University Student Etiquette Frequently Asked Questions

From Knowledge Kitchen
Jump to navigation Jump to search

This document is a set of Frequently Asked Questions that relate to etiquette and other matters involving the relationship among students, professors, and university administration. Although this area is poorly researched, some research does show that students and professors often have different expectations. This document attempts to make clear the expectations from one side of that equation.

Note the thoughts and preferences expressed here are mine alone, and are not official policies of the university or the CS department.



Email and messaging

Should I email the professor?

Emailing the professor is a good idea if...

  • the professor has expressed a preference for email over other forms of communication
  • the professor has asked you to email him/her
  • you would like to speak to the professor, and you have legitimate reasons for not being able to attend class and open office hours for the past few weeks.

In all other cases, see the professor in person.

What is the professor's email address?

Check the syllabus, or ask the professor if it's not there. Don't just use the email address that Gmail recommends if the professor has indicated a preference for a different email address.

I'm sending an email to 2 or 3 of the professor's different email addresses at the same time. Is this a good idea?

No. This can be interpreted by your professor as 'crazy person' behavior. If you're not sure which email address to send to, check the syllabus and just ask the professor if you don't find it there.

I sent an email to the professor, but he/she hasn't responded. Should I forward the same email to him/her again?

No. As you might expect, professors communicate with many people and their email inboxes can often be flooded. Talk to the professor person if you suspect they have missed your email.

If you do forward or re-send an old message for some reason, it's a basic courtesy to add a sentence or two at the top explaining why you have decided to re-send the same message.

How should I address the professor, tutor, or grader in an email or message?

When in doubt, it's never wrong to address people you don't know well formally. Such as,

Dear [Insert Recipient's Name or Title Here],
[Insert your message here]

And it is customary to add a complimentary closing to the letter, even if you dislike the person. Commonly-used closings include (in order of decreasing formality), "Respectfully", "Sincerely", "Kind regards", "Best regards", "Many thanks", "Thanks". For example:

[Insert your name here]

This may seem overly formal to some, and it is. But it is better to be more formal than overly casual with people you don't know, lest they take insult. Should you become good buddies with the professor, tutors, and graders, as you are sure to do in the future, you may then write in a more casual style for personal correspondence. But when in doubt, err on the side of formality.

I'm trying to send an attachment in an email or chat, but it isn't working. What do I do?

Upload the attachment to a public web server, such as i6, your own web server, or a cloud hosting service such as, Dropbox, or Google Drive, and just send us the link to it.

Please make sure any link you send works before sending.



What's the late policy for assignments?

Check the syllabus.

Can I get an extension on this assignment?

Check the syllabus for information about requesting extensions. If there is no such information on the syllabus, speak with the professor.

How do I submit assignments?

Check the syllabus for information regarding submitting assignments. If there is no such information on the syllabus, speak with the professor.

You claim I didn't submit my assignment, but I did. Should I send you a screenshot of my submission?

Why would you do this? Sending a screenshot is proof of nothing except, perhaps, a lack of critical thinking and lack of ability in image editing software like Photoshop.


Why haven't I received my grade for the assignment yet?

It probably hasn't been graded yet. Raise any concerns with the professor.

The grade I received is wrong. Should i email the professor?

See above for email etiquette.

Only one line of code was incorrect in my assignment. Why did you take off so many points?

We do not deduct points proportionally to how many lines of code are incorrect. We deduct according to whether the assignment meets the stated requirements or not.

I spent a lot of time and effort on this work. Can't I get some credit for that?

No. Grades are not scaled according to how much effort or time a student spends working on them. All students are expected to achieve the same level of mastery over the material, regardless of how much effort that requires of them.

Nevertheless, as an aside, it is interesting to examine why you would think to ask for such a system where students are rewarded for effort. What would education be like were students rewarded for their effort (if it were possible to measure such things) rather than for displaying a mastery of intellectual material. This is not how most institutions of learning, such as ours, generally work, although there are certainly those who advocate for movement towards this.

For example, the College Board, the organization that oversees the SAT college placement tests in the US recently created an admissions tool called "Landscape" that helps college admissions officers understand the level of adversity faced by each applicant. The tool compiles statistics about overall performance levels of the schools the applicant has attended, crime and poverty rates in neighborhoods in which the applicant has lived, etc. This would help give admissions officers more context and a sense of the candidate's resilience and effort when considering the standardized test scores achieved by the applicant.


