An evaluative review of a guidebook that claims to help undergrads
By Caitlin McKay, Staff Writer
Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success by Ellen Bremen, is an eguide for post secondary students. While her advice is sound and certainly helpful, it is not particularly insightful. After one semester at any post secondary institution, a student could (and should) be able to figure out most of these tips.
The 259 page book can be summed up in one sentence: use your common sense.
The 259 page book can be summed up in one sentence: use your common sense. For example, Chapter One explains why your parents should not handle your problems at University or College. Quite frankly, if you are still getting your parents to fight your battles after high school, you might want to re-evaluate if you’re ready for post secondary education… or life for that matter.
There are three fundamental flaws to Bremen’s survival guide. First, Bremen makes the assumption that all professors enjoy teaching and want to see students do well.
“Professors got into the education business because they want to help students. This is what we’re paid for and what we voluntarily signed up to do,” Bremen says on page 93.
Not true. Many professors do not like teaching but rather reluctantly accept it as a condition of their research grant.
“Professors’ attitudes do vary according to the institutions in which they work,” says Dr. Darryl Dee, a professor of French History at Wilfred Laurier University. “At institutions like the University of Toronto or the University of British Columbia, where the emphasis is on research productivity, most professors would see themselves as scholars first and teachers second.”
To some professors, teaching is the academic equivalent to clerical filing, which is painful and tedious. To these professors (and you will come across them) you are automatically a pain. With that assumption in mind, Bremen’s tips about do-overs and asking for help seem a little naive. The reality is some (and I stress some) professors are not interested in helping you and only created office hours after some serious arm twisting. Unfortunately, this guidebook does not provide tips about how to navigate through the grumpy professor’s office.
Second, the author fails to provide practical tactics that students can use to build a relationship with their professor and get better grades. Professors are BUSY and typically do not have a lot of time to help you– even if they want to. Bremen’s advice includes encouraging students to finish their work early, but that tip is a no brainer for any student who really wants good grades. The advice a student really needs, and what the book fails to provide, is how to make their meeting with their professors more efficient and effective.
“Come with questions prepared. Read assignments—better, start/complete assignments before you come for help—and it’ll be better for everyone. Also, maintain basic hygiene. Yes, this is an issue” Says Ian McKay, a PhD candidate at Cornell University.
There is only one type of student who purchases a guidebook about how to build a good relationship with a professor, and that is a good student because they want to do well. But a good student already knows to start assignments early, work hard and ask for help. Unfortunately, for Bremen, and the publishers, the students who haven’t figured out these tips but need them, are unlikely to purchase a post secondary guidebook.
In the interest of full disclosure on my final criticism, I just graduated from Queen’s University and I am interested in applying for my Masters. So, as recent graduate, I am interested in how to build a relationship with a professor and stand out, in order to get a good reference letter. I am anticipating that Bremen’s counter argument to my criticism is: if you follow her tips this will lead to good grades and you will stand out and TADA! a good reference letter is yours. However, in a class of 500 or more students, this just ain’t going to cut it. You and probably dozens of other students have A’s so really, you’re nothing special…yet.
“If you have a particular prof that you want to build a relationship there are a few things you can try: find out if they are involved with any campus clubs/groups and join; read their work and ask them something intelligent about it when you see them around campus,” Advises McKay who’s program required three academic references. “Frankly, if you want to stand out you should be both an overtly [and sincerely] nice person and a good student (smart or not). Someone who is good, interesting, and pleasant to be around is going to be memorable.”
And what is my advice to students? If, after you’ve paid your tuition, bought your textbooks, paid your first and last, bought a pint of beer, and you have the $15.95 (or 9.96 on Amazon) left over – buy another round of beers, because that’s money well spent.
Bremen, Ellen. Say this, not that to your professor. Norlightspress.com, 2012
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