How professors get the right people on board

A professor I recently met with explained, "I'm trying to think of what I can say in the first five minutes of class that will make people want to drop the class". He continued, "I get paid the same, whether there are 70 people in the class or 20". Clearly, a smaller class size is a better experience for both him and the students taking the class.

Working on startup, you're always looking for ways to get the right people on board -- people with the right skills, who are also self-motivated and able to pull their weight. It seems that professors also face this problem in the first week of class, as they separate out the students who are really interested in their class from those who are merely taking it to get a stamp in the passport to graduating.

It's interesting to observe some of the things that professors do to make sure they have the most committed people in their class:
  • Threats regarding course coverage: In one class, the professor exclaimed, "after the exam, don't ever come to me and say 'this was not covered in class' -- this is a 'turbo' class, so we won't be covering everything in class".
  • Scheduling: Some professors deliberately schedule their class at 8:30am in the morning. If you're willing to get up this early in the day, surely you're committed and interested?
  • Public embarrassment: At least one professor is known to cold-call students to make sure they have prepared for class. He then ridicules students who have not prepared
  • Mandatory attendance: Some professors will drop students from class if they do not attend the first class. For classes with real-world clients, you sometimes have to sign a contract declaring your commitment to make the class a priority.
Thinking about how we build our teams at work and elsewhere, it's interesting to observe how others ensure they have the right people on board.