The Lexington Herald-Leader recently ran an advertising supplement that purported to list ten things college professors wanted incoming freshmen to know. I didn't necessarily agree with all ten, but one piece of advice offered by a UK chemist matched almost word for word the answer I give to students who ask: "How much work should I expect to put into your course if I want a good grade?"
Her answer started the same way mine does: "College is a full-time job," she said. I agree: If you're a full-time student, you should approach it as a full-time job.
Neither answer may seem particularly helpful, because what students really want is a simple number: Exactly how much time should I expect to budget if I wish to succeed in a typical course? Once you accept that a "full-time student" should be on the job full time, though, the answer calculates itself:
I have never been good at following advice, especially when it comes to looking after my own interests. Early in my graduate-school training, a well-meaning professor pulled me aside and said: “Steve, you have a lot of promise, but I’ve been watching you and you seem to enjoy working with undergraduates too much. If you’re going to survive in a university setting, then when it comes to your teaching obligations, you’ll need to learn how to shirk.” I was horrified! Spreading knowledge was the main reason I cared about becoming a college professor in the first place. How could I neglect my students? So I ignored his counsel, rolled up my sleeves, and jumped back into my responsibilities.