U.S. Academic Culture
Active Participation is Acceptable
In many courses, professors expect the students to ask questions and use critical reasoning. It is seen as part of the learning process. Complete silence may be viewed as a lack of interest or preparation. Be ready to ask questions when preparing for the class, jot down a couple of questions that you might ask. Some courses will even include a discussion session where students are expected to participate in an open discussion on a particular topic.
In some courses, you may be asked to do most of the work yourself and the professor may have only a managerial role, as in the case of graduate seminar courses. It is common for teachers to serve as a guide in the student’s learning. Students pursuing advanced degrees are particularly encouraged to critique theories, formulate models, and interact with the professor.
Diverse Teaching Styles
The teaching style of the professor can determine the amount of student participation in each class. Some instructors prefer a more formal style of lecture with a possible question and answer period at the end. Others prefer a more conversational style and encourage interaction throughout the class. In general, instructors who are confident and experienced are comfortable with students who disagree. When expressing your views in class, be ready to defend your ideas.
Professors may have a social relationship with students outside of the classroom. They may go for coffee together, or have other kinds of social outings. However, it is still expected that students will be respectful of the student-professor relationship within the classroom and will continue to meet all deadlines, do all homework, and attend all classes. Extra help or attention in no way signifies that a professor will treat the student differently when evaluating homework, papers, or tests of any kind. Also, American professors generally do not mix work with social time. If you become friendly with your instructor, be ready to interact more formally when in more professional student-professor context, such as in the professor’s office or in the classroom with other students.
American students may behave towards professors in ways that seem disrespectful. In class they may look sleepy or sit in very relaxed positions, eat food, be inattentive, or even noisy. American professors may not appreciate this behavior, but it is often tolerated because of the American concept of individual expression. Respect for the professor is often shown in subtle ways, by choice of vocabulary or tone of voice for example.
Ask If You Don't Understand
If a student is confused about something in the class, it is expected that he or she will ask the professor before or after class. If the issue requires a longer conversation, the student may make an appointment to see the professor during office hours. In U.S. academic culture, there is no shame associated with not understanding something in the course, even if it has been presented in a class lecture. Professors respect students who work hard towards fully understanding the material, so don’t wait until just before the exam to seek clarification. Ask as soon as you realize that you don’t completely understand the material.
Academic honesty is one of the most important concepts to understand in U.S. academic culture since even innocent violations can have serious and life-altering effects on your academic career. Whether you were rushing to meet a deadline and forgot, or you just did not know because it’s handled differently in your culture— no matter the excuse —it is still considered a serious violation and will be treated as such. The consequences can range from being given a failing grade on a paper, exam, or course, to being suspended from the University, or worse yet, you could be asked to leave permanently. Additionally, in most all cases, the violation is permanently reflected in one’s academic record.
Suffolk, like other educational institutions in the U.S., has a strict zero-tolerance policy for infractions in the academic honesty code. Cheating or plagiarism of any sort is never tolerated. Cheating is when you have someone else write your papers, or take-home exams, or you get answers from others during exams. Plagiarism is submitting other people’s work as your own.
Universities operate on the honor system, which makes trust a fundamental element of a U.S. education. Take-home exams provide a good example of this. For some international students, it may seem quite strange that a professor would give her students an exam to take home, complete and return to class at a later time. But that is exactly what it is – an exam that you will, on your honor, complete at home. It is expected that your answers will reflect your understanding and work, and yours alone. A take-home exam is not to be shared with, or borrowed from another student, and is considered as being at the same level of seriousness as an in-class exam. Remember too that aiding dishonesty by supplying answers for an exam is considered just as serious as obtaining them.