The End Is Near! Interview with Professor Pat Loebs
By Zeke Snell
Q So Pat, we know what’s going through a student’s mind as the school year approaches the end, but what is the professor thinking as we round this final turn?
A It’s always fun to see those whom you’ve watched from the beginning now reach the end of their college careers. Professors help with letters of recommendation, finding internships and giving advice for potential graduate schools. Everyone’s got different goals, but it’s very rewarding to see them be fulfilled when they do happen. Not everyone knows what their goals are. I have students contacting me the year after they graduate now seeking letters of recommendation or help with careers. It doesn’t end when you leave Grace; we’re still here and helping out however we can. I also spend time preparing for next year by looking over my notes for classes, seeing what did work, what didn’t work and what I can do better. We’re operating six months ahead of time to make sure everything goes smoothly in September when school starts up again.
Q I know you personally seem to prefer to give students final projects over final exams. Why is that?
A I think something you can show you’ve done is more valuable than simply answering a bunch of questions. Final projects allow you to take the lessons and apply them. I want you to demonstrate that you’ve actually learned these things and can apply them. The ability to apply what you’ve learned to a final outcome is a very valuable skill. I think that’s also a better resume builder because you have something to show for your work. It’s an experience you can point to when you apply for jobs in the future.
Q As students, what can we do to make a professor’s life easier?
A I would say, as much as possible, strive for self-sufficiency. Our job is to help and guide, not to hold hands. At this stage in life, there’s a degree of autonomy that has to exist in each student. If students expect all instructions to be spelled out for them, that’s not healthy. A boss is never going to do that in a work setting. I’m thinking specifically of advising. You’ve got some students who show up to the meeting and have their whole plan written out, but you’ve also got students who show up without any idea what they want to do and haven’t even looked at the courses being offered. Students have access to everything I do. I’m happy to help; don’t get me wrong. I understand it’s my job and I’m never going to say “Leave, and don’t come back until you’re ready,” but our role is not to hold hands. Our goal is to assist and guide through a process.
Q Any final advice for students as finals approach and the school year comes to a close?
A Finish strong. I understand it’s cliché, and it’s true. For most of the graduating seniors and others, you could slack off and get by, but I think there’s something valuable to saying, “I did this the best I could.” That does show. Professors are more observant than students seem to think. We know who works hard and who doesn’t. Taking it easy isn’t going to taint a reputation, but if it gets repetitive, it does play a role in those letters of recommendation. My name is on the line if I don’t give a good recommendation, so I’m less likely to recommend students for a job whom I don’t believe have been responsible with the tasks they’ve been given. There is a common misconception that professors don’t play favorites; everyone plays favorites. A professor’s favorites aren’t favorites in the sense that they can do no wrong, but students earn our favor by their willingness to work hard and ask for help when necessary. Does that mean that anyone who’s not in that category gets a poor grade? No, of course not. But there are students who have earned our good favor because of the work they do, and I don’t think anyone is immune from that attitude toward other people. Finishing the school year strong is a great way to earn the favor of your professors.
Something else students should realize is that the work professors give is intentional. Professors aren’t so far removed that we don’t remember what it was like to be a student. We know what it’s like to hate the stuff we’re now making you do, but we are professionals in our various fields and we know what’s expected of you in the future. Our job is to serve as gatekeepers to the degree. You have to trust us that what we’re making you do is valuable. You may think it’s stupid, but there’s an intentionality behind it.