How to Be a Gentleman Scholar: Classroom Etiquette for the College Man

by Brett & Kate McKay on October 2, 2013 · 88 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette


“They attend classes but make no effort to learn anything.” -Alvarus Pelagius

College students often get a lot of flack these days — with seemingly everyone and their grandma saying that this generation of students is lazy, entitled, and disrespectful. Yet, such criticism has in truth been leveled at young scholars pretty much since the dawn of higher education. The quote above? It comes from a French critic…from the 14th century.


College students were plenty goofy back in the day.

Yet if there is not a difference in kind, there is one in degree, and it is true that the culture of college is quite different than it was even a half century ago, as is students’ attitude about their education. As historian Robert F. Pace documents, while students of all periods have been prone to flippancy and rebelliousness, most still saw college not only as vital preparation for careers, but as necessary for their “transition into adulthood” and “success, both in life and as an honorable gentleman.” Poor academic performance and hijinks that exceeded the level of boyish mischief would sully the honor of a gentleman scholar, garner public humiliation, and bring shame to his family.

Today, with the democratization of higher ed, a college education is sometimes seen as just another consumer good. And because the consumer is always right, students feel freer to act however they please — they’re paying for it, after all.

While I certainly won’t advocate wearing a tailcoat and monocle to class, I think there are very good reasons for adopting some of the manners of the gentleman scholars who have come before you, while adding to them new rules of decorum that deal with our modern advancements, like laptops and smartphones. First, classroom etiquette facilitates a positive and constructive learning environment for everyone — you, your classmates, and your professor. Second, practicing good manners in the classroom is a good way of practicing the manners and social skills necessary to thrive as an adult and as a professional in the working world. In short, good etiquette in college can help you make the most out of your education.

The suggestions below are based on my own time as a student, Kate’s experience as a community college professor, and input from my friend Daniel Brown — a current college professor. Dan is a Graduate Assistant of Middle East Political Science at the University of Oklahoma. Now without further ado, here are some basic suggestions on becoming the consummate gentleman scholar:

Above all else: You’re an adult; act like oneIf you’re in college, you’re likely at least 18 years old — the age at which you’re legally considered an adult. You may not feel like a responsible, grown man yet, but your professors will (or should be able to) assume that you are. So act likewise. The specific advice that follows basically tries to answer the question, “How should a mature, well-adjusted, courteous adult act?” Before you say or do anything in the classroom, ask yourself that question. I promise that doing so will save you from embarrassment and engender the respect of your classmates and professors.


Dress appropriately. Your clothes should suit the occasion. You wear a t-shirt and gym shorts to work out because you’re going to be sweating, you wear a tux to a fancy wedding because you’re going to be adding to the special atmosphere, and you wear pajama pants to class because you’re going to be…sleeping? Dressing up for class used to be de rigueur because the learning process was thought to have a solemn, almost sacred quality. Dressing sharp shows your respect for the power of education. It also shows respect for your professor, who will be more likely to reciprocate.

Dressing appropriately doesn’t have to mean wearing a 3-piece suit to class — it’s as simple as ditching the sweatpants and making a few easy upgrades to your wardrobe.

Arrive on time. When you arrive late to class, it can create a big distraction for the professor and for your classmates. So practice the manly art of punctuality by arriving a few minutes early. Use that time before class to get your laptop ready (and make sure the volume is on mute) and to review your reading and notes from the previous lecture. If you’re going to be more than ten minutes late, it’s better not to come at all (especially in a small class). The professor has likely gotten into a groove with his lecture, and your barging in will create an unwelcome interruption. If you absolutely must attend the class, try to slip in as quietly as possible, rather than entering the room with Kramer-esque panache.

Address the instructor appropriately. If your professor has their PhD, the appropriate way to address him or her is “Dr. ____.” They probably spent a decade of their life buried in books and living below the poverty line to obtain that degree. Show some respect by addressing them by their earned title.

If your professor doesn’t have his PhD, the appropriate way to address him is “Professor.”

If you’re not sure if the instructor has earned his doctorate or not, then stick with “Professor.”

Unless/until he grants you permission to do so, don’t call your professor by his first name, his last name (“Yo, McKay!”), or “Bro.” “It’s Dr. Bro to you, son.”

Come to class prepared. Besides helping you get the most out of class, coming to a lecture prepared is a matter of showing respect. The professor has likely spent a lot of time preparing to teach, so reciprocate by coming prepared to learn. Do the reading and have your assignments finished before class.

Turn off the smartphone and put it away. By texting, tweeting, and engaging in all other forms of smartphone fondling, you’re basically telling the professor that seeing how many likes your Facebook pic of breakfast (“Check it! IHOP has a pancake with a smiley face on it!”) has gotten is more important than what he has to say.

And don’t think you’re fooling the professor whenever you hold your phone in your lap and under the desk. Staring at your crotch and smiling isn’t normal behavior.

If you need to have your phone on for an emergency (wife’s giving birth, parent’s on deathbed), let the professor know in advance and set your phone to vibrate. Leave the classroom before taking the call.

Take part in the discussion. Many of your classes will rely heavily on discussion. In fact, a part of your grade may depend on your “classroom participation.” Besides helping your grade, taking part in classroom discussion is just good manners. As someone who has been in the role of teacher, nothing is more demoralizing than spending hours preparing thoughtful discussion questions only to face the sound of chirping crickets and blank stares. Do your part to help the professor’s lesson plan along by actively participating in discussion.

And don’t be afraid to disagree with the professor. He’s not God. Besides, he or she will likely want some dissent in the classroom. It’s what makes learning interesting and engaging. Just remember to:

Be respectful during heated discussions. In some of your classes (philosophy, political science, law, history, etc.) controversial topics will come up. Do your best to remain calm, level-headed, and a bit detached during such discussions. This stance serves two purposes. First, it’s a matter of basic civility. There’s no excuse for yelling or resorting to ad hominem attacks during a classroom discussion (or anywhere else for that matter). Second, it makes you a better student. Come term paper or exam time, your professor will expect you to thoroughly analyze controversial issues. This will require you to look at both the strengths and weaknesses of a particular argument. If you’re cemented in your opinion about a topic, you risk not being able to engage all the pertinent issues as thoroughly as your professor expects, and as a consequence, your grade may suffer.

Don’t dominate the discussion or question asking. While you should take part in classroom discussion, don’t dominate it. First, you’re denying your classmates an opportunity to participate. Second, by raising your hand and offering a soliloquy after every question your professor asks, you’ll come off as “gunner,” “know-it-all,” or “teacher’s pet” (or all of the above). No one likes that guy.

The same goes with asking questions. You certainly shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if you don’t understand something, but don’t be the guy who’s constantly raising his hand with question after question. Your professor likely has a schedule of topics he needs to hit during the lecture. By asking an inordinate amount of questions, you’re throwing a wrench in that plan. Also, excessive question asking can get on the nerves of your fellow classmates. If you have a lot of questions, respect your professor’s and classmates’ time by taking them up with your prof after class or during his office hours.

Finally, don’t ask questions that are designed less to get an insight from the professor and more to show off your own knowledge of the topic. We know you gleaned a lot of info from the History Channel (before it became the Pawn Stars network), but you don’t need to share it.

If you’re using your laptop to take notes, don’t use it to surf the internet. First, by not paying attention to the professor, you’re showing him disrespect. Second, surfing the web during class can also distract your classmates sitting behind you. It’s hard to pay attention to a lecture about ancient Babylonian kings when the guy in front of you is scrolling through more enticing headlines on Buzzfeed (“10 Kittens That Look Like Hammurabi!”). And for the love of Pete, don’t ever look at porn while in class. A student actually did that when I was in law school. Needless to say, he got suspended. And if those reasons aren’t enough to get you to quit surfing during class, you’ll be a better student for it by focusing only on what’s going on during the lecture.


Asking the following questions might make your professor think you’re as dumb as a….

