The First Day of Class: What Grad Students Can Expect

First day of class
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The first day of class is similar in both college and graduate school - and this is true of all disciplines. Day 1 is all about introducing the class.

Common Approaches to Teaching the First Day of Class:

  • Some professors dive right into course content, beginning with a lecture.
  • Others take a more social approach, using discussion and team-building activities like games, asking students to get to know each other, and posing non-course related discussion topics.
  • Most professors will ask students to introduce themselves: What's your name, year, major, and why are you here? Many will ask students to provide information and may pass out an index card for each student to record contact information and perhaps answer a question such as why they enrolled, one thing they hope to learn, or one concern about the course.
  • Some simply distribute the course syllabus and dismiss class.

The Syllabus

Regardless of style, whether emphasizing content, social, or both, all professors distribute the syllabus during the first day of class. Most will discuss it to some extent. Some professors read the syllabus, adding additional information as appropriate. Others draw students' attention to main points. Yet some say nothing, simply distribute it and ask that you read it. No matter what approach your professor takes, it is in your best interest to read it very carefully because most instructors spend a lot of time preparing the syllabus.

Then What?

What happens after the syllabus is distributed varies by professor. Some professors end class early, often using less than one-half a class period. Why? They might explain that it is impossible to conduct class when no one has read. In reality, this isn't true, but it is more challenging to hold class with new students who have not read and have no background in the field.

Alternatively, professors might end class early because they are nervous. Everyone finds the first day of class nerve-wracking - students and professors alike. Are you surprised that professors get nervous? They're people too. Getting through the first day of class is stressful and many professors want to and that first day as soon as possible. After the first day is done they can fall into the old routine of preparing lectures and teaching class. And so many otherwise enthusiastic professors end class early on the first day of school.

Some professors, however, hold a full-length class. Their rationale is that learning begins on day 1 and what happens in that first class will influence how students approach the course and will, therefore, influence the entire semester.

There is no right or wrong way to begin class, but you should be aware of the choices the professor makes in what he or she asks the class to do. This awareness might tell you a little bit about him or her and might help you prepare for the semester ahead.