:

7. Will you write me a letter of recommendation for a scholarship/summer job/graduate school/campus award/etc.?
Professors fully expect to support their students by writing letters, but HOW you ask for the letter is important. First, you need to make sure the professor knows you and your work well enough to write a responsible and positive letter. Try substituting, I know you are busy, but do you feel that you know my work well enough to write me a positive letter of recommendation? I would certainly appreciate your taking the time to do so. I have all the information here you will need, including a stamped, addressed envelope. The deadline is in two weeks. Is there anything else you need from me in order to write the letter?

Sorry I overslept and missed the exam. When can I take a make up?
Professors do not necessarily prepare make up exams, especially when students miss the exam for reasons that are vague or generic. Try substituting, I really messed up—it is my fault—and if you want to hear the story, I would be happy to tell you. I don’t know your policy on make up exams, but if you could find it in the kindness of your heart to help me out this time, I would never make this mistake again. Professors understand that mistakes happen or that events in the residence hall might prevent you from your work. Be honest and ask for mercy. You may just get it!

9. Can we get out early today?
For most classes, there may not be an attendance policy, and we are all adults. If you want to miss class, don’t come, but never ask your professor to cut short his or her plans for the class meeting. Do ball teams leave the park before the game is over?

10. Can we meet outside today?
Meeting outside in good weather offers a wide assortment of possibilities for distraction. When a student asks such a question, the professor may well assume that students would rather be distracted than pay attention to what he or she has to say. If the weather is nice, let your professor make the first offer to go outside.

11. I am offended that you just tried to teach me something.
Professors often look for “teachable moments,” which are situations that open the door for making a broader point or a learning opportunity even if it was not what the student had in mind. For example, once a student asked a professor by e-mail for directions to the professor’s office. The professor saw this as a “teachable moment” and sent the student a link to a campus map that not only showed how to get to the professor’s office, but the professor thought that this would be a nice resource for the student to use in the future for finding other campus locations. Instead, the student sent an e-mail reply to the professor saying that he/she was offended that a map was sent instead of simple directions. Keep this in mind because professors take their job to teach seriously and often look for every opportunity to do so. Just think of how much you can learn from professors, even when you least expect it!

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating discussion! I have a question about the Prof/Dr/Firstname/Lastname discussion: Do those of you who prefer to be addressed as Prof/Dr. Lastname by students address them as Mr./Ms. Lastname?

Anonymous said...

I don't mind informality at all as in "Hi Anonymous", but I do mind "Dear Ms. Anonymous" because that implies that I don't have any other title to put in place of "Ms".

Anonymous said...

"Why did you give me a [whatever the grade is]" -- Ummm, you EARNED [whatever the grade is].

Anonymous said...

Anon at 7:13: I'm not a professor, but I would say this (addressing students by their last name) is not necessary to expect the students to be more formal; there is a level of inequality based on the credentials of the professor as compared to the student that can be reflected in the email addresses to each. However, I like some of the previous comments from students that say they are using the name that was supplied by the professor in their own email - if I sign my email with my first name, I am inviting others to use it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not passing judgment on the inequality that was mentioned above (good or bad) but I feel like the level of formality that has existed in academia is at least partly reflective of the deep inherent patriarchy that has existed in western society. I have great respect for my professors - they've put a lot of work and time into getting where they are - but should they want to perpetuate that hierarchy?

There can be mutual respect between professors and students without any inequality or patriarchy/hierarchy.

Amy Chess said...

In response to the multiple comments about receiving e-mails from students from non-university e-mail addresses (where it's impossible to tell who exactly is sending it), I was advised by a former department chair to NOT respond to these. Communication with students via non-university e-mail could inadvertently lead to a violation of FERPA!

ChemProf said...

The Wayman poem is great...

...and so is this video:

(Warning...salty language!)

SO tempting to show it in class...

My pet peeve is any variation on "I would like to make my problems YOUR problems."

Anonymous said...

I work in industry. Half the people I work with are engineers, half are scientists with phd's. I have never, in 15 years working at my company, heard anyone call someone Dr. X. What is it with academia that requires professors to think they are better than others???? There are millions of phd's in the USA, why do you think you deserve to be called Dr????

One last thing: emojicons are fun, :-)

Physics TA said...

Undergrads blah!! Here is a reply I got this week to one of my emails that I sent to the tutorial class. It is an example of the 'hey' emails that drives everyone up the wall:

I just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to clarify the
issue. I really appreciate the fact you made the effort to let us know
and I wanted you to know that.

All the best,

Seriously!?! You know...somebody should raise these kids better. Who starts an email with 'hey'?

Anonymous said...

@ Physics TA

A student takes the time to send you a thank you, and you complain that it starts 'Hey'? Poor students, how are they to know what to do when a casual but honest thank you can be taken as an insult?

The sentiment is what is important, not the salutation surely?

That is to say, isn't it the implication that most lectures aren't important which offends in the statement 'Did I miss anything important?" (though as already mentioned, this might not be the intended meaning). And isn't the implication of women not being qualified that stings in the singling out of women for a lay title rather than Dr/Prof? (where such address is the norm).

I think this is a very interesting thread, but I wonder if there is anyone who has never done any of the things on this (now very long and subjective) list? And most likely it was totally inadvertent, and not at all meant to insult.