Things to never say or ask a professor:

  • “I need to get an ‘A’ in this class!” – “This is your responsibility, not mine,” says my buddy Dan. “I am more than willing to help you learn, because it’s my job and I don’t hold office hours for fun. But you have to work for it. This is not gym class — you don’t get an A for being a warm body. There is not necessarily a correlation between how much time you spent writing a paper and the grade you receive on it. In other words, just because you spent six hours writing a paper does not necessarily mean it’s an ‘A’ paper. If I’d said these things to my dissertation supervisor, he’d have spit out his coffee laughing and then flayed me alive. You get an A by doing the work, showing up to class, contributing to your learning environment and others’, and by exceeding my expectations.”
  • “Can I have extra credit?” “Whenever you ask for extra credit, you’re sending a subtle signal to your professor that the syllabus is flexible and that your grade is negotiable,” says Dan. “If there’s extra credit, it will be offered by the instructor. Don’t ask for it.”
  • “Did I miss anything important yesterday?” First, this isn’t a polite question…professors don’t hold some classes just for the heck of it. Every class is important. Second, don’t ask your professor for notes on what you missed. It’s not his responsibility that you couldn’t make it to the lecture. Instead, ask your classmates for their notes. It’s not their responsibility either, but asking your classmates for missed notes actually has some hidden benefits according to Dan. “First, it forces you to access the information from someone else who has probably already translated it from my lecture to their own words and understanding. Second, it forces you to interact with each other — often your greatest study resource. As you talk about the concepts with your classmates, you’ll better be able to synthesize the information.”
  • “Will you grade on a ‘curve?’” This question subtly hints that you’re trying to figure out how hard you’ll need to work in the class. As Dan says: “Spend the time you’d be worrying about this studying instead.”

When in doubt, check the syllabus. Before asking any of the above questions, and any other questions about the class that might come up, check the syllabus first. Most professors carefully craft them. Not only do they map out a schedule for the entire semester, but they also try to include answers to every conceivable question a student might have. It’s like your Bible for the class. Also be sure to take notes in your syllabus. It’s rare that it will go unchanged for the entire semester. It’s your responsibility to remember any changes that get announced regarding the schedule and assignments. You won’t be getting any sympathy if you go crying to your professor that you forgot.

No chatting and snickering during class.  College isn’t high school study hall. Don’t chat or snicker during class. It’s disrespectful to the professor and to your classmates who are actually trying to pay attention. Besides, grown men don’t giggle.

Don’t work on other classwork during class. If you’re in Business Calculus, don’t work on Chemistry 101. If you need to get other classwork done, just skip class to work on it.

Practice good email etiquette. Don’t begin your emails with “Hey.” Spell your professor’s name correctly. Use detailed subject lines. Use spellcheck and check your email for grammatical errors. Try to keep your emails short. You see yourself as just one person with one question, but remember that your prof may have hundreds of others students, all of whom see themselves just as you do. Reading through tons of novel-length emails and coming up with an answer for them is time-consuming and draining. So if you have lots of questions, visit your professor during his office hours instead of asking them all in an email. Answering several, complicated questions is much easier in person than through email. Civil communication ideally requires the same investment of time from each party.

Check your email. Apparently, students not checking email has become a big problem these days. (Which may explain why our laboriously researched and written post about managing your inbox fell completely flat with our largely college-aged audience. Sigh. Forever Alone.). However, your professor will likely communicate class changes or cancellations via email. So make sure to check it regularly. Also, if you emailed him with a question, make sure to check for a response and give a quick “thanks” for his trouble. You wouldn’t believe how far a simple acknowledgment and a little gratitude will get you with someone.


Respect your professor’s time. Professors will often linger after class a bit for students to ask questions. If you have a question, feel free to approach your professor, but don’t monopolize his time. This isn’t the place to ask him about his complete thoughts on Plato’s dialogues. He likely has other things he needs to be doing, and there might be other students who’d like to talk to him as well. If you feel like you need to continue the conversation with your professor, visit him during his office hours.

When you do visit your professor during his or her office hours, respect their time by coming prepared with a list of specific questions. Don’t just show up and say, “I need help,” thus forcing the professor to spend 30 minutes figuring out what exactly you need help with. Also be sure to respect your time slot. If you have a 30-minute window, don’t ask another complex question 29 minutes in.

Finally, as just mentioned, don’t email him with tons of questions. And don’t get upset if he doesn’t answer you right away. You’re not the only student who has questions and your professor does have a life outside of class. Answering your desperate 11PM email plea will deprive him of time to sit by the fire smoking a pipe, reading a giant book, gently brushing his tweed jacket, and stroking his goatee. That’s what all professors do at night, right?

Before recording a professor, ask for permission first. This is for two reasons. First, in some states, a classroom lecture could be considered a private conversation. Thus, everyone who would be recorded would need to consent — that includes your professor and your classmates. Second, classroom lectures are often considered intellectual property of the professor. By recording it without the professor’s consent, you are in effect violating his copyright on the lecture. So ask before hitting the record button.

Take care of “business” before class, but if nature calls during the lecture, just get up and go. You’re a grown man. You should be able to plan out your bodily functions ahead of time by visiting the john before class (but if you had Taco Bell for lunch, all bets are off). In the event that you do need to relieve yourself mid-lecture, just get up and go. No need to ask for permission — simply leave the classroom with as little fanfare as possible.

It seems like freshmen feel it’s necessary to ask permission before heading to the loo because the necessity of doing so has been so ingrained in them from their years in elementary and high school. But professors prefer not to be asked because it’s just awkward to grant another adult permission to exercise their bodily functions.

Don’t put your stuff away until class is actually over. No matter how long your class is scheduled for – whether 60 minutes or 90 minutes – that’s how long your class is. Not 55 minutes. Not 85 minutes. So don’t start packing away your stuff five minutes before class. This has become a bit of a plague in classrooms today. It’s a distraction to your classmates and just rude to your professor. Wait until the professor says “see you tomorrow” or “class dismissed” or “klasse entlassen” (German 101, natch).

If you need to leave early, let the instructor know in advance. No explanation here. Just common courtesy.

Don’t let your parents intercede on your behalf. Seems nuts to have to mention this, but it really happened to Kate a few times. Moms would email to say their son was sick and ask about what they missed or inquire about extra credit to boost their daughter’s grade. College is the time to cut the cord and transition into adulthood; it’s a process that can’t happen without your taking full personal responsibility for your work and your life.


Try not to nod off (or start surfing the internet) when your professor dims the lights.

Try hard not to fall asleep. No professor wants to look out and see rows of comatose students. Honestly, when it’s right after lunch and the classroom is warm, it can feel like someone shot you in the neck with a tranquilizer-dipped blow dart; keeping your eyelids open can seem nigh near impossible. Just do your best.

Skipping class once or twice a semester is okay, but don’t let it become a habit. We’ve mentioned a couple situations already where skipping a class may be necessary – you’re way behind in another class, you’ve overslept by 20 minutes, you’re sick with flu, etc. All of those are fine; life happens. In some cases (the flu), it’s actually much better to not go than to try to be a tough guy. In the midst of late night partying and playing Grand Theft Auto V with your bros, however, skipping class can become a nasty habit. Yes, it’s disrespectful to the professor, but you’re really hurting yourself, and your wallet. Don’t waste thousands of dollars on your education so you can sit in your dorm and play video games. You’re only short-changing yourself and your future.

Having a drink with you is okay (not alcohol – yes, I’ve seen it happen), but avoid food in the classroom. If you have a drink, be extra careful about where you place it. Too many notes have been ruined by spilled beverages in class. As for food, just don’t do it. It will not only stink up the room, but you’re almost guaranteed to make a mess. It will also distract you from paying proper attention to the lecture. If your timing is tight between classes, you’ll just have to plan ahead and get in a quick bite on a bench outside the hall.

What happens if the professor doesn’t have good etiquette? Some of this advice certainly relies on the professor having good etiquette and being respectful themselves. While the majority of professors that I’ve encountered are great, there may be some that don’t adhere to these courtesies. In that event, be the bigger man and follow these tips anyway. You can approach the professor with your concerns, or perhaps your advisor if your issue with them moves beyond the merely annoying into something that’s significantly impacting your comfort-level and performance in the class.

Any other tips on good classroom etiquette? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 88 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Charles Powell October 2, 2013 at 8:47 pm

I want to take this, and distribute it to not only the undergrads, but the graduate students as well. Thank you for this!

