Nieuws - 18 augustus 2011

Do ask silly questions. Don't drink coffee.

A new environment comes with new social rules and conventions. The Wageningen lecture halls are not super-strict, but do watch your step.

The occasional row with a teacher is no big deal at secondary school. But at university, it's a different story. Your teachers now are leading lights in your future field and with a bit of (bad) luck you may have to do research with them further down the line. So it's better to leave a good impression behind you. Here are the ten commandments.

1. Stay studious
Planning to relax a bit in the new academic environment? Don't. Professor Maarten de Gee prefers his students bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And he should know. He coordinates several maths courses and teaches on almost all the programmes. 'At the start, the first years are so nice and diligent, but after that the self-discipline goes downhill by the month.' De Gee finds that if he teaches the same course later in the year the results are lower. So sit pretty at Mum and Dad's, and hold on to your schoolbag to keep the right spirit. Or did you perhaps want a life as well as a degree?
2. Coffee is not allowed
Coffee is strictly forbidden in the lecture halls in theory. In practice some teachers tolerate it, others don't. If you want to test what you can get away with, do it with cheap coffee.
3. Flirting is allowed
It is really not on to listen to mp3s or check Facebook during a lecture, but apart from that don't worry too much. 'There was a time I could hardly teach a lesson because they were all too busy chatting each other up', says De Gee. 'And on the other hand a student once stayed behind at the end to cry on my shoulders. It seems that side of life is more important to them.'
4. Fear not
You won't be made to stand in the corridor or sent to the deputy head any more. Don't be afraid of being sent out: De Gee has been teaching for 30 years and has sent someone out no more than three or four times.
5.  Say sorry
If you do find you've crossed a line, go back and say sorry. De Gee: 'Usually someone would come back and apologize, and that makes it all alright as far as I'm concerned. Would it affect the way I assess him a year later? By then I will have forgotten it, literally.' But note that the sorry tactic has a limited shelf life.
6. First-name terms? Play it safe
If you speak Dutch to a teacher, use the polite u form of address. In English, use surnames. Nine times out of ten, lecturers are happy to be addressed informally. But the tenth... 'I once got an email reminding me that a teacher was a Doctor of Philosophy after all', says a student who prefers not to be named. Much nicer to play it safe and then be told, 'Just call me Bill.'
7. Take care with emails
De Gee is sometimes astonished by the contents of his email inbox. 'Three quarters of the emails I get from students are nonsense. I get questions like 'when is the exam?', when that sort of information is always on the timetable web page.' Badly composed emails also come in, along with questions about 'the maths course'- addressed to a maths specialist! A good start is always to mention the course code and your registration number - especially for big courses.
8. Check your spelling
Press F7 before you press Send. On some courses in Velp you get a 'below standard' reply if you make too many mistakes. And you'll only get a serious answer when you have sent another email. If you would rather have a proper answer straightaway, use the spellcheck. It's less of an issue in Wageningen or Leeuwarden, when most teachers will just reply anyway.
9. Ask silly questions
In Wageningen, everything is explained, sometimes to the irritation of the students. De Gee sometimes gets questions at primary school level. 'Then I don't want to hold up the whole class, but I will explain it to the individual.'
10.Turn up
Many Wageningen lectures are compulsory: so don't miss them. There is a plus side to the compulsory attendance and school-like attitude, because there is less you have to decide for yourself. And if you do end up missing a lecture? Most of the PowerPoints are on Eduweb ( And sometimes the whole lecture is there on video. At VHL, most of the material is put on Eduweb too. But watch out! There is a teacher in Velp who even prints out the PowerPoints for you, but with crucial words missed out. 'For educational reasons'.