Anonymous said...

Students who spell my name incorrectly.

Anonymous said...

I'm the Anon from 12:46.

To Anon at 8:41: I guess I view it differently than you. The 'inequality', at least in my mind, is not due to one group of people oppressing another (which would be troubling and should not be perpetuated), but rather reflects a level of intellectual depth and maturity (in the ideal) that, as you point out, leads to respect. Each student is capable of achieving this same position for themselves, so it's only a hierarchy in terms of how long you've been studying something/how successful you've been in studying it, which seems fairly reasonable to me. I also think that some level of distance/respect is needed in the academic setting - only between faculty and students, not between peers (see also below) - because the students need to feel confidence that the money they are paying for tuition and time they are investing in their education is not going to some random Joe/Jill who appeared off the street to make up stuff about non-linear algebra or whatever. I think a reasonable parallel is when a patient goes to a medical doctor - I, even having a PhD, would indeed address my doctor by 'Dr. X', at least until I know them well (and I agree that when students and faculty do know each other well, first names can be very appropriate).

To Anon at 9:29: I think you missed the many previous comments where people indicated a) they don't have any interest in being called 'Dr. X' by their *peers*, which applies to the situation you describe and b) the instances that sting the most are where a male professor *is* granted the 'Dr' title but a female professor is *not*. Thus what is being called for is gender equality, not just the arbitrary use of a title. And, from my own perspective, I think I deserve to be called Dr - under appropriate circumstances - because I worked my ass off for 5 years to contribute new knowledge to the world and completed other rigorous tests of my abilities to earn... a doctorate! What else would I be called with that degree?? And, contrary to your suggestion, I think everyone who did the same also deserves to be called Dr.

Anonymous said...

Some people probably do think that lectures occur where nothing important is said. However, others are just awkward and phrase things poorly. "What did I miss?" is better, and acknowledges that something was indeed missed, but it feels a bit rougher to say.

"Do you know where I can find the restroom?"
Obviously, the owner of the dwelling probably recalls the location of this room. But if it's someone you don't know well, it *feels* somewhat rude to say "Where's the restroom?".

It's not a great excuse, and you can sound polite without changing the meaning of a sentence. Still, if I were an undergrad and asked this, it would be due to poor phrasing/awkwardness. If I asked a peer, however, it may or may not imply that the class sometimes can be relatively content-less.

pyrope said...

I typically keep my door open on days that I'm teaching, and I frequently get random people (not just student) popping their head in to ask if I know whether X is in (where X is the person in the office next to mine). My response is always - I don't know, why don't you knock? It's kind of bizarre.

Also, just to reiterate points above about the 'Hi' email - I don't mind 'Hi [firstname]' (I tell students to call me by my first name and sign emails as such), nor do I mind 'Hi [Dr/Prof lastname]'. It's just the 'Hi, [and on to the content of the email]' that I find kind of annoying because it feels like the sender can't be bothered to address me by my name. It seems to me like the email equivalent of 'Hey, you'.

Anonymous said...

Hey Mrs. anon from 12:46:-), this is anon from 9:29.
Congrats on the doctorate!!! I am so happy the tax dollars I gave to the government funded you to "contribute new knowledge to the world".

phillychuck said...

How about an email saluation "Hey Prof"

Anonymous said...

"Do any universities/colleges include topics in their 1st-year student orientation sessions along the lines of 'how to communicate with professors' (writing and speaking)? This might be a way to give some helpful hints about such things."

UCSC has such instruction, though only, I believe for the "bridge" students who are first-generation college students. Others are expected to just know this stuff.

Anonymous said...

I don't usually use a salutation in e-mail—I generally just start with the content. I guess I'm more trusting that e-mail is delivered to the right person than I should be. I don't really care what salutation students use in e-mail, though I would be surprised to see "yo", as it seems to me to be about 5 years out of date.

I prefer students to call me by my first name, but I'm ok with them calling me professor. I don't really care for them calling me "Dr." as I'm not an MD nor an actor playing one on TV. It's been 30 years since I earned my PhD, and it isn't the most important thing about me.

Anonymous said...

This is great!

I give presentations each summer to incoming first-year students in my college, and I'm going to distill this into a "top 5 ways to annoy your professor" conversation.

... Obviously the discussion will also include how to not annoy us :)

My own favorite is the homework.doc file without a name in it.

But that's 'cause I'm a guy and I don't have to deal with the Mrs. problem.

Isn't it weird that this is still the normal in K-12 -- female teachers and staff are correctly addressed this way? How did we get trapped in the 1950s in K-12?

Anonymous said...

Students you address you as "professor" with no name do it for one reason and one reason only: they don't KNOW your name. I point this out during the first meeting of every class.

CSProf said...

Emails that read like this "Hey prof, I can't make my prog work can u help?"

1. I do not appreciate being called "Hey prof". Darn it, I make sure I learn the names of all 125 of you - can't you learn my name?
2. I can't even start to help you without some hints as to what is wrong. Does your program not compile? What is the error message? Does it output something unexpected? Are you stuck on how to write a loop? Give me something to go on here!!!
3. The pronoun "you" has 3 letters, not one.

Anonymous said...

Death,taxes...and teachers/stundents tendency to overestimate his/her own importance.