How to Talk to Your Professors

How to Talk to Your Professors

Professors can be intimidating. We get it. But learning how to talk to your professors can put you in a position to do well in challenging classes, be memorable to professors whose recommendations could be pivotal, and to build your overall communication skills for the future! 

Below are our tips on how best to communicate with your professors. 

Introduce Yourself 

At the start of each semester, take a moment before or after class (or via email if your class is online) to introduce yourself to your professors. In large, lecture style classes, you will likely have a discussion section or lab with a Teaching Assistant (TA). Introduce yourself to whoever will be grading your work and interacting with you directly. Your introduction could be a simple expression of interest in the course topic! This will make things feel more comfortable when you need to ask for your instructor’s help.

Pay Attention to Email Etiquette 

The format and tone of email communications with your professors matters! Make sure your emails contain the following:

  • A subject line. Oh, the dreaded (no subject) email! You need to include a subject line otherwise, your professors are likely to, at best, be annoyed, and at worst, not open the email. 
  • A salutation that includes your professor’s name as they prefer to be addressed (if you aren’t sure about this, check your syllabus) and a greeting.
Try this…

Dear Professor __________,

I hope your week is off to a good start.

NOT this…

Hey – Can I have an extension?

  • An introduction. Even if you have met this instructor before, it is helpful to provide context by sharing your name and which course you are enrolled in. 
  • A clear and concise request. If you are looking for opportunities to improve your grade, be direct. Don’t wander into the land of excuses or lengthy explanations. Clearly and politely state the kind of help or support you are seeking.
Try this…

I am wondering if there will be an opportunity to retake the quiz from last class? I would love the chance to get my grade up and feel that I have a better understanding of the material after reviewing the questions I missed. 

NOT this…

I had to go home to see my grandma for her 80th birthday last weekend and there was a lot of traffic so I didn’t make it back to campus until late on Sunday evening. Can I have an extension so I don’t get points taken off for late work?

  • A formal sign-off. Try “Best,” “Thank you,” or “Sincerely,” as a closing for your email. Make sure to write out your full name in your signature!

See Purdue University’s advice on reaching out to professors via email or check out The University of California-Santa Cruz’s guide on how to email professors about research opportunities for even more examples. 

Utilize Office Hours

Office hours are your best opportunity to meet with your professors in-person! Chatting with your instructors during office hours allows for more in-depth conversations than an email exchange or a quick question after class. Check to see if your professors or TAs hold open office hours or if you will need to schedule a time slot. 

Consider attending office hours when…

  1. The first test of the semester is approaching. Connect with your instructors so that you can share any concerns you have about your understanding of the material and/or the format of the test. Instructors can support you by providing a “roadmap” for how to prepare for the test. This will save you hours of studying, prioritizing, or possibly even guessing what material to review. 
  2. A major project is assigned. When you are assigned a new project for a course, visit your professor’s office hours to get a better understanding of the assignment’s components, structure, or how it will be assessed. You can also bring your work in progress (outlines, sketches, notes) to make sure you are “on track.” Discussing your work with your professor will demonstrate that you are dedicated to the course and that you want to do well. 
  3. You are struggling in the class. An open and honest conversation with your instructor about how you are doing in the class can be hugely beneficial. Your professor can share their perspective on how you could be studying or approaching the subject differently. They may also have additional materials for you to review or they may be able to recommend a study group or tutor. Your instructor’s insights and suggestions can help you turn things around. 

You can read more about the importance of office hours in The University of Chicago’s post here

Remember, your professors want you to do well! They will also value your self-advocacy and dedication to the course when you take the time to communicate with them about your academic progress.

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