Know-it-all or Introvert: Does it Matter?

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Have you ever wondered what professors truly think about students whose hands are constantly up in the air versus ones who’d rather remain invisible? Are you lazy if you don’t speak? Which students do they favor? And perhaps the most daunting question, why does the torture device in disguise, aka the dreaded participation grade, exist? Fear not. After interviewing several professors at the University of Washington, we have exclusive sneak peek into what really goes on in a typical professor’s mind.

1. Shy vs. Lazy?

It turns out that professors are (gasp!) smarter than you think when it comes to figuring out who’s shy and who doesn’t want to work. Professor Jesse Oak Taylor said, “I often get brilliant papers from quiet students, in which case I know that the person is engaged and thinking about the material.” On the other hand, don’t pretend to be shy if you’re really just lazy. “The students who aren’t engaged won’t come to class [and] don’t do low stakes assignments,” said professor Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges.

The bottom line? If you’re shy, make sure to express your brilliant self through your essays, group projects or exams. Talk to your professor as well, whether that’s in office hours or simply through email. As cliché as it sounds, they’re truly here to help.

2. Too Talkative?

What about those on the opposite end of the spectrum? Your hand practically lives in the air; you just have so much to say about everything, but what do professors think of you? Taylor said that know-it-alls can actually be a little annoying, especially if it seems like they’re just trying to impress that girl in the back row. “It makes a big difference if the person really does know what they are talking about and/or seems genuinely engaged and thinking about the material,” Taylor said. Similarly, professor Shawn Wong said, “I don’t mind if students talk but I do mind if they have nothing to say but just want to talk.”

So if you love to talk, chances are your professor doesn’t think you’re conceited as long as you have something interesting to say. But also give your classmates a chance to speak as well.

3. Participation Grade?

Besides making sure you actually show up, a participation grade is about so much more. “Engaging in debate, asking questions and putting your own ideas into words are all vital skills, both for school, for life and for almost any profession,” said Taylor. This is especially true for literature classes. “Articulating [your] understanding in class is important because it makes it real,” said professor Mark Patterson. “And other students can share their own understanding or challenge [yours].”

Yes, as painful as it is, participation is important. Think of it not as something that prevents you from skipping class to binge watch Orange is the New Black, but something that will help in the long run (kind of like green vegetables). Painful, but necessary.

4. Alternative Options?

But what if you really don’t like to talk in class? Professors do take that into account and have ways to make it easier. Patterson likes to give the option in class time for small group discussion. Meanwhile, Wong has a platform for online posts that count toward discussion grades, and has collaborative exams. “Groups of three to four students submit an exam together so that those introverted students are forced to speak.”

So don’t worry too much about your participation grade. “Just showing up, asking a question or two or being attentive can be helpful,” Patterson said.

5. Who is More Successful?

When it comes down to it, does your grade really depend on how much you speak in class? If you just show up and do the work, shouldn’t that be enough? For the most part, yes. “The people who can do the work consistently will do well,” Gillis-Bridges said. In other words, always do the reading, turn in your homework and try not to check Facebook too often during class. “There’s one trait which is key to all forms of academic success and that’s curiosity,” Patterson said.

Professors want you to speak up occasionally, but don’t cry yourself to sleep if you prefer to just sit and listen. Instead, you can always ask questions about something you’re interested in, which is an easy way to gain some participation points and show that you’re excited to learn. Dying to know more about colonial America? Just ask!

6. Ideal Student?

Everyone plays favorites, so who or what do professors like best? Taylor likes the question-askers because questions always spark discussion. Think about it: hearing the same answers day after day must get old, so go ahead and throw out that crazy theory you have about relativity. But what if you don’t have any questions? Professor Wong has an alternative favorite: “The ones who really find something new to say, to add to the material.”

In the end, how much you raise your hand isn’t all that important to a professor. As long as you do the work and try your best, you should be fine. Professors understand that everybody learns in their own unique way. Remember: They were once students and probably freaked out over what their professors thought of them, too.

Valerie is a senior at the University of Washington, studying English/Creative Writing and History. She loves anything caffeinated, Netflix and long road trips. She'll always be obsessed with Once Upon a Time, Scandal, Private Practice and Agents of Shield.

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