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David Mitchell, a senior at the Univeristy of Georgia, enjoys the fall day on North Campus while studing for his upcoming exams. University of Georgia's Reading Day was held on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. Reading Day is the day in between the last day of classes and finals, giving students the opportunity to study. (Photo/Sophie Yaeger)

University of Georgia professors offer new students a few crucial bits of advice. 

Please read the whole syllabus

Think of it as a contract.

“Though it includes all of the things you must do to meet your obligations within this contract, it also includes a lot of things the professor will provide for you in return,” said Leah Carmichael, an international affairs professor and recipient of the 2021 J. Hatten Howard III Award.

The syllabus is an ever-present tool to answer easy questions and figure out what you’re getting from the course.

If you’re having some trouble outside of class, speak up

Whether you’re struggling with the material or you have something going on outside of class, give your professor a heads up early. A professor is much more likely to work with you on deadlines or extra time for projects with advance warning.

“It means a lot to me that my students trust me to help them, and if I can’t personally help, if I lack the expertise, for example, then I connect them with someone who can,” said Jonathan Peters, a journalism associate professor and recipient of the 2021 Richard B. Russell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Peters said he speaks for all professors, and they “want our students to keep healthy, balanced and grounded in our classes and beyond.”

Listen when other students talk

The professor isn’t the only one you can learn from. In fact, student perspectives are often just as valuable. “In general, listening is a profoundly respectful act. While it’s always fruitful to listen to someone presenting you with new information, it is also important to listen to how others around you are hearing this information as well,” Carmichael said.

UGA is a big school, and students come from different backgrounds. Their experience will often inform how they hear new information.

Use a calendar or planner

With classes, work and extracurriculars to balance, organization is key. “These things significantly helped me as a student, and they still help me in everyday life,” said Jason Rudbeck, an economics professor and a recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Faculty Award from the Terry College of Business. “The calendar gives me an overview of an entire month, which helps me to more easily arrange tasks and chores.” A well organized calendar helps to prevent missed assignments and surprise deadlines.

Go to office hours at least once

Really. Everyone says it. But it will not only help you with material that might be tough — you also make a connection that helps you down the road, like when you are asking for letters of recommendation.

“At a big university, it can sometimes be overwhelming to build a close-knit group of people who can help you succeed academically,” Carmichael said.

Don’t cram, but review each day

A professor often gives final exams and projects with the intention of students studying throughout the semester, instead of trying to learn it all in a weekend. “The more important classes students take teach application, rather than just memorization,” Rudbeck said. “By keeping up with material, students shouldn’t have to cram for tests and will perform better.”

Respect boundaries and be professional

It might be instinctual to be casual with a professor, but many have their own communication preferences.

“Research shows that people from historically marginalized groups tend to be demoted in their title by students, so do your research to learn which title your professor holds,” Carmichael said.

It might seem small, but respect comes in different forms for different professors. Carmichael also stresses online etiquette. “If you are unsure, choose ‘Doctor’ or ‘Professor,’” he said. “It’s important to communicate professionally with professors, so if you need help, search for a template online and use it for your early correspondence.”


This article was first published in The Red & Black's fall 2021 UGA 101 special publication.