During a workshop at one of Canada’s more well-known business schools, we were discussing a hypothetical situation in which they had to choose between turning in a friend they saw cheating on a test or letting the indiscretion slide. A student commented, “Of course I’d turn him in. Friendship is important, but if the professor found out, he could destroy my career.”
Intrigued by this belief, I asked the student exactly how a professor could destroy his career.
“He could make sure I don’t get a good job,” he replied.
No. No, he can’t.
The amount of influence any one professor can have on your career is minimal. Success in your career isn’t determined by how well you demonstrate what your professors taught you. It is determined by how well you demonstrate what your employers teach you.
Like the fictional “permanent record” we worried about in elementary and high school, I worry that too many students today have blown up the “professor” to some sort of mythic status. They’ve become convinced that what their professors think of them is somehow more important than what they think of themselves.
Let me share with you something I’ve discovered in my years in higher education: professors are as full of crap as anybody.
I’ve never understood why we see the assessment of university professors as an accurate assessment of how we’ll do in the world outside of university. After all, a large percentage of professors have never lived in a world outside of the university. They did their undergrad, took a Masters, finished a Ph.D., and took a teaching position somewhere along the way.
Given that, why do we see universities as the best way to prepare for the “real world”? If I’m going to be taught to fly, I’d prefer it be by someone who had been in a plane before.
Don’t misunderstand me – I am not saying that university professors are not talented at what they do, or that their assessments have no validity at all. However, the assessments of most professors are an assessment of how well a student might be a doctor, lawyer, architect, engineer, researcher, professor or some other profession where the ability to read and regurgitate is tremendously important. For many of the students in Canadian universities, that assessment is pointless. Many of you are at university (or heading there) because you’ve realized that somehow four expensive years of university have become mandatory to get a job where a far better “education” would have been four years on the job. You’re not alone: we’ve got thousands of young people paying for the privilege of being evaluated on how well they could do something they have no interest in doing.
It is a modern reality that people who have every ability necessary to do a job well without a university degree still need to pay for that degree so that someone will give them the chance to prove it. One of my missions in life is to let those of you whose brilliance and talent will not be adequately measured or valued at university know that you are not “less than” those around you. I want to let you know that professors and transcripts don’t control your life.
I want to let you know that regardless of what you hope to do in life, you should work incredibly hard to make your grades extraordinary. Right or wrong, your grades do play a significant role in opening doors for you. As such, your transcript is an incredibly important part of your life.
However, your transcript is not a measure of your worth as a human being. My concern is that too many young people have come to believe that it is. I’m worried that there are simply too many extraordinary people out there believing that because they are a “C” student, they are somehow a “C” person.
So remember that your grades are a measure of how well you gave a specific professor (or in our more “prestigious” educational institutions, how well you gave a specific TA) what they wanted. That’s it. It’s one person’s opinion.
And professors are as full of crap as anybody.
No professor can keep you from getting a good job, but YOU can by failing to become someone willing to think for yourself, stand up for what you believe in, or by becoming someone who is more interested in how you look on paper than in what you can actually do to make an impact on the people you meet, the organizations you work for, and the communities you are a part of.
Grades are the currency controlled by professors, but before you start to believe it’s the only currency that matters, remember that your grades will get you your first job interview. After that, it’s who you are and what you can do that determines your success.
I challenge you to get up, stand in front of a mirror, and talk for as long as you can about your grades. Then I want you to look at your watch and figure out what you’re going to do with the other 55 minutes of your first job interview. What are you doing and learning right now that will fill that other 55 minutes? To me, a real education focuses on “the other 55 minutes.” Your professors control five minutes of that first conversation with an employer. You control the other 55. Why would you sell out anything you believe for a professor? Why would you ever believe they have more influence in your life and long-term success than you do?
It seems to me that’s not giving yourself enough credit for the control you have over your own life.
But of course, it’s important to acknowledge one thing…
I’m as full of crap as anyone else.
Written by Drew Dudley, Nuance Leadership
Adapted from Professors and Grades: the Myth and the Reality
Image courtesy of jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net