2 Rich October 2, 2013 at 8:49 pm

This has come up before, but it seems like my alma mater had completely different rules regard what to call a professor/instructor. “Professor” is a higher title than “Doctor,” denoting a specific chair or position giving to the instructor versus just receiving a PhD/M.D. One graduate adviser described it to us as “every Professor is a Doctor, but not every Doctor is a Professor.” If it was a grad student teaching the course, you would say Mr./Miss/Mrs., but generally they said from day one to call them by their first name. And the only time you’d call a non-PhD instructor “Professor” was if the University gave them that title. I can’t be the only one who experienced this, can I?

3 Ryan October 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm

In regards to the leaving early and etiquette of the professor, I have noticed that some of the professors that I have/had will knowingly lecture past the scheduled time ( they are an hour and 15mins for me). This In my opinion shows that they do not have any respect for the students and their schedules. Especially for me who has back to back classes that involve walks across campus to get there. I also feel horrible leaving when the professor is still talking but I know I am not really doing anything wrong. Also the guys who dominate discussions are great, they make class easier.

4 Kevin October 2, 2013 at 8:55 pm

This is a very helpful post, not only for college, but for law school (and other graduate studies) as well.

I will add:
1. Do not chew gum in class.
2. Do not wear a hat in class.
3. And if you must have a canned drink, open it before class. It is unspeakably annoying, distracting and childish to pop open a can while the professor is teaching.

5 Tom October 2, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Great article Brett & Kate! I’m in my third year at Akron’s business program and my professors definitely hold these characteristics in high regard. All of your college-based posts are helping form the qualities, habits, relationships I’m striving for. I can think of a few classmates who need to read this article before I see them again tomorrow.

6 PASunter October 2, 2013 at 9:08 pm

OBA means or by appointment. We are open to making appointments. Our schedules are typically easier to shift things around for students to get help. However, when you make an appointment, keep it. I take time out of my day, my research, and my own classes (PhD student) to meet with a student outside of office hours. Missing appointments is a sure-fire way to instantly loose an instructor’s respect.

7 Nicholas Hufford October 2, 2013 at 9:09 pm

This was a good and thorough article, a quality that I have come to expect from this site. However, as a current grad student one area of interest was not addressed. What would the best way to ask about getting back graded assignments? In a project/paper based class rather than tests it’s important for us to learn how the professor views our work and sometimes one professor in particular is on the later end of the comfortable spectrum. I would love to have some advice on how to handle that situation. Thanks

8 Dillon October 2, 2013 at 9:10 pm

It’s baffling that most of these need to be explained.

I understand that freshmen are still programmed to ask for permission to use the bathroom and may not know the correct term with which to address their professors right off the bat, but that should be fixed by the end of the first week of classes.

The rest seems like basic respect for yourself, your classmates and your professor.

9 Paul October 2, 2013 at 9:24 pm

I used to joke that I majored in math to avoid having to deal with the controversial topics of politics or religion beyond what was required in my core curriculum. After all, you can’t divide by zero regardless of whether you’re conservative or liberal. Although in one class I took on the history of religion in America and another time in sociology I was the fact-check guy when people spouted off common stereotypes about the Pentecostal faith. I lost count of how many times I was asked if I handled snakes.

On another note in terms of etiquette, if you’re in the halls listening to music outside the classroom, watch how loud your headphones are. I actually witnessed a case where a guy had his earbuds up so loud that a student came out of the classroom to ask him to turn it down! I didn’t know that was even possible!

10 Franklin October 2, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Perhaps one of your best articles. Thanks Brett & Kate!

11 Andrew October 2, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Yes, Rich is right. It is disrespectful to call someone ‘professor’ unless s/he is an assistant, associate, or full professor. And it is disrespectful to call someone ‘doctor’ if they are a professor. Instructors are not professors, and should be called ‘Dr.,’ ‘Ms.,’ etc. This is a country-wide thing in the US.

12 Fedoradude October 2, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Absolutely! A great article and sorely needed in today’s academic world (as well as good advice for outside the classroom too).

13 kg333 October 2, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Rich is correct. In the US, the title “professor” refers to a PhD in the tenure system, and calling someone without a PhD by that title isn’t going to go over well.

14 Ted October 2, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Now I feel bad for reading this in class.

15 Taylor October 2, 2013 at 10:20 pm

There was a kid in my philosophy class who would always arrive late to class, then get out silverware and eat his lunch during the lecture, all the while asking know it all questions. I had to force myself to not visibly cringe on a daily basis.

16 Brett McKay October 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Rich brings up a good point about the distinction between Professors and Doctors.

It’s true that in many universities, Professor is a title that’s bestowed by the university. So it is possible to have an instructor who has a PhD, but doesn’t have the title of Professor. Some schools are still very particular about this distinction.

So if you want to be exact on how to address your instructor, you’d want to follow what Rich said. With that said, I still submit it’s best to err on the side of over-formality by addressing any of your college instructors as “Professor” until you learn they’re not or they tell you to stop.

Moreover, in researching for this article I discovered that “professor” has become a generic, honorific word for anyone who teaches at a college or university level in the United States. Most university professors and etiquette folks would agree that it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to any of your college instructors as “professor.” It’s simply a way to recognize the student/teacher relationship.

17 KCM October 2, 2013 at 11:04 pm

I’m a 29 year old junior who spent 8 years on active duty before going back to school. Frankly, college students drive me freaking insane. I agree with pretty much everything here and I may try to distribute it, but I’m not expecting much in the way of them accepting it.

The biggest thing is DON’T FREAKING WHINE. It’s like nobody deals with adversity or cares about meeting a standard here. I saw a class full of mopes mutiny because the teacher dared ask them to submit a simple assignment no later than 6pm on Saturday. There was the first home game that day, but it didn’t start until 6. You’d have thought he wanted them to roll around in barbed wire with Freddy Mercury. One even straight-up said “I’m not doing that.”

If the professor gives you a standard, meet it. If he says turn your papers in stapled, do it. Don’t fail to meet the standard, get him to give you stapler, and then get all huffy when he says you need to hurry up and turn it in. If you’d have done the right thing the first time, you wouldn’t be having that conversation.

I hate college.

18 Drew October 2, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Sorry Brett, I have to disagree. Professor is an honorific reserved for those in certain faculty positions. Professors do not necessarily need to be tenured or tenure track (though most are) nor have a Ph.D. (though almost all do), depending on field. In fact, landing a professorship can be more difficult than earning a Ph.D., depending on your field.

Regarding an above post, neither I nor any of my colleagues would feel disrespected if addressed as “Doctor” rather than “Professor” (maybe this also depends on field?).

I very much enjoyed the article, and my life would be much easier if my students followed these suggestions. One I would add: Don’t send 5 emails over the course of 15 minutes. I promise you, the only thing you will accomplish is to irritate your instructor. Another: don’t act surprised when the instructor expects you to actually know how to use the material from prerequisite courses (or earlier in the semester!)

19 Charles October 2, 2013 at 11:38 pm

While everything others have brought up about professors being a distinct honorific title is true, we must be honest in acknowledging that the term professor has entered into common vernacular in a different way. After all, everyone I know who has their doctorate and teaches at the university level, when asked what they do, will tell you that they are a college PROFESSOR! And everyone who aspires to do what I do tells me they want to be a professor. And they don’t mean that in the sense of the formal, honorific title. By all means academics, when interacting with other academics, should acknowledge the distinction, but when it comes to what students should call us, there’s no need for nitpicking. They are generally confused about what to call us, and I agree with Brett that it’s best to err on the side of formality. Contrary to what others have said, no one will be offended or feel disrespected if you call them professor and they are not. We are all professors in that we profess our knowledge. If it bothers someone, they will simply correct you.

Finally, I say, when in doubt, let Wikipedia clear it up (just don’t use it as a source for one of your term papers!):

“In the United States and Canada the title of professor is granted to most scholars with doctorate degrees or equivalent qualifications (typically Ph.D.s) who teach in two- and four-year colleges and universities, and is used in the titles assistant professor and associate professor, which are not considered professor-level positions [2] in many other countries, as well as for full professors.”

Anyway, I truly hope the discussion of this excellent post will not be derailed on this one minor subject. It’s really quite trivial in the big scheme of things.

20 ADX October 2, 2013 at 11:46 pm

“College students often get a lot of flack these days…” Flack is a publicity agent or when its a verb it means to promote or publicize. I think you want “flak” which is gunfire/shelling/AA fire.

By the way, excellent site and love this article. I come here to read every week. Even old articles. It annoys me to no end seeing laptops in class with people surfing the internet. Why bother showing up and shelling out all that money if you won’t put in an effort?