What happens if I copy someone else's work and submit it as my own?

The university has strict policies on academic integrity and plagiarism. When in doubt, follow those guidelines. Plagiarism is especially easy to catch in computer courses. Usually, you will receive a warning and a zero for any work that is copied, regardless of whether you did the copying or whether someone else copied your work. On subsequent occurrences you will fail the course and possibly have the issue marked on your permanent transcript. For extreme cases, you may be expelled from the university.


What is going to be on the test?

This is one of the most common questions, and usually one of the questions instructors find most difficult to find empathy towards.

A course typically involves lectures, professors' notes, readings, and assignments. These are the materials of any course prepared by the instructor which are intended to be useful to students in understanding concepts and practices. Exams are designed to test students' understanding of these same concepts and practices.

Why do you think courses include these resources, and what besides the concepts and practices therein did you think was going to be on the exam?! Lecture and professors' notes are usually a good guide to what they find most interesting and helpful to you. Reading and assignments are meant to force students to spend time outside of class mastering those same concepts. It's hard to imagine a student who is interested in the course who also does not know what concepts and practices have been discussed, noted, read, and assigned. So if you ask this question, it might convey a complete disinterest in all the materials that have been prepared and presented to you or a misunderstanding of how a courses are designed.

There are, of course, some cases where particular topics covered in the classroom, notes, assignments, and/or readings will not be tested on a given exam. Instructors will invariably tell their students such things in advance.

How should I study?

Everyone has their own style and way of learning. The following is a general study plan that is probably pretty good for most people but probably not perfect for anyone.

Come to class

  • You can't realistically expect to do well in a course if you don't attend and know what is discussed.

Plan to spend significant time alone doing work for the course

  • Do all of the assigned reading, starting from the beginning
  • Do all of the homework exercises yourself, starting from the beginning
  • Complete 10 or more practice exercises at the end of each chapter of the textbook

Don't move ahead until you've covered your behind:

  • work progressively through the material
  • only move forward once you have mastered the previous material
  • get help from tutors or the professor with specific problems you can't solve or questions you can't answer
  • try not to go to the tutors or the professor before you have even tried to solve the problem yourself

Come to class and pay attention:

  • Print out the class notes, if available, and bring them to class
  • Write your own notes on this paper.
  • Turn off your phone in class and when studying
  • Turn off your computer in class and when studying
  • Get out of the habit of Googling everything. Try to liberate yourself. Use the knowledge you have from lectures and assigned readings to solve problems.

Review anything and everything:

  • class notes
  • any examples the professor has supplied
  • assigned reading
  • assignment problems

I haven't reviewed my exam yet, but I know I did badly. Can we meet?

Any discussion about your exam is premature and probably not an efficient use of time until it has been graded and you have had time to review your mistakes. Please be methodical in your approach to the course... there are few events in a course that are truly urgent.

I just received my exam score and I'm freaking out... should I write to the professor immediately right now?

No. Thoroughly review your exam. Take some time to think about it and try to understand what you did correctly or incorrectly. Then see the professor if you would like to talk.

I did badly on the exam. Is there anything I can do to fix my grade?

Not unless the professor announces any special arrangement to the entire class. Try to do better next time. Please do not ask for special treatment - that would be unfair to others.

I studied really hard for the exam. Shouldn't I get some credit for that?

See the answer to the question about grading based on effort.

I did badly on the exam. How can I do better next time?

Try to improve your study habits

I missed the exam, when is the make-up exam?

There is no make-up exam. You will probably not do well in the course. Talk to the professor in person.


What's the grading policy?

Check the syllabus.

What's the late assignment policy?

Check the syllabus.

I'm going to fail the course. What should I do?

Drop or otherwise withdraw from the course if you still can. Nobody wants you to fail this course. Talk to the professor in person if that is not a possibility.

I'm pretty sure I just failed the course. What should I do?

There's nothing we can do at this point. Usually, unless they are of the rare unsympathetic professor type or they have made a very grave mistake, your professor will have already been lenient with you to try to help you prevent this, regardless of whether they explicitly have told you so or not. Take this as a lesson, and try not to do this again with another course. Take everything in perspective - university is just one small part of your hopefully long and healthy life full of interesting experiences.

In-class etiquette

Taking photos, videos, and audio recordings

Can I record lectures?

