The right professor

The ultimate responsibility for academic success is on the students’ shoulders, but choosing the right teacher can help

It’s a nightmare. The end of the semester is nearing, and you’re in a panic. You’re struggling in a class. Your papers are returned with massive taunting red C’s. Your notes just aren’t good enough. You show up to your professor’s office hours, but the professor is unavailable. As you study for the final, you emerge from under a pile of books, notes, and you ask yourself, “Why didn’t someone warn me?” In this dream, you might as well discover yourself taking the final in your underwear.

There are ways to keep from living the nightmare. While it’s true that the ultimate responsibility for academic success is on the students’ shoulders, working with the right professors is an advantage that can’t be overlooked. There are resources available for students who seek the best professors the campus has to offer.

Academic advisors answer questions about which classes students should sign up for. Academic advisor Meg Fitzgerald said she does not get into specifics about professors during advising, but she does refer students to those who can help.

“I advise on the basis of what the students need in order to graduate,” Fitzgerald said. “When students ask me about professors, I tell them to ask other students. Sometimes I refer them to the [specific] department to see if there are students there they can talk to.”

Additionally, while most advisors don’t tell students which teachers to take and which to avoid, students can still get information about professors by asking the right questions.

For example, Jennifer Greer, associate dean at UNR’s school of journalism, said the university and the university’s individual colleges honor the school’s best professors, and that can give students insight into which classes to take.

“I’d advise students to ask who’s won teaching awards,” Greer said.

Some students turn to the Internet to research possible professors. One Web site,, features ratings from students for more than 220 UNR instructors, with grades for easiness, helpfulness, clarity and even the ever-helpful “hotness.”

While this Web site can be helpful to new students who don’t have the benefit of on-campus word of mouth, some students advise against taking the word of anonymous strangers when considering professors.

“You’ve got a lot of students who think that if the teacher is strict and the material is hard, the teacher is bad,” music major Alicia Chen said.

However, the Web site can be useful for gauging the popular opinion about an instructor. If the instructor seems to be unanimously liked, it may be worthwhile to sign up and see what all the fuss is about.

For the most part, UNR students depend on trusted friends and classmates for professor recommendations. Chen said she takes advice from friends into consideration when registering for classes.

“I stay away from classes that I hear bad things about, and if I hear good things, I try to fit the classes into my schedule,” Chen said.

Chen also suggested paying close attention on the first day of class to see if a professor feels like a good fit.

A look at the syllabus and planned class schedule, as well as listening to the professor speak about what will be expected of the student in the course, can give scholars a good idea of whether they can work with the professor. It may be possible to sign up for another section of the class if the professor is not what the student was looking for.

If students are willing to do their homework before their professors begin to assign homework, the chances of enigmatic absentee professors and late-night, underwear nightmares are greatly reduced.