21 Edvin October 3, 2013 at 12:15 am

The professor/doctor distinction is important and some of us are extremely proudly requiring the students to call them as they should.
However most of us are human being too (I met my faculty dean in the wood on sunday, we were both looking for mushrooms) and as long as my students are respectful, I do not really care how they do call me.
My students don’t have break for lunches so food is ok, as long as it does make neither noise nor smell. I wan’t them to listen to me, not to think that there are yet 4 hours to go until food.
Laptops are not ok. No matter what. If you want to seat behind a computer, don’t come.
If you want an A, learn. And so on.
Maybe one last thing: if your wife is about to have a baby, tell your fellow students. In my experience when somebody runs away, it is kind of surprising for the teacher.

22 Brett McKay October 3, 2013 at 12:57 am


Thank you for the kind words. Glad to hear you are enjoying the site.

“Flack” is a well-established variant of “flak,” and is acknowledged as such by Merriam-Webster and all the other dictionaries I consulted.

As to the continuing discussion of the professor/doctor issue, I appreciate the feedback. As both sides seem to have been presented, I hope we can move on — would love to hear more tips and anecdotes from teachers and students alike!

23 Danny Penner October 3, 2013 at 1:28 am

I would like to emphasize the wise use of office hours. Not enough students take advantage of the professors’ office hours, and either end up taking care of business during the lecture, which is a waste of everyone’s time, or not taking care of business at all, which is a crying shame.

24 Stephen October 3, 2013 at 1:32 am

If I could slap one thing into the noggins of the students I had when I taught in grad school, it’s that you aren’t at a university to check off a point on a resume checklist. And you’re not being required to take an English Lit class for your business degree because you’re going to quote Milton to your clients. You’re there to acquire the knowledge required to be an intelligent participant in a modern democracy. This should be your goal, especially as an undergraduate, above everything else. You read fiction to broaden your view of human experience. You study history so that you can perhaps not repeat it. Science curricula are really guilty of just going through what, say, physicists think is important, but what one would like is for it to teach a notion of theorizing, testing, and refining your theory when it doesn’t survive first contact with the world. The “vocational training” attitude towards college probably does more harm than anything else I encountered.

25 Dr Boatman October 3, 2013 at 1:53 am

Although, in Australia, “doctor” or “professor” are dispensed with, and it’s quite all right (nay, expected) for you to address your lecturer by their first name.

26 Heath October 3, 2013 at 4:57 am

I went to university before laptops and mobile phones and 24/7 Internet. I cannot imagine what it must be like these days to sit through a ninety-minute class with so many distractions. Some of my evening classes were once per week for nearly three hours even. I was just telling my mum how I rarely missed classes because I learned more by listening than by reading. Now I am a teacher, but thankfully iPhones haven’t made it to the kindergarten just yet. I know this is a different generation, but I think most of this stuff is timeless. One of my favourite articles in a while. Bravo! I will be sharing it with my student friends…

27 Steven October 3, 2013 at 5:16 am

Great article, as always! Thank you B&K!

I graduated a couple of weeks ago and this is something every student should be getting on their first day!

However, I would like to add, that a few of these advices might differ from country to country or faculty to faculty. Of course this is common sense but just for the record as it might be interesting for students abroad:

I graduated in journalism in Germany and over here, every single one of the professors was adressed by “Mrs./Mr.”, regardless of their title. Adressing someone as “Professor Müller” is guaranteed to give you weird looks by both your fellow students and the professor aswell.

Also I was a bit baffled by your advice “if your 10 minutes late, don’t come at all”. While I TOTALLY agree with you on being punctual, there’s sometimes always so much you can do. Abroad a lot of students might not live on campus and therefore have to get their each day. Needless to say that especially in winter delays are sometimes inevitable. Plus I believe that a professor should have the inner strength not to be irritated by someone walking in the room.


P.S.: A small correction on the German 101, it’s “Klasse entlassen.” – with a capital K. ;-)

28 JG Repshire October 3, 2013 at 5:41 am

Have to agree with what others are saying. “Professor” is a higher title than “Doctor”, and a teacher with only a master’s degree should be addressed as Mr. or Miss initially, never “professor”. Chances are they will than ask to be called by their first name, which I think is perfectly acceptable (being sometimes in that situation myself). A teacher with only a master’s is probably a good ten years away from earning “professor”, assuming they are working towards a PhD. Also, having done my bachelor’s in the US (Kansas University) and postgrad in the UK (Exeter) I can vouch that in the UK “professor” is a very guarded title that is used even less than it is in the US (though interestingly most doctors in the UK also tend towards first name after initial introductions); useful to know if ever dealing with UK academics.

29 Sam October 3, 2013 at 6:10 am

Interesting article thank you. As a PhD student who does a lot of marking for undergrad lab reports I would add that you should try and understand when you are being offered feedback, and also understand what feedback is.

What it is not is someone telling you nice things (necessarily) about your work. It’s me offering advice on how to improve your work. But also try and understand that part of the university journey is NOT being told everything and exploring the subject for yourself. good luck!

30 Matias Tamminen October 3, 2013 at 6:20 am

I’m a freshman at the University of Helsinki. I completely agree on most of these, although there doesn’t seem to be major problems following these here.

I do disagree on the sleeping/surfing the net/using smartphone point though. Here, if you’re not disturbing others, you’re free to not follow tuition. In my opinion, it’s the lecturer’s responsibility to be so interesting that you don’t want to be on Facebook instead.

That’s a bit anarchistic way of seeing it, but the lecturer has to earn the students’ trust. Of course, one could say that this is just a natural consequence of all tuition from kindergarten to university being free in Finland (i.e. we don’t appreciate, we take for granted), but I’m not alone with this view here.

31 Ben Scholze October 3, 2013 at 6:51 am

Great read there Mr.McKay!

One thing I distinctly remember from my time in the Navy, was to stand up and take notes if I was nodding off, and to never ever, ever rest your chin/head into your hands, or on your arm. Simply one step closer to head on the desk and off to la-la dream world. Always drink water, and integrity to catch yourself from nodding off and being a giant bobble-head and stand up with your notes and towards the back of the class, and resume taking notes.(this way you prevent from distracting anyone, while waking up your brain to force it to stand up while also listening and taking notes. Don’t you dare lean against the bulkhead either, you pukes!)

Something else I noticed when I was in most classes, is that students will try to coax a professor into answering a question he/she just asked, in guise of “explaining what they mean”. Don’t.Ever.Do.That. It’s a cop out and it doesn’t engage your brain. You want to swindle people? Go sell cars. Want an education? Then put on your big boy pants (read: NOT sweats!) and start asking questions, and no question is too dumb either, (as long as it pertains to the discussion at hand, though!) and take plenty of notes. This isn’t a popularity contest, this is your life and foothold of a long career, so check the ego and Mr. Billy Bad-ass at the door, and swallow a slice of that delicious humble-pie the Professor is serving up and actually contribute to the learning and educating process.

Whew! I’ll get off this soap-box now, think I almost broke it…

32 Bjarke Reimann October 3, 2013 at 7:00 am

These are some very good guidelines to follow. I just started university, and it seems very common that people start packing up their things before the lecture has finished. This isn’t just rude, but also supremely annoying because you will have a hard time hearing what the professor is saying during the last few minutes – stuff which often turns out to be important. It also tends to start a cascade of more people packing their stuff, making even more noise. I’d really wish that it would be considered common manners to wait untill class is finished and people have finished asking questions before you start to leave.

33 Paul E. October 3, 2013 at 7:09 am

Having started my 5th year of college this semester, I feel like this needs to be standard reading for all 100 level classes. Even in upper level classes I see students doing over half of these.
I would also add, though, to take as many classes outside your major as possible, since it can add a lot to your education within your major. I have drawn ideas from my English Lit class into my American Political Though class numerous times, and every time it brings a new dimension to the discussions.
One note about the hogging all the discussion, if you are in a discussion based course and no one else is discussing, it is more of a help to talk more than less as it takes pressure off your professor to try to get others talking. Especially if you can present arguments that people will want to try to pick apart and disprove as it will be more motivation to talk.

34 Okierover October 3, 2013 at 7:23 am

While attending OU, I watched a student mix a drink in a 9am class in Dale Hall.

