Illustration by Neyva Hernandez

I Want an Easy A: Choosing your Professors

With teaching styles ranging from incredibly strict to unbelievably lenient, how does one choose what to value more?

Feb 5, 2017

With the Add/Drop deadline looming, the campus is buzzing with gossip about professors. Did you hear about how that Political Science professor only gave one student an A last semester? Is it true that the new Calculus instructor writes the easiest exams? How dry is the Water professor? With teaching styles ranging from incredibly strict to unbelievably lenient, how does one choose what to value more?
The question of leniency is not a trivial one, given the amount of disagreement surrounding it. On one hand, the strict professor ensures discipline and forces students to work harder than they otherwise would have, thus encouraging them to learn more. On the other hand, a more lenient teaching style allows for freedom in the learning process, giving students more control. This dichotomy will never be fully resolved, since both teaching styles have their place.
According to a study by Accalia Kusto, Stephanie Afful and Brent Mattingly, the ideal professor varies by discipline. Interpersonal behaviors, such as enthusiasm, sense of humor and openness are valued more in the humanities and the social sciences than in the natural sciences. This makes sense: subjects that deal with humans require a more human approach, while the more technical ones need more of a focus on the material itself.
It is expected that engineering and science professors are tougher on their students, since the content is technical and dense, not allowing for many digressions in class. For example, the Foundations of Science program is notorious for both strict exam and behavioral policies. At 8:57 a.m. every morning one can witness a stream of harried FoS students running to A3 — after all, attendance to lectures accounts for 15 percent of the final grade. These policies are viewed as reasonable though, since in a lecture hall with 82 students like in the current FoS 1 class, discipline is essential — every minute is invaluable for dispensing large amounts of technical information.
Another aspect is that cultural differences and discrepancies in educational backgrounds affect how we perceive our professors here. Hofstede’s Theory of Cultural Differences among Nations evaluates communities on a scale across different characteristics, such as individualism, collectivism and power distance. The notions of individualism and collectivism describe how interdependent people in a society are. Hofstede proposed that the more collectivist a culture is, the more individuals depend on a social group for their sense of identity. In individualistic societies people get their sense of value from themselves. If Hofstede is correct, our perception of how strict or lenient a professor is, and whether we appreciate that or not, depends on our cultural background.
Unfortunately, there is no answer to whether you should pick the professor that will be telling anecdotes about their younger days in every class or the one who will set constant deadlines that must be followed to the minute. When testing out classes for the first time, evaluate what is most important for you. Here at NYU Abu Dhabi, luckily, we are free to choose exactly how we want our professors to frustrate us.
Ria Golovakova is a contributing writer. Email her at
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