Seeking professor-nal help

Build a solid foundation for your semester with advice from professors

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A professor on the right is pointing at a very large screen and lecturing to a lecture hall full of students on the right side of the photo. They are at wooden tables that curve inwards to face the professor at the front of the room.
We go directly to the source and ask professors what their students should know at the start of classes. PHOTO: Dom Hou / Unsplash

By: Charlene Aviles, Staff Writer

January is the time of new beginnings and a new semester so The Peak reached out to professors from several departments to get their advice for students.

Transitioning into the Spring 2022 semester

Dr. Torsten Kehler, department of English:

I feel for those of you who have been in a manner of speaking cheated by the appearance of COVID-19, as there was obviously a massive reduction in person-to-person interaction and general human contact. So, on a concrete note, my advice for when we are back on campus this Spring is ‘make friends’ and ‘get to know some of your classmates and peers.’

Speaking more broadly about the university experience, I’m kind of a pragmatic existentialist, so my advice to students is to remember that we are choosing agents. It isn’t always pleasant to have to choose, as it’s easier to follow in grooves worn by others, but it is highly worthwhile. And the more we think about our choices, the more skilled choosers we become. Hopefully! In general, strive to choose wisely. Make every moment count.

Dr. Pascal Haegeli, School of Resource and Environmental Management:

Your instructors are doing the best they can to provide you with a good course experience, but things might not always work out as planned and dates might get shifted around. If this happens in one of your courses, try to be flexible and remember that the reason for the change might be outside of your instructor’s control.

Second, be organized. Use the first weeks to gather as much information about the assignments, projects, and exams of your courses as possible, and plan your term accordingly. Spread the workload out as much as you can and try to proactively stay on top of all your courses. This will reduce the need to cram towards the end of the term, and it will make you more flexible for when things suddenly change.

However, if you or a family member suddenly gets sick, or you face another personal challenge that makes it hard for you to focus on schoolwork, get in touch with your instructor right away. It is much easier for instructors to be understanding and come up with an approach for accommodating your situation when they know about it right when it is happening.

Dr. Christopher Pavsek, School for the Contemporary Arts:

Rest assured that most faculty or at least everyone I know have their students and their well-being very much in mind and they are trying to figure out ways to make the semester as rewarding as possible and as kind as possible for students, despite the obvious challenges [ . . . ] the pandemic [is] presenting. 

Don’t forget your profs are people too and they are dealing with the pandemic blues as well be forgiving when your prof says something like ‘Ugh, the screen share isn’t working’ for the 11th time in three weeks . . . it’s dispiriting when Zoom goes off the rails. And laugh at your teachers’ jokes, even if they are not funny. It’s a horrible feeling when you cue up a fantastic joke and Zoom returns silence. (I always tell myself: ‘If this were in-person, I know they’d be falling over in the aisles!’)

University during the pandemic has its real challenges, to be sure. I’d never minimize that. But remember that you can still get a ton out of your education and your experience this term, even if Omicron seems to suggest otherwise.

Dr. Zachary Rowan, School of Criminology:

Faculty are equally experiencing the sense of uncertainty as to what’s going to happen in the upcoming weeks after the transition or the initial time that the university has set for online learning. I would just say that [students] should be prepared for — or do their best to prepare for — the type of transition that could come when we are potentially going back to in-person.

[Students’] ability to move from online to back in-person within a single semester is a testament to their resilience as students, and they should be proud of their commitment to learning in multiple different environments. And also to take advantage of the fact that if we are to go back in-person, we have this opportunity to be with each other in the same room and to really lean into the courses that you’re in. Be engaged.

Work-life balance

Dr. Alessandra Capperdoni, department of humanities:

If you’re not able to find the pleasure, learning will be [ . . . ] excruciatingly difficult. It’s not worth it anymore. Instead, I think that the very successful course is always the course that makes the student fall in love a little bit, at least with the subject matter that they are studying. And try to love everything that you choose to do because that is the only way to be a successful student even before the course of your studies.

Make a real effort to give room to your personal life too and not see your personal life as a kind of competition with your studies. So create connections, study groups, even in pairs. Even now with the restrictions, it is perfectly possible as long as you follow the safety procedures. We are social beings, so we learn more when we are socially involved.

Suzanne Norman, publishing program:

Flexibility and tolerance are my two guiding principles; for myself, for my relationships with students, other faculty, and my family. Give yourself the space you need to get through the day, the week, the semester. If you feel guilty about that — don’t. One of the hardest things about being human is giving yourself a break. Just as you would a friend, listen to yourself and take your own advice.

You are here because you worked hard. You deserve to enjoy your university years and continue to build on your accomplishments.

Study tips

Dr. Clare McGovern, department of political science:

Think of your first assignment, or mid-term/quiz as a practice run for the rest of the semester. If you don’t do as well as you would like, there is plenty of time to get help. Ask your TA or instructor what to focus on for the final exam or later assignments. I’ve had students who failed their mid-term, came to office hours to go over their [assignments], and ended up passing the overall course comfortably.

In weeks one to two, go through all your syllabi and make a week-by-week semester checklist of every assignment, exam or other requirements: due date/time, submission details (Canvas? Turnitin?). Put it somewhere you’ll see it regularly: on your wall, your desktop, calendar, or phone. That way you won’t miss important details and you can identify where the bottlenecks will be in your semester.

It’s easy to lose sight in the middle of a semester — but remember you are worth far more than your latest grade or your GPA.

Support for students

Shafik Bhalloo, Beedie School of Business: 

If you are having a difficult time, or struggling in any way that is making you feel hopeless or unwell, particularly for [a] prolonged period, you are not alone. I reiterate, you are not alone. Please do reach out to your teacher. Teachers are aware of resources on campus that can be engaged to assist you or, alternatively, they know someone in the department that knows where to get you help.

No one expects you to be perfect or live an Instagram lifestyle. It is completely normal to feel down at times, but if you are finding that you cannot shake that down feeling for a prolonged period, there is absolutely no shame in reaching out for help.

Dr. Angela Kaida, faculty of health sciences:

We also miss those kinds of interactions with our students that Zoom is not great at facilitating. We really miss [that connection], so any opportunity that your prof puts forward for ways to connect outside of class, just take advantage of that. And you can show up to our office hours without a great question.

As your professors, we miss being with students as well. Especially if you’re an incoming first or second-year student, you might not have that experience yet. But as your profs, many of us choose to do this work, because we love to teach and we love to interact with students who are interested in things that we’re interested in as well. So we miss you too, and we’re really looking for ways to have more chances to connect. And if it has to be remote for a while, fine. We’ll do it. We’ll do it remote for a while. But I think maybe just to keep that in mind and not to feel like reaching out to your prof is somehow a bother to us. No, we want to hear from you. We want to interact with students.