35 Adam October 3, 2013 at 8:39 am

I thought this was a great article. I try to call my teachers either Professor or Doctor, however most of them prefer to be called by their first names.

36 Matt Henry October 3, 2013 at 8:39 am

This is a good starting point. Other students, remember this.
- You aren’t in college to party, get drunk, or merely receive a piece of paper after four years and many thousands of dollars expended. You’re here to get an education that will serve you for the rest of your life–how well it serves you depends on how much work you invest in it now.

- Showing up to class isn’t hard. Organize your schedule, set alarms, and just go to class. Once you’re in class, pay attention. I don’t use my laptop in any of my classes–I take all my notes by hand, in order to minimize distractions.

- Get to know your professors. Stop by their office hours at least a couple times just to talk about something you’ve been thinking about in their area of expertise. One of my professors can often be found smoking in the gazebo outside. I’ll stop by and chat about economics with him — and it’s resulted in him helping me out with a lot of other things.

- Finally, DO THE WORK. If you want an A, do A-quality work, show up to class, pay attention, participate, and cite all your sources.

37 W Edwards October 3, 2013 at 8:43 am

Simple really. You are in class to gain knowledge. Knowledge is power. With power comes responsibility.

So act like it.

38 Jérôme D. Andre October 3, 2013 at 8:56 am

“Address the instructor appropriately.” is a bit of a slippery slope here in germany. In written text (letter/ e-mail/ etc.) yes, but if you really address as something like “Mister Dr. Habil. XYZ” (Herr Doktor Privatdozent XYZ) in spoken conversation they will often give you a strange look, and think you are making fun of them, from my experience.

I agree with most of the other things said, though.

39 Tyler October 3, 2013 at 8:57 am

Lots of good advice here. The professor/doctor issue is being blown out of proportion in the comments. If you are seriously in doubt, ask your professor what the local protocol is (assuming s/he has been there for some time).

One thing I’d add/emphasize is that students sometimes don’t realize how visible they are from the front. So if you’re texting/sleeping/eating/surfing, your professor knows it. A common issue with laptops in the classroom is what some of my colleagues call “blue-face,” and not because students are sad. Thanks FaceBook.

40 Brett October 3, 2013 at 9:01 am

This should be handed out at the beginning of every semester, in every class. I went back to college recently to gain the necessary credits for professional licensing in the field I am going into. The behavior of most of the students blew my mind. These weren’t incoming freshman, these were juniors and seniors. It wasn’t that long ago that I was an undergraduate, and I would have been tossed out class for less than what these kids are doing now.

41 Garrick October 3, 2013 at 9:46 am


No you’re not the only guy who’s experienced the distinction between professor and instructor. I’ve worked in Academic environments for 10 years now in Canada. There is a very important distinction between a Professor and a Doctor.

A Professor is a PhD who is currently in a tenure track position. They are the people who have either already received tenure or who are on their way to receiving tenure. In contrast, especially in this neoliberal era, many of the teachers of classes in Colleges are simply ‘instructors’, those hired to teach the class but who are not on a tenure track.

If you call an instructor a ‘Professor’ then they will likely correct you as it would be accepting a title that they haven’t earned. I agree that it is important to err on the side of caution but most instructors will identify themselves as such in the syllabus.

42 Dan October 3, 2013 at 9:57 am

The copyright concerns you identified have been asserted by a few professors, but are really reaching. A lecture does not qualify as a protected work under the 17 USC § 102 unless the lecturer has fixed it. Better to ask the professor out of respect, but unless the professor is making copies as well, there is no copyright infringement.

43 Ben October 3, 2013 at 10:00 am

Great article! I work in the financial aid office of a major university, and most of these points can be directly translated to dealing with financial aid or any other administrative office on campus, as well.

Treat your advisors/counselors with respect. Often, we get a certain amount of money each term to award students who have account balances. We remember who have been respectful/courteous and who haven’t; you can be sure that students who are regularly disrespectful or ungrateful for aid we give will not be getting more.

Be presentable; practice good hygiene. It’s just no fun to have to turn on my fan and air out my office after students leave behind their “aura.” Also, don’t bring your lunch with you to an appointment: cleaning chicken grease off my desk is never fun.

Take responsibility. Yes, financial aid and loans can often be confusing, but that’s why we’re here — we WANT to help you understand your aid and the aid application process. After all, taking responsibility for your finances in college often provides a good starting point for taking financial control later on.

As mentioned above, we do have lives outside of our jobs, so no, I will not reply immediately to your email when you send it at 11:30pm.

Thanks for a great article. I wish I could pass this out to each student that comes in our offices!

44 Lex Spoon October 3, 2013 at 10:11 am

Some European universities have a different system of titles for their full-time teaching staff.

Like perhaps most of AoM, I came up through American universities (Clemson, Georgia Tech), where most of the researchers are called “professors”. There are three levels: assistant professor, associate professor, and full professor. Maybe 1/5 or even less are full professors. They usually have a Ph.D., moreso nowadays than when I was a sprightly young college lad.

I later worked in and around a variety of European universities (Aarhus, EPFL, Oxford), and at the ones I’ve been involved with it is different. They are very stingy about whom they call a “professor”; it’s more like a “full professor” at the universities I was previously familiar with. In such a university, it’s simply wrong to call a random teaching researcher a professor. It would be like calling a first-dan a grandmaster, or a lay minister “the reverend”. It’s not a compliment.

An additional complication is that American universities sometimes have “research scientists” that are not tenure-track positions. These aren’t professors, but they often teach classes.

An additional issue is that sometimes classes are taught by graduate students or by “instructor” staff. Neither of these is a professor by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, in the case of graduate students, they almost never have a Ph.D.

Because of all this, neither Dr. nor Professor seems very safe. You kind of have to just learn which one is appropriate for the person you are talking to. Mr. and Mrs. are never incorrect, but are a little rude if they have a Ph.D. Maybe just use “sir” and “ma’am”. They never go out of style.

45 Jonathan October 3, 2013 at 10:12 am

I agree with Brett on the punctuality issue. Yes, things happen. But you’re an adult. I’ve had to ask a boss for permission to leave work five minutes early so that I wouldn’t be late for class. An important distinction here is that arriving late is disrespectful to your fellow students as well. I made the effort – why can’t you?

A finer point on asking questions: pay attention so you don’t ask a question that was answered five minutes ago.

46 Brian October 3, 2013 at 11:10 am

This might not be appropriate for all situations, however to combat falling asleep, stand up and move to the back of the room. You will have an easier time staying awake and the professor will see that you are actively attempting to pay attention to his information. Note taking might be more difficult this way but it beats doing the heavy-metal sleep dance.

47 Alex Moritz October 3, 2013 at 11:21 am

Great article, I wish all of my classmates read this. I find it extremely annoying when students start packing up their things 5 minutes before class ends. Also, a lot of the older guys and gals I go to school with are constantly on their smartphones and laptops during lectures. It is awful behavior REGARDLESS OF AGE… Completely agree with the dressing up to the occasion. Cannot stand seeing kids in their pajama pants or gym shorts going to class. When it comes to addressing professors I have a simple rule: pay attention on the first day of class, (i.e. “My name is Professor _____” or ” I am Doctor ______”).

As the article mentioned, you’re not in class to fall asleep!!! Instead of playing video games all night or partying all night maybe you should sleep… and if you stay up studying all night, well, consider starting your work a few days before it is due rather than the night before.

Oh and one final thing… Sometimes your best professor won’t be the nicest one… I have had professors that are amazing at teaching but not at all charismatic. On the other hand, have had professors that are great guys but are absolutely awful when it comes to teaching. So when picking out your schedule, think about which professor is the best teacher and not the guy you’d like to have a beer with.

48 rjzii October 3, 2013 at 11:22 am

Another weigh-in on the issue of addressing the instructors: I think one of the issues is that there is some conflating of “professor” as a job title (Associate Professor of History) versus the use of the word as a honorific directed as the person that is currently teaching the class. I’ve yet to encounter an instructor that was offended if you addressed them as “Prof. Doe” or the like and generally the bigger issue of whose a professor versus lecturer is limited to the faculty themselves. So for those actually taking the class, I’d just stick to calling someone a professor unless they ask you to address them in a different way.

