I have always been more excited for my mom’s first day of school than I have been for my own. I would eagerly wait for her to come home, and then I would go straight into her bag in search of a stack of index cards. On them were her students’ names, hometowns, a fun fact and if they identified as an optimist or pessimist. My mom is a college professor of political science (not in Ithaca), and when I was younger, I would shuffle through the hundreds of cards trying to soak up little hints of what college kids were like and how I could become one.
At the start of this semester, one of my professors did the same thing — he handed out index cards asking us to write our names, hometowns and a fun fact. This was the first time this had happened to me at Cornell, and I smiled so widely. I imagined his kid excited for him to come home, and read through the cards like I was.
As the daughter of a professor, I have a behind-the-scenes perspective on certain aspects of the college system. Through the 19 years of going to my mom’s work-dinners, lectures and conferences, I have felt so lucky that my mom has taken me along with her for the ride. But I can’t say that I always felt that way. I have learned that being a professor is especially demanding because even when you’re not at work, you’re always working. The next project, the next letter, the next chapter, the next call with your editor is always waiting. I give my mom a lot of credit for having a family and navigating that job — and I’m not just saying that because she’s probably going to read this.
So without further ado, here is a list of everything I have learned from having a parent as a professor:
The Multiple Choice Fallacy
Professors don’t pay attention to the design of the multiple choice. By that, I mean while we are answering questions based on the fact that the test couldn’t possibly have four B’s in a row, our professors didn’t really think about the order of the answers when they were crafting the exam. If you’re filling in the bubble for the 5th B in a row and freaking out, don’t.
Our Professors get as much sleep as we do — which isn’t much. Making it to our 8:40’s on time is a battle for the both of us. Plus, they have to park.
Hobbies and Interests
One of my favorite things about my mom is that she loves to watch The Bachelor. It goes to show that even our professors enjoy the same stupid things we do.
They all know each other. In fact, they’re probably all friends. When chemistry professors and anthropology professors and deans and soccer coaches all find themselves together at my dinner table, it feels like I’m living in a sitcom. So, make sure to refrain from any negative comments about other professors on campus, even if you think the people around you share the same opinion. There’s also a lot of drama — and it’s juicy.
The Email Debacle
If there is a gutsy email you want to send — like asking for a grade change or possible extra credit — just send it. They might even admire you for your chutzpah. But avoid sending it at 2:00 a.m.. It’s not impressive that you know how to stay up late. For every hour we spend writing emails, they only spend two seconds reading them.
Three Golden Rules
Never ask when grades are going to come out. Your professors didn’t forget, and your grades will come out when they come out. Like I said, professors never really get a break. When we get to enjoy winter breaks after submitting our last assignments, they have to spend the next few weeks at their desks. And, don’t forget, professors pretty much hate grading. Maybe this rule is obvious. But nonetheless, it helps me to think about when it’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m still suffering through the paper due to them in the morning.
In class, when the spotlight turns to you and you didn’t do the reading, your professors would rather you just be honest about it. Trying to lie your way through it will be a lot more detrimental to your professors’ perception of you than just admitting the truth.
Always say “Hi” if you see your professors outside of class. Even if they don’t remember you or your name, they will pretend they do, and that will work to your benefit. But, whatever you do, make sure you do not ask them a question about your assignments during that brief run-in. That’s what office hours are for.
How much your professors like you and how close you sit to the front is, in fact, a positive correlation. Avoid staking out in the cheap seats. Plus, the TA’s actually do tell the professors what students are really doing on their laptops.
Also, they hate when students eat in class — even if they tell you it’s okay.
Wikipedia isn’t the devil; just remember to vet it carefully and include a citation.
Professors had to be students for a long time. A really long time. They know how to play the game, so they will recognize when you’re playing it too.
They really care. Like, really care.
Odeya Rosenband is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com. Passionfruit runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.