I'm looking for a positive word/phrase, preferably something in common usage, that can be used to compliment someone (a professor in this instance) who pushes others (students) to achieve their full potential. I'm trying to draft a farewell message for a professor.

Edit: I'm looking for specific wording to let that person know that their efforts to constantly keep us on our toes have been acknowledged. That we recognize that it was always with our best interests in mind.

  • A professor of what?
    – Mazura
    Apr 5, 2016 at 1:32
  • Electrical engineering, if that's relevant. I meant specific in the sense 'personal', not in the sense that it specifically pertains to that person. I believe that this person has helped me push my boundaries and that of others.
    – Analon
    Apr 5, 2016 at 1:36
  • Your candidate sentences sound fine as they are. Which word(s) did you want to replace from those sentences?
    – Lawrence
    Apr 5, 2016 at 2:15
  • I just thought there might be another word commonly used in such contexts, meaning pushing/driving. To keep someone loaded with enough work so that their full potential is realized.
    – Analon
    Apr 5, 2016 at 2:25
  • Are you specifically looking for a verb phrase?  Because your title sounds like it's asking for a noun (or noun phrase), and your question body neither clarifies nor dispels that notion, and yet your comments seem to be pushing us toward "pushing" (which, in case you hadn't noticed, has negative connotations in some contexts). Apr 5, 2016 at 8:24

10 Answers 10


Catalyst ?

A substance that causes a chemical reaction to happen more quickly.

A person or event that quickly causes change or action.



We are forever in your debt. Your capacity to galvanize our hunger for knowledge is unparalleled and should we ever feel our endeavors have lead us astray, we need only reorientate ourselves back to true north, to you Professor X: our compass rose.

If it was a philosophy professor, I'd congratulate them on their ability to, "corrupt the young." Seeing as it's an EE professor, I think capacity and galvanize are appropriate, but you can melt any teacher's heart by calling them your compass rose.

  • I don't have the rep to +1 you, so thank you for the answer. But I'm looking for specific wording to let that person know that their efforts to constantly keep us on our toes have been acknowledged. That we recognize that it was always with our best interests in mind
    – Analon
    Apr 5, 2016 at 2:20
  • +1 for the puns.  I suppose the OP could say that the professor got the students "charged up", or call him or her a "magnetic personality". I'm shocked — shocked! Apr 5, 2016 at 8:31

Will coach do?
Coach is someone in charge of training an athlete or a team. In sport mostly it's about pushing the limit especially if you are an athlete. If you read Tuesdays With Morrie, the writer calls his professor as 'coach' because he views him as teacher of his life.


A motivator might fit:

a ​person or thing that makes someone enthusiastic about doing something:


  • +1, that's the word I was thinking when I read the question. Apr 5, 2016 at 12:02

I like inspiration for this. From the online Oxford English Dictionary:

A person or thing that inspires: he is an inspiration to everyone



You might consider,

leading light

An important or influential person: a leading light of the community.

Random House


A person, act, or thing that warns or guides.

A person or thing that illuminates or inspires: The Bible has been our beacon during this trouble.

Random House


A person, group, or organization that is the most progressive or successful and serves as a model to be imitated. Also called pacemaker.

Random House


A leader of a sports team or side.

A person of importance or influence in a field.



Here are some words and phrases that come to mind if I were in your shoes, or writing a letter to a professor who moved me in the ways you described above:

"persistent efforts to motivate us toward becoming our very best selves; fostering opportunities to motivate and inspire; lighting a spark within; unwavering determination to spur us toward realizing our goals..."


I offer a suggestion that builds on one by bib: “A giant who has encouraged others to stand on his shoulders.”  In case you don’t recognize it, this is a reference to

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.

which was written, but not originated, by Sir Isaac Newton (and later adapted by Carl Friedrich Gauss).  See the Content Creation Wiki for a list of variations, some of which are humorous (and a few of which are slightly crude).  One of my favorites,

In computing, we mostly stand on each other’s feet.

is attributed to Richard Hamming.  According to this page, Hamming also said,

The great scientists often … fail to continue to plant the little acorns from which the mighty oak trees grow.

And you might be able to work some variation of that into your farewell message, too.

Here’s another idea: “You put us under pressure in an attempt to turn us into diamonds.”


I'm writing an eval on a supervisor — I needed the same common word/phrase and I simply landed on "supportive". Took me ten minutes and a google search for that silly word!


how about "set up for success"? You can use it as "My professor motivates me to pick challenging projects and thus sets me up for success".

  • @sindus "Set up for success" does not describe a person. It's an action performed by the person. Apr 5, 2016 at 8:54
  • 1
    fair point! shall i remove the answer?
    – Sindhu S
    Apr 5, 2016 at 9:59
  • @sindus I think you should. But it's always up to you whether or not to remove your answer. Apr 5, 2016 at 10:06

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