49 ProfessorKirby October 3, 2013 at 11:28 am

The title “professor” is dependent on the institution. Some community colleges, for example, have instructors who are considered full-time and part-timers are known as adjunct instructors. Because most community colleges require an MA and not a PhD, it’s best to use Mr. or Miss when addressing him or her.

However, there are some community colleges that still have a tenure system AND require the usual MA. When a person is hired full-time on the tenure track within that community college, the progression goes from Assistant Professor, then to Associate Professor after tenure’s been granted, then to Professor after serving the college for an additional set number of years. Adjuncts are adjuncts (sadly) and lecturers get a little bit more recognition than adjuncts but not much.

Despite all that, though, I still find that most students call me either “Hey, Mister” or “Um …”

50 Ivan October 3, 2013 at 11:32 am

Excellent article as always, Mr. McKay. I just started graduate school, and I would say this is excellent advice for anyone involved in higher education. Acting and dressing professionally not only gives other people a good impression of you, but it also puts you in the right frame of mind to apply yourself as a professional.

One thing I would add to your list of advice is this: learn how to be a good listener. As students, we are often trained with the expectation that we must show our knowledge or mastery of a subject. However, you’re not going to get anywhere or get any respect if you can’t really listen to what other people are saying. This means that you don’t simply wait for your turn to expound your own knowledge: you have to listen to the other person, try to understand what they say, ask pertinent questions, and offer your own assertions when appropriate.

One thing to consider, scholars: people of both genders and all sexual orientations constantly rate “good listener” as being one of the most attractive qualities in a potential partner or mate, right up there with self-confidence, a sense of humor, and genuine kindness. Translation: listening is sexy as well as scholarly.

51 francis October 3, 2013 at 11:45 am

I find this site so entralling.It has infleunced my everyday considerations.I find in this article an A rate.I am a Lawyer resident and from Nigeria. Breth and Kate a thumb high.

52 Rob October 3, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Sit in the front row. I know its not etiquette, but I figure I should throw it in.

53 Student October 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

In Catalonia/Spain, every guy who teaches in a university is styled “professor”, obviously, many ask you to call them by their first names, although when writing, we use “professor Bloggs”. If the professor is a PhD student, he gets called by his first name right away, as he’s usually not a lot older than students. I even got to dude/mate terms with one.

54 Michael F October 3, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Similar Rob just above me here, utilize the ‘Learning T.’ Sit in the front or the middle of the classroom. Research shows that the students who sit in those spots tend to pay attention more, which leads to higher grades.
Great article. I once had a fellow student sit next to me eating sunflower seeds…not only did I hear the wrapper crinkle up every 2-3 minutes, but I also had to sit there through him spitting out the shells the entire class period (not a pleasant sound in a classroom).

55 Alan October 3, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Maybe it’s just my college, but I think that this is far too serious. My lectures are highly informal and I’m in the most reputable college in Ireland. Most of the things go without saying; they’re basic human courtesy, and some of it is just pedantic.

56 Keith Brawner October 3, 2013 at 3:39 pm

I am near one of the largest universities in the country. While there is a debate about “Professor” vs. “Doctor” in the honorific title, I’d like to weigh in. I have a doctorate, and have been in academia for the last 9 years, so I would like to think that my opinion matters.

“Doctor” is reserved for people with a doctorate (PhD, MD, ThD, etc.). If you don’t have a doctorate degree, you are not a doctor.

“Professor” typically means someone who is on the path to tenured professor (Assistant, Associate, Professor, Distinguished/Courtesy, in that order). However, there are many people who teach, but who are not tenure-tracked. Examples of this include “Adjunct Professors” (non-tenure-track), “Lecturers”, advanced PhD students, and accomplished teachers with masters degrees (MS, MfA, MBA).

What honorific do you bestow on the person teaching your college-level class, but who does not have a doctorate? Your choices are:
Dr. (nope, they don’t have one)
Ms./Mr. (doesn’t acknowledge the honorific or relationship)
First/Last Name (see above objections about addressing appropriately)

So you go with “Professor”. There only two people who can conceivably object to this. The first is the tenure-tracked Professor, who is probably not in the room. The second is the teacher themselves, whose objection lies in the formalism (which is a good objection to have!).

57 Brad Felmey October 3, 2013 at 5:22 pm

I find it interesting that of all the issues addressed by this article the thing that has caught fire in the comments is by what title the staff should be called.

One respondent mentioned actually paying attention on the first day of class to the instructor’s self-introduction. That is outstanding, but when in doubt (or if an instructor’s introduction does not indicate the desired honorific) simply raise your hand and ask “Sir/Ma’am, how would you prefer to be addressed?” It’s hard to go wrong following exactly what the entire class heard them state. You are also helping bring the attention of fellow classmates to the desired behavior.

The other points in this article are excellent, and I would offer that they are applicable to post-collegiate environments as well. It’s saddening to me how many of these issues persist even in highly-skilled workforce members.

58 John Leopold October 3, 2013 at 5:27 pm

This isn’t just for college. High school students should have to read this too. Especially the e-mail part. Students don’t check school or personal e-mail. As I try to organize club meetings and other activities, people not responding to e-mails make this so much more difficult.

Public school is a different story than college of course. You have to go. But still, basic respect still applies. Some teachers can carry a lot of weight with recommendations. Having them mention all the time you spent on your phone, and coming late, would not be very beneficial, I imagine.

59 jsallison October 3, 2013 at 8:25 pm

“While attending OU, I watched a student mix a drink in a 9am class in Dale Hall.”

Boomer Sooner! Quoth the Cameron Aggie grad.

60 Brendan Rowe October 3, 2013 at 9:15 pm

A Finnish friend of mine told me a few months back that all decorum is done away with and students typically address their instructors on a first name basis on the university and grade school level. There’s still the respect without the titles, of course.

61 Tue Hoang October 3, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I am 15 and yet I found the post really helpful on correcting my own etiquette in class, therefore also preparing me to behave properly in college later. However, I have a question on the “leaving early” part. Assuming that I have a reason to leave early, and I have already told the professor at the beginning of class, should I need to excuse myself right before leaving again? Or should I just pack up and leave without saying anything that might interrupt the lesson’s flow? It should be noted that a class that I am considering is only about 15 students in size. If it is a large lecture-like class hall with 50 students or so, then I think it is already good enough to leave as quietly as possible without interrupting the professor and other classmates.

62 Professor X October 3, 2013 at 9:28 pm

As a “professor”, this is excellent yet basic stuff. I have always behaved with the utmost respect as a student. However, every day I see students behaving in disappointing fashion. I’ve heard and seen all of the things mentioned and I just stare bewildered at students, amazed at the things they do and say.

From “are we going to do anything important today?” or “can we leave now?”, playing video games in class, doing homework from another class in my class and vice versa, attempting to eat a full course meal in class, lying straight to my face as we are both aware the person is lying yet the student continues full on, etc. I’ve even had students who failed classes, stuff work which they did not do since the beginning of the semester under my door hoping that I would somehow magically count it and change their final F grade.

When I was in grad school, I had professors who were world leaders in the fields of diplomacy and international relations. One guy was a retired Russian ambassador who participated in the old nuclear disarmament talks (SALT or START).

During one session with our living relic professor, a classmate was habitually playing video games on his laptop. The Russian Bear was too nice, but our geopolitics professor one day had had enough and outright told the guy to either get out of the classroom or be respectful.

I agree with the article’s introduction, some things never change but the degree to which they are getting worse I believe has skyrocketed.

Not to toot my own horn, but I provide students with cutting-edge material and every few weeks am able to connect live in the classroom via video to talk to either the authors they have been reading or very important people and a few act as if they don’t care (just like my old grad school classmate)! Even the invited experts themselves say they are lucky to have such a professor willing to teach in such a way. When I was in university, I was constantly trying to make the most of every moment and was amazed with the people I was able to be around.

On the whole, I see a general decline in etiquette, ladylikeness and gentlemanly behavior. Aside from parental (mis)guidance, I attribute a lot of it to “digital dementia” (yes, an actual scientific term), how technology, being a double-edged sword, in part has helped people become more narcisstic, apathetic, lazy, anti-intellectual, godless, etc.

63 rick October 3, 2013 at 11:01 pm

With regards to Alvarus Pelagius, no he didn’t teach at Hogwarts, I believe he was Spanish and not “French Critic”….he was employed by the Catholic Church. Whether that qualifies him as a “French critic” I can not say. Though he did serve the Pope in the French city of Avignon for a spell. He did achieve the rank of Bishop within the church.

