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One of my friends (a math graduate student from my department) didn't work hard during his undergraduate studies, and his GPA was, naturally, low. He barely (and with some luck) got into grad school, where he works harder.

The problem is that as it seems, most of the professors have a very bad impression of him, both because some of them had him in their classes, and because our department is relatively small and professors exchange a lot of information and opinions about students.

Part of the problem is that his reputation is not (just) of someone who is not hard-working (that would have been easier to fix, perhaps), but at least some of the professors simply don't consider him as smart or talented enough, and that is based solely on courses he participated in -- neither of those professors had any actual mathematical interaction or deep conversation with him, except for his advisor (who knows he wasn't serious enough about his studies) and perhaps a few others, who seem to have a somewhat better opinion of him than most.

Is there a way for this student to change the impression people have of him? From your experience, do people really change their impression of someone, once new information is presented (or are they likely to still think of him as not smart enough to be a mathematician, but who manages to go through grad school with hard work)?

This question might be related, How to change the idea that supervsiors got about you? however I find the situation different: First of all, an advisor has a lot of interaction with the student, so he is likely to notice a change. Also, in the case of my friend, the advisor does believe in his potential, but probably doesn't share his thoughts with people since he's not one of those who talk about students with others, and mostly keeps to himself.

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    Professors are people. You dont need to think of how to make a "professor" change their point of view about you, you need to think of how to make a person change his/her point of view! If you have been a lazy ass, then prove that you are not! – Ander Biguri Apr 23 '15 at 14:51
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    From what you've written it is not sure at all that your assumption on the professors opinion is correct. Recheck if you really have evidence for what you think. If professors exchange opinions like "that student did not perform well in my class" most people I know would take this information as just what it is and not anything more. – Dirk Apr 23 '15 at 17:48
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    Adding to Ander Biguri's answer. From what I understand for people it takes about 10 times as much effort to change an impression of someone than to set the initial impression. So yes, it is possible, but that does not mean it is necessarily practical if you have limited interaction or time. – Jonathon Apr 23 '15 at 20:30
  • @Dirk You are right, and the fact that I myself don't have any first-hand information from the professors adds to the possibility of misinterpretation. However, he seems to be certain of it, and insists that some professors have said things he couldn't interpret otherwise. – Pandora Apr 24 '15 at 5:53
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Your friend needs to involve himself in department life. If he is just as invisible as his supervisor, no other professor is going to change their opinion unless they somehow get a new impression (or forget who he was).

One of the best things your friend could do is to give a department seminar if he has some interesting results to present. Make sure that it is well written and rehearsed! He should also chat with professors during social occasions, turn up at department talks and ask interesting questions; things like that.

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I have a suggestion that may help: Your friend could go to one of the professors that has a poor opinion of him, and ask for something (e.g., can you recommend a good book for learning X). In the conversation, your friend should mention that he's been working a lot harder in grad school and is enjoying it.

Life tip: In general, when you have a bad relationship with someone, it often helps to ask a favour of them. That may sound strange, but I believe there's solid psychological research behind it. Supposedly once we've done a favour for someone, we deal with the cognitive dissonance (I did a favour for someone I don't like) by deciding that the person we did a favour for isn't so bad after all. However, that explanation feels a bit manipulative to me. The way I prefer to think of it is that by asking a favour of someone, I am making myself vulnerable (they may say "no"), which reduces some of the tension in the relationship. It works especially well if the favour you're asking for implicitly acknowledges that you're trying to improve the relationship. (E.g., the very fact that you're asking for advice from this professor suggests that you take your studies more seriously now.)

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Absolutely! Some of my worst students have made serious efforts to turn things around and I always make it a point to recognize that. I wasn't exactly the greatest undergraduate myself, and that can be true for any number of reasons -- some of which might not have a single thing to do with how "lazy" someone is. Honestly, I'd rather see a good student work hard to turn things around than watch a great student coast and rest on his/her laurels.

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