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If you're headed to MBA school this fall, I would like to provide some advice on where to sit in class. Your decision on where to sit may have unintended downstream consequences on your grade. Because, believe or not, certain types of students tend to gravitate to specific seating areas in the classroom. And like or not, professors will likely have some subjective component in the grading system. It will usually be a small component but in the competitive world of MBA's, it will likely be material to the outcome.
But hear me not, your professors are ready for you and completely aware of the odds that certain types seat in certain places. No instructor worth his or her salt will accept turning over control of the class to a smart ass.
The smart ass is the first student that must be dealt with in every class.
So if you're a smart ass, for example, you should sit in the back row, to the right of center from the professor's perspective. Go ahead, I'm expecting you there. I stand ready for the powerful insights of your 5 years of working experience combined with your self assessed, near legendary brilliance. I bring but 30 years of work experience and increasing successful progression through executive ranks, I am nothing compared to you, last-row smart ass. Oh wise one, speak from your lofty and comical perch. You know all the knowledge that one or two classes provide whereas I know enough to hired to teach it. You impress yourself and your little sidekick but few else. (Ok, maybe a little professorial indulgence in satire, but the role of the smart ass is usually overdone.) Yes, I personally like the smart ass usually (I am smart ass -retired) but if you're one - be very careful to not over do it.
And while clearly there are exceptions to these seating tendencies, they are just not that frequent.
I have now been an adjunct professor for 10 years. I have taught a variety of MBA classes on Venture Capital and New Venture Creation at George Mason University, University of Maryland and American University. It has been quite enjoyable to take an evening a week to share what I've learned along the way. The students are, for the most part, a real pleasure to interact with both inside and outside the classroom.
But what I've noticed over time is how much consistency there is from class to class and school to school about where various personality types plant themselves when able to sit anywhere.
What does it look like? Well, let's start the classroom itself -- it is usually 4 rows of seating with center aisle in the shape of a half moon. By the nature of this design, there are fewer seats in the first row, more in the second, third, etc. The interesting sidebar maybe that the available student population's characteristics seem to match up well with the available seating. Again, my usage is the first row is closest to the teacher at the front of the room.So where do the smartest people sit? Or the clueless ones? Or where do the more interesting or less engaged folks choose to sit? And why does it matter?
I'd like to take the last question first. Where you sit can influence the professor's view of you. If the grading of the class involves no subjective input from the professor -- it doesn't matter at all how the professor perceives you or where you choose to sit. Truthfully, even when there is subjective input, the professor's perception influence is marginal. Every professor wants you to receive whatever grade you've earned in the class. But, there are times when the professor has to give you the benefit of the doubt on something. Or not give you the benefit of the doubt on something. And you will receive or not the benefit of the doubt based upon your interaction with the professor and the professor's view of you. It is human nature to be influenced by all that is known or believed about a person when attempting to make a judgment about performance. And you are entering a world where the grades and students are tightly clustered in a narrow band. So if your seat choice gives you a negative bias, like sitting next to snarky, know-it-all, smart aleck even though you say nary a word throughout the semester, well, you will need to offset that bias with your efforts.
Now, to the point, smartest people in the room tend to be in the third row. The clueless tend to congregate in the second row off the center aisle. The second row far off center can be either refugees from the really smart third row or the clueless second row if those the center seats are taken. The first row varies most widely in terms of native intelligence but not at all in terms of dedication to grade achievement. The first row is committed to achieving a high grade. The back row is populated with the available smart ass inventory and as well others seeking to do as little as possible in terms of effort. The back row, low-effort folks will often seek and earn high grades but they don't expend an iota of extra effort beyond that which is necessary to earn the grade. Sadly, the greatest number of seats by inventory quantity is in the back row. And they are always full, it is the seats up front that are empty.
The clueless folks are the ones who tend to ask the most dispiriting questions (to the professor) in the 4th class and beyond. These questions are dispiriting because after 3, 4 or 5 classes, the bulk of students are beginning to get a command of the material. At this point, the students with command of the material begin asking questions of heightened quality which benefit the entire class. The clueless, on the hand, ask questions which belie an ignorance that can be discouraging to anyone who has invested 12 to 15 hours into teaching them. The question is usually so fundamental, so basic to the preceding lectures, that the instructor might legitimately ask what, if anything, the student has derived from the class to date.
Remember dear student, that when the semester concludes your grade may a 89.67 when 90 is an "A" and somewhere along the way, you might have benefited from a single incremental point in a grade. Your participation grade or something that might reflect the impression made by you upon the professor during the course of the semester. You might even feel that your score should be "rounded" up. If your professor feels the same way, you're fine. If he or she doesn't, oh well. Be a smart ass all you want to your friends is my advice. Just understand the risk.
Then again, you may not be able to help yourself. So if you're an MBA student and want to have some fun this fall, play against the archetype. Be a smart ass in the second row or a dedicated student from the back. Mix it up, the professor will appreciate it and it might just help your grade.