64 Ivan October 3, 2013 at 11:12 pm

In response to Professor X:

While I agree with your various assertions that etiquette and respectfulness have fallen by the wayside in recent years and particularly with the advent of wireless technology, I take *extreme* objection to your inclusion of the word “godless” as a pejorative. I find it unconscionable that you would imply that atheism indicates a deficiency of character or that it is somehow equivalent with narcissism, apathy, sloth, and anti-intellectualism.

65 Professor X October 4, 2013 at 12:43 am


I didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, but I believe this is where our two opposing worldviews collide. Most atheists deem belief in God “undesirable” and in many instances a “deficiency of character”. I have personally had an atheist professor discriminate against me for my ideas, putting questions on exams for the whole class just because of me and making only myself in one instance, do two papers while everyone else had to do one.

At the university level, I’ve experienced a majority of the class scoff when they learn the teacher believes in God. I was not equating, for example, apathy with godlessness. I added godlessness simply as a trait I personally found undesirable, particularly because instead of allowing for freedom and a fair playing ground of neutrality by allowing both a religious and secular atmosphere, universities in many instances have become one-sided in this regard, promoting atheism while erasing traces of God. What is there to be so afraid of? Why not teach both creationism and the theory of evolution?

A large number of universities during the Middle Ages and after were, particularly in Europe, influenced by Christianity. Ivy leaguers such as Harvard were originially Christian. 87% of America today “professes” at minimum, to believe in God (though as evidenced by their actions, most likely are hypocrites). So we will have to agree to disagree here, as I don’t wish to go off-topic on a debate that will never end.

I would like to leave you with this new and popular documentary called “Evolution vs. God”:

66 Karl October 4, 2013 at 6:51 am

I returned to college for a second B.S. and Masters as a “nontraditional student” of 27 with significant job responsibilities and a growing family. It has been my experience that most professors / instructors are more than willing to allow quite a bit flexibility with respect to attendance policies, assignment and testing dates, and having to arrive late or leave early when students 1) act like an adult, and 2) first prove that they are serious students. I should also add that I privately discussed the nature of my responsibilities with the professor at the beginning of the semester and took great pains not to abuse the privileges afforded me.

@Ben Scholze:
In my part of the U.S., standing up to keep alert during class is not a widely known practice. When I have seen students do it they are usually met with quizzical looks from both professors and peers. I do wish it was a technique taught to civilian students.

67 vpostman October 4, 2013 at 9:16 am

I don’t know about some of this, Brett. While I’m always careful about smartphone ettiquette, the University is no church. Having your laptop out to surf the internet can be far more useful and educational than some classes’ lectures (think Wikipedia articles on differential topology while in a Data Structures course taught by an old instructor who makes no attempt to catch his mistakes AND has an attendance policy), and I’ve never met anyone who cared about the eating in class thing.

68 vpostman October 4, 2013 at 9:21 am

Also, I am almost 22. If I’m being taught by a 25-year-old graduate student, regardless of how many papers he’s published, I’m going to call him by his first name unless he absolutely insists otherwise. And in all my experience this has never happened.

69 Ivan October 4, 2013 at 9:58 am

To Professor X:
You are right that this is not the venue for such a debate, and in my experience it is exceedingly rare that a person’s foundational beliefs of any kind are ever really influenced by debate or logic. So we will just have to recognize that the other person has their own opinions and leave it at that. I do not object to your theist position or anyone’s theist position. What I object to are blanket value-statements made about others based solely on their disbelief (or belief, for that matter) in any particular theology.

To the McKays:
I apologize for bringing this sort of debate to an unrelated article on your website. It was not my intention to derail a discussion about civility with irrelevant argument. Please keep doing what you both do so well and realize that even people as disparate as Professor X and myself can enjoy your articles and agree on them.

70 Rob October 4, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Something I did not realize before I started teaching, professors see everything. I spend between 90 minutes and 3.5 hours talking to you and most of that time I am looking at you. And without trying I see every text, eye roll, and Ipad article. In fact its usually easier for me to see the back row than it is the front.

71 Rob October 4, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I am interested/confused about the professor distinctions people are drawing. In the majority of us higher ed institutions all full time and or tenure track ( assistant professor, associate professor, full professor, professor emeritus) would be called a professor. Part time faculty might be labeled an adjunct professor, adjunct instructor, lecturer, etc. But in my experience (adjunct instructor here) most people who would not rightfully fall under the professor label would not correct someone who refers to them as a professor since the explanation of distinctions is more complicated, but title, Mr., Ms., Mrs., Doctor would technically be the appropriate designation.

72 Chris October 4, 2013 at 3:32 pm

This is a great article…should be required reading for undergrads (and a couple grad students I know).

vpostman: It doesn’t matter if your grad student TA is only a few years older than you are, he/she is the instructor. It’s a matter of respect for the position, even if you don’t respect the person. Don’t call them by their first or only their last name unless they tell you to. And yes, smartphone etiquette is important. Most professors and instructors I know have a no-tolerance policy. It’s extremely rude to be surfing during class. If you think the teacher is wrong, research it on your own time, not while they’re trying to teach you something.

Brett: I have to disagree with you regarding “flack.” Yes, it’s in Merriam-Webster as an alternative to “flak” but that in and of itself doesn’t equate to popular usage. It could simply be there as a re-direct if somebody spells it wrong. As has been pointed out, “FlaK” is an acronym for “Fliegerabwehrkanone” and is the term you’re using.

I’m a university history instructor, these are all the sorts of things my students do all the time.

73 Brett McKay October 4, 2013 at 4:30 pm


Merriam-Webster does not have it in there as a redirect — it is quite clear they consider it an acceptable alternative.

Under the entry for “flak” it says:

-plural flak also flack
-Variants of FLAK: flak also flack
-Full Definition of FLAK
1: antiaircraft guns
2: the bursting shells fired from flak
3: also flack: criticism, opposition

If it’s good enough for Merriam, it’s good enough for me.

74 Brian October 4, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. As a doctoral student and a first time professor, I have seen many interesting things. One thing the school made sure to remind me of is that I am never to talk with the parents of a student unless authorized to by the student him or herself. That also includes my high school students that are taking college classes. All are deemed as adults in the eyes of the school.

As a side note, my students tend to dress horribly. Meanwhile, as much as I don’t like wearing them, I am always in a shirt and tie. It’s a respect for the position I am honored to hold and for the institution.

Thanks for another great article!

75 trent October 5, 2013 at 1:14 am

Great post. One of the most annoying things is when students leave their cell phone on vibrate and let it vibrate all throughout class. Very rude and distracting. Always makes me want sucker punch them.

76 JayLeads October 5, 2013 at 2:39 am

Though I’ve been quite aware of those “rules”, there are most certainly some new students who might take a look at it. What I had to see last year, was just unbelievable: Students throwing paper planes, playing World of Warcraft during class or being so drunk from the evening before that their smell was lingering over the whole room. One professor asked a student, who hid her smartphone under her table, to “say hello” for him. She went deep red in shame. Don’t underestimate those people!

77 PM October 5, 2013 at 7:17 am

In India, it is customary to address college professors and schoolteachers as “Sir” or “Ma’am”. It is also common to address your seniors at work this way, but that custom is changing in many multinational companies. Although many would disagree with me, I feel this “remnant of British colonialism” is not bad practice at all.
Addressing your teachers this way removes ambiguity regarding titles. Moreover, even they expect to be addressed this way. A student calling his teacher “Prof. Singh” during a conversation may raise some eyebrows as this form of addressing is reserved for peers or by seniors, even!

78 Matias Tamminen October 5, 2013 at 12:31 pm

On second thoughts, a complete commentary from a Finnish freshman POV:

Dress appropriately.
-Dressing casually is fine, but your clothes should be clean.

Arrive on time.

Address the instructor appropriately.
-Everyone’s addressed by their first name here.

Come to class prepared.
-For your own good, yes.

Turn off the smartphone and put it away.
-At least it should be muted.

Take part in the discussion.

Be respectful during heated discussions.
-Very important, agreed. 

