10 ways to annoy a college professor (and lose a reference)

The author, who teaches PR to university students, explains the habits of students that grate on college professors.

(Editor’s note: This was one of the top viewed stories of 2014. We’re rerunning it as part of a look back at the articles that captivated our readers the most.)

With another semester cruising along, let’s reflect on ways to improve ourselves—naw, instead, let’s consider how to annoy, alienate and anger professors.

After all, these educators would never help you expand your knowledge, secure a job, write recommendation letters, or become lifetime mentors, would they?

Here are some ways to ensure your professor will remember you—not so fondly:

1. Text in class. Do you really think we don’t notice you clicking away. Unless you are a surgeon awaiting a call to surgery, for these two hours you are paying to learn something, perhaps you can shut off your phone.

2. Arrive late for class and then ask questions about topics discussed before you arrived. Please anticipate traffic or parking issues, and build in extra time to get to class. If you had a plane to catch, a red carpet event to attend, or a business deadline, would you be late? If yes, then PR is not the industry for you.

3. Skip class and arrive the following session asking, “Did I miss anything?” No, of course you didn’t. We stared at the wall and contemplated why you decided not to show up.

4. Pretend to take notes on your laptop, but really be updating your Facebook profile. Yes, we can tell when you are listening and taking notes—and we know when you are surfing the Web.

5. Send an email with questions about the work, the night before an assignment is due. You’ve had a week or more to get your work done or ask questions, do you really think I’m going to respond to your 10:00 p.m. email on a Sunday night? Or perhaps if you were paying attention (see point No. 4) you wouldn’t be confused.

6. Tell me the printer is broken and ask if you can email the assignment.
Guess what? You’ve been ratted out. Some students save a blank document with a false suffix so it can’t be opened and then say, “Oh yes, I emailed you that assignment.” This is why I don’t accept emailed assignments.

7. Stop by my office and say: “Did you get my email?” Hmm, I receive at least 200 emails each day. Yes, I probably received it and responded.

8. Have a negative attitude. Perhaps you are close to graduation, or maybe you’ve successfully completed an internship and are confident with your career prospects. As such, this class is a waste of time, right? Professors in a demanding profession like public relations, carefully design lectures, class exercises, and assignments to help prepare you for the real world. Take advantage of your time in college and make the most of it. Work on that poker face.

9. Complain about the workload. Do you think we enjoy taking 200 or more pages of students’ work home to edit, grade, and assess? We give you work to help you learn and to prepare you for future success. Professors spend countless hours outside of class creating meaningful assignments, grading, and assessing your work to help you learn.

10. Don’t do your homework and then make excuses. Please take responsibility for your own life and academic choices and success. In the job market, your employer will not care about your really great excuse regarding why you missed a deadline.

The most gratifying part of my job as a professor is hearing from graduates how much my classes and guidance helped them achieve in their careers and lives. I maintain strong relationships with many of these former students and continue to act as an advisor, mentor, and reference long after they reach professional success. Professors truly care about students’ success and will help them achieve it if they avoid the above student sins.

Of course, I also hear from students guilty of many of the above infractions. These students reach out to ask me for help finding jobs or for recommendation letters. I’m so sorry; I guess I did not get that email after all.

Lorra M. Brown is an assistant professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. She serves as the M.A. in Professional Communication graduate program director, communication internship coordinator and advisor to the Student Public Relations Association. Follow her on Twitter @LorraBrownPR.

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