Students, Before You Do That Assignment Your Way, Read This

Posted by on Jun 12, 2012 in Communicating with Professors, General | 18 comments

Was this student advised against balancing a knife on one finger? Did the student decide to go her own way? I'm not sure I want to think about the outcome.

Let’s say you were a contestant on The Next Food Network Star.

Three Food Network stars—big ones—Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Alton Brown—are giving you honest, straight-up advice about what you need to do to win over the Food Network executives so you might score your own show.

Would you take their advice? Or would you do what you think is right, if you had a differing opinion?

Okay, so first of all, yes, I am blogging about reality television… again. This cold-turned-sinus-infection thing is kicking my behind and I’m watching a little too much. Second of all, I couldn’t help but make a correlation between something I saw on this show last Sunday and students and professors, so stay with me here.

Here’s what happened:  Two contestants, after hearing feedback by their Food Network Mentor (Giada, Bobby, or Alton), pretty blatantly said, “I’m going to do things my own way.”

One feels that he cannot kick up his laid back personality because that is not consistent with his cultural makeup. The other does not perceive that having a “culinary point of view” is as important because he is so outgoing and such a strong presenter.

Now let’s think about this for a moment: You’re in a competition with experts mentoring you who know the standards required to win over those Food Network executives. Giada, Bobby, and Alton have absolutely nothing to gain or lose by the contestants getting a show—or going home. Their intentions are only to give feedback to improve the performance of their mentees. Whether or not the contestants choose to accept the feedback is entirely up to them. (I didn’t get to watch the entire episode to see if one of those contestants was actually voted off this particular week—I’ll find out!).

This episode led me to think about when students ask for feedback from their professors and don’t take the feedback they are given. Or, even when they don’t ask for feedback, but the prof gives ideas for improvement anyway. The student lets the information go in one ear, right out the other, and just takes the assignment in whichever way he/she desires.

I have seen this happen time and time again with speech outlines and interpersonal communication papers. I am a prof who will review work ahead of time, provided it comes in early enough for me to really give a good once-over. My feedback is typically substantive and thoughtful. Most students take my suggestions to improve their work.

Other students are like The Next Food Network Star contestants I mentioned: They go their own way.

What usually happens then?

Well, I have to grade the work accordingly. If the “go your own way” work meets the objectives of the assignment, then the grade will reflect that the standards were met. If those objectives were not met, then the grade will be low.

You can only imagine what happens then.

Let’s just say profs are not spared like Giada, Alton, and Bobby.

The contestants usually own up and say, “Yeah, I took a risk and it didn’t really pan out.”

For professors, when students do their own thing on assignments, it’s because we graded unfairly or we didn’t give good feedback.

Students, what I want you to remember is that your professors are just like Giada, Alton, and Bobby.

(Except no one does our make-up and our work kitchens consist of maybe one tiny sink).

We have absolutely nothing to lose or gain by you taking our advice.

Think about it: Your professors all have their degrees. Our education is over.  When we give you feedback about your work, particularly feedback in advance of grading your work, that advice is meant to make your work better. We want you to improve!

So what’s the communication lesson here?

If you want to go your own way after being given feedback, at least do so in an informed manner. In other words, you know what I’m going to suggest: Have a transparent conversation and be honest about your desire to do what you want to do.

Say to your professor, “I see that you suggested I do the assignment this way. I really wanted to go about it like this (then explain). Can you tell me your concerns about my approach?”

If you feel hell-bent on continuing with your path, say, “I respect what you’re telling me, but I feel really strongly about moving forward in my direction. Can you tell me what consequences I might face? What might happen with my grade?”

If you feel heck-bent on moving forward, say “I see where you’re coming from with your suggestions. How could I keep some of what I’m trying to do and adopt some of what you’re saying, as well?”

At every turn, always find out what consequences you’ll face. You do not want to be blindsided thinking that you will receive a higher outcome than what you will actually attain.

Wonderful students, messages about charting your own course and paving your own way can be incredibly confusing, particularly in college when you need to meet particular objectives and standards for a grade. Sometimes, your way needs to give way to what is required. Other times, you may decide that you can stomach the ramifications of doing what you want to do.

