The Trending Prof

Anita Woods Ph.D., University Educator


I have had some interesting exchanges with students over the last few days.  The word that seems to link these interactions lately has been TRUST.  Can I trust my professor?

Let me explain.  In one of the courses I manage, a large number of my students are taking other courses from another department that just so happened to book their midterms on the same weekend as mine.  This has left approximately 100 students out of a class of nearly 600 with 3 tough exams in a 24 hour period.  Normally in cases like these, we send the students to their Dean’s office to officially register the heavy exam load and then we as course managers will decide if whether we deem this a case in which a student should be offered a make-up exam.  We wait for their emails, we wait for confirmation emails from the Dean’s office and then we send emails with makeup times and dates.   To avoid the endless stream of emails and administrative back and forth night mares, I decided to streamline the situation.  I spoke with the Dean’s office to get their okay, and received the list of students who would be affected by this 3 exam weekend. I emailed all affected students and explained to them that all that would be required of them was a simple email back to me stating “YES” or “NO” to write my exam as their make-up.  If they elected no, they would write all 3 exams as planned or receive accommodation from one of the other exams.  I had given all information regarding exam location and time, and even stated that I would let the Dean’s office know who had accepted my offer.
I thought I had it simplified as much as possible and hopefully reduced a mass influx into my inbox.  Then I received an email that went something like this:

“Dear Professor, YES, I would like to write the email.  However, would you mind emailing me back so that I know that you received my email and my answer?”

I was taken aback.  Did they not trust that I was capable of opening the email and recording the YES or NO answer. Did the student not think that I was keeping track. Did the student not think that my inbox would accept their email? Then it dawned on me. Maybe the student didn’t trust my ability to be a thorough administrator. Maybe the student had been missed before…Or maybe the student just lacked trust in other individuals period.

Of course this was only one small example of trust issues I’ve encountered this week. But it made me sad that students don’t think they can trust us with doing our jobs well.  Although I hate to miss emails, sometimes I do and I certainly appreciate when students resend their original request if they haven’t heard from me in a few days (although I have had resends of emails when I haven’t responded within a few hours……*Sigh*).  Is our next generation a group of individuals who don’t trust those around them, including teachers, professors, and others in authority? Have we in authority been disappointing as a whole and demonstrated to be unworthy of trust?  How sad if this current generation is growing up with a lack of trust and how sad if those of us in places of authority have lost the trust of those around us.


3 comments found

  1. Hi Dr. Woods,

    I’m no longer at UWO, but you have taught me in the past (and I thoroughly enjoyed your lectures… and am now enjoying your blog). The unfortunate reality is that we really can’t trust many administrators/professors. I am now in medical school at the University of Ottawa, and we need to email departmental administrators to set up electives with physicians. I have found that the vast majority of administrators do not respond, although it is their job, so I found a program (ContactMonkey) that allows me to see when emails that I send are opened. To my great surprise, in the vast majority of cases, it’s not that my emails are read and ignored; they are not even opened. In one case, I emailed the general electives coordinator who we are supposed to contact if we have issues getting in touch with the departmental administrators. She forwarded my email, and I still have not received a response. Somehow I doubt that this phenomenon is exclusive to the electives administrators at the University of Ottawa.

    You do a fantastic job in your role, but the unfortunate reality is that I truly believe you are rare. Maybe many professors and administrators are too busy to ensure they respond to (or even open) every single student email. Maybe they just don’t respect students enough to do so. I guess it just makes us appreciate the professors and authority figures who care, like you.

  2. Thanks for your feedback! It really helps to understand what students are experiencing and how these experiences affect interactions with other faculty. I’m sorry you have been disappointed by professors and administrators. We do get a ton of email and it’s a job in itself to keep track and develop a system to answer emails (in a timely manner as well). But that doesn’t excuse not responding. When I was a student, email wasn’t even really a thing yet so I never had the opportunity to be disappointed and since I’ve always known email as part of my job, I just assumed everyone else was equally as occupied with answering emails.
    I hope you are enjoying your time in Med School and thanks again for the comments.

  3. Hello Dr. Woods,

    I am currently at UWO and was fortunate to have you as a professor. I loved your lectures very much and I have recently discovered this blog and absolutely love it. Part of the reasons I love it is because I get more insight into the world of a professor and what they think of us students. When I was in high school, with small class sizes, I got to know the teacher very well. I became friends with them and trusted them. The success I had in the classroom and the reason I enjoyed class so much was that I could freely speak to the teachers because they knew who I was (my personality, my learning style) and they didn’t judge me if I didn’t understand a very simple concept. I was always asking for help, and it paid off.

    My transition to university has been extremely bumpy. I hate admitting it to anyone, but I am still not doing well and I am too scared to ask for help because everyone else seems to be doing fine. The classes are extremely huge, so I never get to really know the professors and rarely feel comfortable around them. I feel scared to ask them simple questions because I am intimidated and afraid that they will judge me as an incompetent student who isn’t worth their time. I know that professors are busy and that they are doing the best that they can, but I still cannot bring myself to ask them for help or get to know them. I don’t know why I feel like there is such a big barrier between professors and students.

    Oftentimes, I have to ask TAs questions more than the professor themselves. I don’t trust asking TAs questions because they aren’t the ones writing the exams. However, in Physiology 2130, the TAs have really made a tremendous impact in my life. I loved asking them questions and they were amazing. I have made friends with many of the TAs and they were clearly making an effort for us. It was kind of like being back in high school again. I wish I could say the same for other courses.

    I am kind of at a crossroads in my life now where I have to figure out where I went wrong. I love what I am learning, but just cannot seem to get where I want to go. I think that it was finally time that I got over my fear and just asked for help, but I wouldn’t know where to start (especially when it comes to professors)


Leave comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.