Over the course of the semester, I am conducting this interview series, The Professor Perspective, to humanize professors, and provide us as students an insight into those who spend their lives educating us. We are quick to forget that professors are people, too, and have spent their own time as students in fields similar to ours. My goal of this series is for people to see professors as people that care about student success and that they understand what it’s like to be an undergraduate student.
My first interviewee is Dr. Debra Trusty, a professor in the Classics Department here at the University of Iowa. Dr. Trusty graduated from the University of Evansville with a BA and received both her MA and PhD from Florida State University. She is currently a lecturer here at the University Of Iowa, teaching a common first-year class, Classical Mythology. She also teaches ancient Greek and Latin language, Greek and Roman literature in translation, food in ancient Mediterranean societies, and city of Athens (a study abroad course!).
The following is an abridged and edited version of the interview I conducted with Dr. Trusty.
Picture courtesy of:https://clas.uiowa.edu/classics/people/debra-trusty
What are some of your best memories from undergrad?
My best memories are those where I was staying up late, studying, and writing papers. It sounds really nerdy. I remember being stressed about it but liking it at the same time. It made me realize what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study, so it was a very formative experience. I would sit and study Greek for hours and hours. Eventually I became skilled enough to teach it, but if you told me back then that I would teach ancient Greek to undergrads now, I would not have believed you. My first year I struggled, but I had a really good professor who really helped me.
Would you say that professor kinda set you on your path to become a professor?
Yeah, he did. Some of my best memories are in Dr. Ware’s class [her Greek professor] because he would do the quirkiest things. He brought in his dogs to class one day and showed us how they obeyed ancient Greek. He would speak to them and tell them to “sit” and to “talk” in ancient Greek. We learned how to form command words as a result, which was a very funny and very cute way to remember Greek grammar. He dressed up as Socrates one day when we were learning about Socrates and he spoke in the first person, which was so funny. He was a great professor and loved what he did. I had a lot of great professors at Evansville and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
So getting away from academics a little bit, what did you do to de-stress in college?
I joined a sorority! I really enjoyed it and when other things were not going well, I could focus on something positive like my sisterhood. I even became president of my chapter at one point.
So you went to undergrad and grad school in Evansville and Tallahassee, what is your favorite thing about Iowa?
My favorite thing about Iowa is the Iowa City community. Everyone is pretty welcoming here and it is a nice community to be a part of. I like it here a lot.
What was the moment when you knew you picked the right career? Did it happen while you were here or during your time in Evansville or Tallahassee?
I knew I had picked the right career after I taught my first class in grad school. After teaching that first class, I knew I had made the right decision.
Fast forwarding to today, what are common mistakes you see with students in your classes?
A big mistake is failing to read the syllabus. I treat my syllabus as a contract between my students and me. It’s important to look at it before emailing a professor. Study techniques are bigger or more preventable mistakes. If you are behind early on, it will just snowball. The earlier you come in and ask for help, the better your experience will be. The more daunting that it seems, the less likely you are going to study; you’re just going to avoid it and a result, fall further and further behind. Professors love it when students come into their office hours and show concern for their grade. That ties into the concept of avoiding work you’re afraid of doing. Sometimes you don’t know where to start and it suddenly turns into “oh no! The paper is due next week!” and then “Oh no! The paper is due tomorrow!” If you have a paper due and don’t know where to start, go to office hours the week before and ask for directions.
Kinda tying in with the previous question, what habits do successful students have in your classes?
The most successful students are the ones who hand me a draft the week before a paper is due. I suggest bringing a completed draft that you feel comfortable with and think, “I could at least get a C on this, but I want the professor to see it”. I’m very willing to read drafts ahead of time and almost every professor will accept drafts or at least sit down with students and read through the draft with them.
The best students are also in class every day, unless they’re sick. They don’t have to be in the front row, but they are taking notes on their computer or handwriting them. They’re paying attention the whole time.
You’re almost done, I swear. Your final question is: if you had to give one piece of advice for new students what would it be? Or if you have multiple pieces that would be great, too.
One point to note is that you don’t have to come to office hours for academic help only; it can be personal help. Professors know the right resources that you can use should something happen. For example, if there is a death in the family and you’re struggling, your professor can direct you to grief counseling if you don’t know where to go. Or if you have a learning disability and you’re struggling to adapt, professors can guide you to Student Disability Services and have you work with them. We’re not just a resource for academic work, but also for personal problems (if you feel comfortable talking to the professor). We have all these resources available that students don’t necessarily realize that we know about.
Anything else for the good of the order?
Yes! Another thing: I get to see students’ images on ICON. I might see a generic gray icon or might actually see their face, depending on if they’ve put anything on their account. If I have an online class or a large classroom with 300 people, it’s really helpful and I can at least have that connection with my student. It’s professional as well. I can tell when someone is a focused student and concerned with conveying a serious appearance. And then there are the students who post a selfie with a celebrity or their dog. That’s cute, but I would prefer to be able to see the student as they would want to be seen by their instructor. That’s one of the things every first-year student should do: update the ICON profile and put up a professional picture so your professor knows whom they are talking to. You can put other things on your ICON profile as well, like your LinkedIn address.
That was a really good piece of advice. I don’t even have that.
Right? You don’t even think about it! I’d strongly recommend every first year to do that on day one.
For sure. Alright, I think that’s it for questions! Thank you.