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Professor blogs advice for students

SAM STRYKER | Monday, January 18, 2010

With graduate school looming on the horizon, many seniors face the task of finding the right professor to write their letters of recommendation.

To help students struggling with this process, psychology professor Dr. Anita Kelly has been authoring an online blog entitled “The Clever Student,” which gives Notre Dame undergraduates advice on how to interact with their professors.

Kelly, who has been at Notre Dame since 1994 and writing the blog since Nov. 19, said she has always been passionate about giving advice to students about their relationships with their professors.

“I’ve always been interested in students and them getting really well-written letters to grad schools,” she said. “I’ve always been doing this but the media is there now.”

Kelly said the format of the blog is especially effective in reaching out to students in order to give them some views into the world of the professor’s mind.

“It’s occurred to me that I could communicate more efficiently and reach more students on the blog,” Kelly said.

She said her blog draws on her experiences both as a professor and a psychotherapist.

Kelly said it is increasingly important that students understand how professors perceive them because of what she observes as a changing classroom experience.

“I perceive a gap is widening between students and professors. Students see themselves as consumers of the classroom experience,” she said. “I care that students get socialized about interactions with professors.”

The blog highlights the importance of everyday class participation and behavior to a professor’s perception of students, and how that will impact future student-professor relations, such as with the request of a graduate school recommendation.

Kelly said she is not afraid to be frank with readers about these issues, as she believes this will ultimately help students.

“My goal is not saying you have to agree with me. My goal is simply to inform students on how professors are thinking,” she said.

Kelly said certain student behaviors such as leaving to go the bathroom during class and sitting in the back row are negatives in the eyes of professors, which can eventually impact the quality of the student-professor relationship.

“Professors don’t think you’re cool for sitting in the back. They think you’re a slacker,” Kelly said. “People will peg you as having a certain personality based on a couple of salient behaviors.”

One of the most important features of “The Clever Student” blog is it allows student feedback and interaction. Kelly will frequently end a blog entry with a question posed to readers, and she finds student feedback has been very important in the growth and definition of the blog.

“I learn from the students what is on their minds as they post questions and comments,” she said. “It keeps me understanding where the students are coming from.”

Kelly uses the student interaction aspect of the blog for the purpose of sharing upsetting and confusing experiences they have had with their professors, and allowing them to receive advice on these matters from both Kelly and other students.

She plans to continue to tackle student-professor relations on her blog, with some outside input.

“In the future I am going to have guest experts hosting conversations they are qualified to comment on,” she said.

Kelly said though a large part of the blog for her is informing students about their relationship with their professors, “The Clever Student” has also helped enrich her career.

“I consider it a privilege to be a professor at Notre Dame,” she said. “I think the blog is one way to do my job even better.”