Make sure you made a good impression as a student

Be about learning.

The best way not to shoot yourself in the foot with your questions is to “be about learning”. Try this barometer: is your question motivated by the desire to make the course easier for yourself, or more challenging? Does it come across as motivated by a desire to lighten your load? Looking for the easy way out never makes a good impression.

Every year, even though professors are not required to do so, and often at their own expense, they read articles and give up lunch hours or whole days to attend educational sessions on how to teach more effectively. Each term, they spend hours updating materials and finding illustrations and examples, and conceiving exercises students can use to arrive at a more tangible understanding of course concepts. These unmarked steps, exercises and activities are not only ways to help you understand the course, but are often a good way to getting better marks on the tests and marked assignments.

So how do these examples come across?

A student asks, “do we have to do X by date Y?” or “do we lose points if we submit only A and not B by date C?”)

He is telling me he does not care about the learning, just the points.

A student retrieves a model spreadsheet from the course web page to analyse data from an experiment with seven complex data points. She announces to her teammates, “the spreadsheet had only spaces for six data points, so I only put six of them in, to save work.”

If the assignment called for analysing “your data”, this group would actually lose points as well as my respect.

A student is deliberating which of two possible assignment topics to choose. He asks my opinion, mentioning that he is leaning toward topic ABC because it "seems to be less work" than topic XYZ.

Saying the quiet part out loud, there.

A student frequently asks me to check her work to ensure she is on track for full marks. She never asks for more challenges or seems interested in the subject itself, just the marks. 

To me, it comes across as lacking in initiative or self-confidence or both, and as though she doesn’t value the knowledge for its own sake.

These students may not lose any marks, but their references would not be good. You will get a better reference with a genuine B than an A earned by mechanically following the marking scheme (or cheating!) Employers rarely know let alone care about your GPA. Grad schools put more weight on GPA, but that is redeemable to some extent by references that reinforce other evidence of demonstrated initiative and all-round talent.

Author: Kathryn Woodcock

Dr. Kathryn Woodcock is Professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, teaching, researching, and consulting in the area of human factors engineering / ergonomics particularly applied to amusement rides and attractions (, and to broader occupational and public safety issues of performance, error, investigation and inspection, and to disability and accessibility.