Not without permission from the lecturer. You may be violating copyright law, as well as being impolite to your professor and fellow students.

As you have probably noticed from people taking selfies from what they perceive to be flattering camera angles with uncharacteristically large grins on their faces, and from politicians who often make promises with intentionally ambiguous or meaningless words, people behave differently in environments where their words, appearance, and behavior are being recorded. This might create a restriction on others’ free speech, their right to privacy, and ruins an otherwise comfortable learning environment - it creates the opposite of what a classroom is intended to be.

So leave and take a selfie outside the classroom if you must, but do not take photos, video, or audio recordings in a classroom or someone’s office without explicit permission of all involved.

Can I take a photo of the screen during lecture?

Not without permission from the lecturer. You may be violating copyright law, in addition to being awfully impolite to your professor and fellow students. See above.


I have poor eyesight. Should bring my corrective eyewear to class

Yes. What kind of question is this?!

Is it a good idea to use my computer in class?

Not unless you have been instructed to do so by the professor. Why would you come to class if you were planning to stare at your computer the whole time? You might as well watch a video.

Should I look at my phone during class?

A phone is a small computer. See above


Should I write notes during class?

Use your discretion. If the professor has already written the notes you are intending to write, then yours may seem redundant. But many people find writing some notes to be helpful in remembering and organizing thoughts.

Should I write notes on paper, rather than on my computer?

Yes. It is yet to be proven that computers assist learning.


Should I come to class?

Probably. Anecdotally, it seems that students who come to class generally do better in courses. Also, university education is very time consuming and expensive for most students - if you're not interested in class, perhaps consider doing something else that does interest you with that time and money.

I skipped class. What did I miss?

If you want to know what is covered in class, come to class! Otherwise, it is up to you to follow the course material on your own. Usually, the readings and lecture notes are readily available for you to peruse.

If you have good discipline, maybe you can do well by just reading those... but maybe not. Maybe other students will tell you what you missed... but maybe not. People who come to class tend to do better.

It is generally considered from impolite to rude to ask a professor what you missed after you skip class, unless your absence has a very good justification (see below).

I am suffering a serious medical emergency. Should I come to class?

No! Your health is not worth risking for anything. Please get medical help and contact your professor whenever you can do so comfortably. We will do our best to support you whenever you are ready to return to class.

What happens if I miss class because of a religious holiday?

We observe NYU's Calendar Policy on Religious Holidays. Speak to the professor.


Should I eat food during class?

Sure, just don't do it in the classroom. Leave.

Should I chew gum during class?


Should I drink a beverage during class?

Probably not. But it may be ok if you do it quietly, if you must.


I was up all last night. Should I doze off in class?

No. This has been tried before, and is generally considered poor etiquette. If you insist on staying in the classroom, move to the back.


The textbook is expensive. Should I buy it?

Yes. If the course requires a textbook, acquire the textbook unless the instructor says otherwise. University education is expensive. The total cost of all textbooks is a minuscule fraction of that overall cost.

Many professors believe that textbook pricing is a bit of a scam. But a good textbook can be invaluable.

Should I do the assigned readings?

Yes. Why do you think we assign them?

I found an older copy of the textbook for cheap. Is that ok?

Probably yes. Check with the instructor. Page numbers, chapters, and exercises may have changed slightly. So be sure you do the correct reading for your version.

I found a copy of the book for free online. Should I download it?

If it is legal, then feel free. There are many reasons not to download illegally copied works, including:

  • the author will not be paid a royalty for your copy
  • the download may have malicious programs in it
  • it's probably illegal, unless the book is open source or the copyright has expired
  • your usage of the Internet is probably being tracked by many different parties
  • reading a paper copy of a book is probably better for you

Virtue and happiness

All of the information in this course is available online. Isn't this course a waste of time?

It's true, virtually all the information you're likely to learn from elementary school thru university is readily available free online. But most professors I speak with agree that students who attend class master the material more thoroughly. Why is this? We don't know. Some hypotheses:

  • although there are many high-quality online resources, there are few consolidated resources that are as comprehensive as material covered in a good course
  • the more exposure to information, the better
  • going to class helps maintain a regular schedule of progress
  • students can ask questions during class and hear an immediate response
  • professors often try to understand what you don't understand and help you overcome obstacles
  • perhaps learning is social


This document has been inspired and influenced by personal experience teaching and interacting with students as well as the following documents:

What links here