Have a conversation with your prof (or whoever is evaluating/mentoring you). Then make a mindful decision.

I know you’ll make one that is right for you.

#Students, are you reading Chapter 30 of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor to appropriately, professionally challenge a professor, should the need arise? (Parents, is your college student ready to self-advocate?). Have you taken a look inside?













  1. It is always best to talk things over with your professor. It doesn’t hurt you and it gives them a chance to know you and offer help or guidance. Really a win-win.

    • Hi, Susan,

      Of course, I’m going to agree with that :-) . I would love to see more students just say, “Hey, I’m sticking with what I want to do” and own that, or realize that there is a reason that profs tell them that the direction that they’re going in is not the best way to go.

      I appreciate your comment and hope students will see the win-win and open up!

    • Apnrleptay this is what the esteemed Willis was talkin’ ’bout.

    • I’m so glad that the internet allows free info like this!

    • bentos – if so, that’s sad. but i’m not so sureBarclays have just announced they’re sinking most of their money into TV this year. nice to see a bit of a reversal of the ‘digital is all’ nonsense. digital has it’s role, but so does everything else.

    • THANK YOU ROBIN… for ALL your kind words & support. I am thoroughly blessed when I read your heart-felt [your heart & mine] posts. Your encouragement was a timely ‘hand-up’ today. Thank you Friend! GOD BLESS YOU!

  2. Ellen, I do appreciate that you provided a “progressive conversation” for those students willing to take an educated gamble. When it comes to a professor, I think students should engage in a lively dialogue to express their full viewpoint. However, they should then adjust to not only meet the standards but attempt to exceed them within the professor’s guidelines.

    When it comes to the chef examples, the contestants should definitely heed the warnings of the mentors yet still stay true to the fundamental traits that got them there. “Dance with the date that brought you” mentality. Any creative endeavor, chef or other form of entrepreneurial enterprise, will only succeed if you are doing what you love and injecting your personality/flavor into the business.

    • Brian,

      I so wish that your point of view about students striving to meet the prof’s standards and then exceeding them was the case most of the time. Didn’t you read my post about the student who wanted to do the speech on legalizing marijuana? I so wanted that student to take a different twist, even to the point where I researched the new angle myself, but, alas, we had the same old, same old. Like the contestants, some students get fixed on an approach and they are determined to move forward, despite my recommendations–strong recommendations–to abandon the plan. Sadly, the grade often reflects.

      With the contestants, I get what you’re saying. The execs are constantly saying, “This person is so nice or such a great cook, but are they right for TV?” Sometimes, the answer is no! I can’t wait to see what happened. It’s on the DVR, the rest of the episode, I mean. Thank you for commenting, as always!!! I appreciate you!

  3. You write so holentsy about this. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Apparently this is what the esteemed Willis was talkin’ ’bout.

  5. I’m not easily impressed. . . but that’s impressing me! :)

  6. Can anyone tell me if this has a .3MP or a 1.3MP webcam? The specs don’t say and I’ve have seen data on the web where they specify both. It would be a shame if it only has a .3MP webcam. How about the official word from Toshiba?

  7. will you marry me … will you marry me had lots of poor reviews,.. but wen audience coming out after watching it.. all are having pretty smile.. it is the proof of success.. it is the audience who loved it.. critics go to hell.. n if u disagree wid me.. go n witness the truthness of my statement..

  8. Bipolar faith. Perfect way to express it. I hate the sense of entitlement we see nationally, but then I realized how I have this spiritual sense of entitlement. the Lord dealt with me hard on it. I didn’t stop requesting in prayer, I just understood it was grace I was really asking for.

  9. sorry mark, it wasn't a targeted attack at you, more at the way awards can sometimes be distributed. and to be fair, when the creative circle starts being touted as the d&ad, it needs to be taken down a peg or and beverage award anyone?

  10. Im obliged for the blog post.Thanks Again.

  11. visit the website What is a good free blogging website that I can respond to blogs and others will respond to me?

  12. Some really select posts on this site, saved to fav.

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