Don’t dominate the discussion or question asking.
-Not a problem in Finland, no one’s that eager to speak :)

If you’re using your laptop to take notes, don’t use it to surf the internet
-I disagree. If you’re not disturbing others, it’s up to you. Of course, you’re there to learn, but it’s the lecturer’s responsibility to be tolerable enough for you to not prefer surfing the net. Moreover, some googling about relevant things might be required.

Things to never say or ask a professor…

When in doubt, check the syllabus. 

No chatting and snickering during class.
-Very important, agreed wholeheartedly.

Don’t work on other classwork during class.
-Agreed. If you have to get something done just then, just skip the class.

Practice good email etiquette.
-Agreed. No bowing and scraping required, though.
Check your email. 
-This! Agreed wholeheartedly.

Respect your professor’s time. 

Before recording a professor, ask for permission first.
-Would be of good etiquette to ask, but not required. I haven’t seen anyone record a lecture, though.

Take care of “business” before class, but if nature calls during the lecture, just get up and go.

Don’t put your stuff away until class is actually over.
-Agreed, it’s annoying.

If you need to leave early, let the instructor know in advance.
-Disagreed. Better not to bother them with that.

Don’t let your parents intercede on your behalf.

Try hard not to fall asleep.
-Disagreed. It’s the lecturer’s responsibility to keep you awake by making the lecture interesting. In fact, we were told that it’s okay to sleep and that we shouldn’t take our studies too seriously and burn ourselves out by the students’ union, which is of high standing.

Skipping class once or twice a semester is okay, but don’t let it become a habit.
-Attendance is optional most of the time. The lecturers themselves say that we’re free to skip all the classes if we want. If you feel a lecture is benefitting your lecture, attend. If you don’t, don’t.

Having a drink with you is okay (not alcohol – yes, I’ve seen it happen), but avoid food in the classroom.

What happens if the professor doesn’t have good etiquette?
-Then we stop paying attention :) They are good here, though.

79 René October 6, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Great article. I am always baffled by the notion that you actually have to tell these things to people. I graduated in biochemistry from a german university and received my doctorate from a swiss university. We addressed everyone by their appropriate (highest) titles, unless offered the first name (which happened with 100% of student tutors). I hear this differs a bit between fields.

However, once I joined the ranks of the research students (at the Max-Planck-Institute) my professors offered me to call them by their first name and use our informal version of addressing them (“Du” vs. the formal “Sie”, both mean “you”), mostly for simplicity, but also to a small part in recognition of you being a researcher now. I still called most of them Prof. XYZ out of habit. During my PhD however we only used first names, also there were no classes anymore.

Skipping class or leaving early (quietly!) is usually not frowned upon here, because you are an adult and it is your responsibility to learn. A lecture is merely an offering. Offering an explanation however is nice, as it shows you value the lecture.

80 St. Vital Kid October 10, 2013 at 10:45 am

I am a vocational school instructor in the field of broadcasting. I have 17 years of classroom experience and agree wholeheartedly with the tone and content of this article.
Another thing you (the student) should never do is begin any statement or (more likely) challenge to your instructor with, “My friend says that…” I always come back with, “Why not just pay your friend X grand in tuition to teach you how to structure an entertaining on-air radio bit or to shoot a news feature with a Panasonic HMC-150?”

81 Ted Gale October 11, 2013 at 8:11 am

“I graduated in journalism in Germany and over here, every single one of the professors was adressed by “Mrs./Mr.”, regardless of their title. Adressing someone as “Professor Müller” is guaranteed to give you weird looks by both your fellow students and the professor as well.”

That was also the custom at Yale (at least in the late seventies and early eighties). When we came in as freshman, the upperclassmen instructed us on what may have been an institutional quirk. The only members of the faculty who were called “Dr.” were those in the medical school. Any one who wasn’t an M.D. who insisted on “Dr. ” would have been considered a pompous ass.

82 Siht October 12, 2013 at 8:00 pm

I agree with all of them except for “Having a drink with you is okay (not alcohol – yes, I’ve seen it happen), but avoid food in the classroom.”

There’s no way I’m rushing a meal to head off to a class as to not eat in front of the teacher. I rather not go at all, I’ve always been doing my best to have proper manners, but if it gets in the way of my health or from being sane then I might as well quit all of it.

Otherwise great article, a lot of students could take notes from this.

83 Andarb October 13, 2013 at 11:28 pm

“There’s no way I’m rushing a meal to head off to a class as to not eat in front of the teacher.” This is exactly why I, were I in the position to do so, would kindly point to the sign that says NO FOOD OR DRINK in every classroom, at least at my school. I have a classmate that, without fail, brings his breakfast to class. He’s a nice guy, and I tutor him occasionally, but he’s simply too slothful to get up fifteen minutes early to eat before he gets in the car. Half of the time he’s late anyway, might as well be a little later.

“If the professor gives you a standard, meet it. If he says turn your papers in stapled, do it.” AMEN. In my English 300 class, the vast majority of the students were still bringing handwritten notes or poorly formatted papers for the final research paper workshop of the semester. I saw some of the papers submitted, and fully half were not even remotely MLA style – a requirement the professor covered during the first class. I tried to correct my groupmates and help them format correctly, but it was little use.

84 Zachary October 14, 2013 at 7:06 pm

While I agree with the majority of the points here, I take issue with the arbitrary professor/student dichotomy, especially in the liberal arts, as implied throughout the article. I grant that professors worked hard to get their positions; I grant that they are more knowledgeable about their respective subjects than I am. However, that doesn’t mean the students are there only to learn—they are also there to contribute to the sum of academic knowledge. The students are their own colleagues, but the professors are not adults teaching children, as is the case in high school. They are adults teaching other adults and collaborating therewith when necessary. I’ve had professors tell me that most students act either with cowed deference or stubborn entitlement, and that some are actually too convinced of their inferiority to even make eye contact with their professors. I know myself that the vast majority of my colleagues are far too intimidated to openly disagree with the professor in class, and I agree with the authors wholeheartedly on the necessity of reasoned contest. Having acquired my entire education through sophomore year of high school through reading and parental guidance and then gone to community college, I see no reason why there should be a divide beyond the necessities of professionalism. It helps no one.

Furthermore, I find no value in associating with a professor who disregards new ideas or research in his field just because it comes from an undergraduate. This is one instance where the European university system shines: Professors will take the time to work with their students outside of class. If I am asked why I am studying Germanic philology and analytic philosophy at a top 20 university, I will truthfully answer that it is largely because the faculty take the time to meet and discuss new ideas and academic explorations. It’s that important.

N.B. Using the honorifics proper to academia is, of course, merely common courtesy, and I am in no way advocating a departure from that earned norm.

85 porkchop October 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

Sometimes I wonder why these need to be wrote, and then I go to class…
Returning to classes every dozen or so years is becoming a habit but I think this may be my last go at it. The discomfort I experienced this time around nearly made me physically ill and, disturbingly, many of the faculty could be numbered among the ‘problems’ not ‘solutions’.

Could you maybe do one of these for those on the other side of the podium?

86 Ginger October 25, 2013 at 6:48 am

My dad gave me a great piece of advice when I went off to college. He told me to attend class and pay attention. If you do nothing else, you will have automatically “studied” those 3 hours during the week. Block out the time, then just go. It served me well.

87 Abigail November 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

I can’t say how much dressing well is important. At least in my major (Aeronautics) we have a dress code, both for class, and when on the flight line. But it’s important to go beyond the bare minimum of the dress code since airlines and other potential employers (not to mention the Dean of the school and the Chancellor himself) are often walking the halls and will stop to talk to students. Also, doors are often left open during class, and the last thing you want is to be on Facebook when the airline’s hiring manager steps into the back of the classroom. The most important impression you can make is the first impression.

Also, talk to professors. Not many students will stop to talk with a professor. They love it when they can get to know their students, and often they have a wealth of knowledge. Not only does talking more about the subject of the class almost guarantee higher grades (The more comprehensive your knowledge of a subject the easier it is on assignments and tests),they are often willing to give great advice on life and it’s problems.

88 Bob Dole April 10, 2014 at 8:02 pm

For the most part, these are very good suggestions. The one exception I would make is about the question “Will you be grading on a curve?”

As a first day question about the syllabus, it’s inappropriate. However, I feel like asking it after examination results are posted can be entirely legitimate. Faced with a class average of 30%, it’s entirely reasonable to seek reassurance that the professor won’t be failing the majority of students. After all, some do.

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