HomeLIFESTYLETips for Talking to your Professor

Tips for Talking to your Professor

As a college student, it is important to get to know your professors. Talking to them can be frightening or intimidating because they control your grades, however, this article provides instructions on how to request help with an assignment or makeup test, ask for career advice, discuss research, and request further explanations on a particular topic, lesson, or something else. As a reminder, when speaking with your professors, always be professional, confident, and respectful. Be patient in receiving a response to your calls and emails and always remember to thank them for their time. Professors are highly educated, well-connected individuals in their field, and they are very vested in their student’s success. Professors are here to teach and mentor their students and they want to meet and talk to you about your success in the class.

Here are a few tips students should keep in mind when talking to their professors:

• Identify yourself and the class you’re taking with the professor.

• Find out how your professor would like to be addressed. Call them by the right title. A “Doctor” is someone with a Ph.D.; not all professors have a Ph.D. “Professor” is usually appropriate unless you’ve been told otherwise. If you’re unsure, a “Mr.” or “Ms.” is usually fine, or ask your professor what he/she would like to be called.

• If your question is quick, you might be able to ask it right after class but be aware that the professor may have an immediate commitment. Ask if he/she would prefer that you come to their office hours instead. For longer questions or other issues, office hours are a must.

• Utilize office hours. Take advantage of the office hours with prepared questions. Make sure you’re prepared to take notes. If you’re asking for help with a paper, bring the most recent draft with you.

• Set up an appointment and be on time. If the professor’s office hours don’t fit your schedule, you can always ask to set up an appointment. Show up for your appointment a few minutes early. If the professor is late or misses the appointment, wait a few minutes, and then leave a brief note. However, if you have a scheduling conflict, email the professor, explain the conflict, and ask if there is an alternative time you can meet.

• Have specific things to discuss with your professor. Be clear and concise. Tell your professor what you need or want and be done with it. For example, simply say, “Professor, I missed an assignment, may I make it up? May I do something else?” Other examples are: include questions about course topics, receiving extra help, appealing a grade, considering a major or career, or help with writing assignments.

• Be prepared. Bring your class notes, textbook(s), and any other relevant class materials to the appointment. It is also helpful to write down specific questions before the meeting that you wish to discuss.

• Don’t wait until the last minute. The sooner you seek help for a problem, the more likely the professor will be able to give you the time and assistance you need.

• Tell the truth. Professors have heard it all. If a professor thinks he/she is being played, it is unlikely that he/she will respond very well to whatever request you have to make, so you might as well be honest.

• Sometimes students have issues of a more personal nature that interfere with success in a class, such as a disability or a family, financial, or personal crisis. Know that professors are human and empathic and may be willing to work with you on extensions and incomplete assignments, if necessary, but they can only help if you share the information with them. They will also likely refer you to any units on campus that can assist you with your problem.

• Be prepared to do the work. If you’ve missed an assignment or test and are falling behind in your reading, seeking help to get caught up, or requesting a special dispensation to make up the assignment, you’d better be prepared to do the work and generally under more difficult circumstances.

• Do social calls. Visit your professor, just to talk. Tell him/her about the work you’re interested in or about problems you’re having, but remember, that a professor is not a therapist; they’ll discuss whatever you want but may not be able to offer professional advice. Build relationships with your professors, just in case you later need to ask for a reference letter.

• Do not, under any circumstances, flirt with your professor. Any sign of flirtation will make him/her shut down the conversation immediately and end the meeting.

• Prepare for disappointment. Depending on how far you’ve let your studies slide, a professor may be unable to help you and still remain fair to the rest of his/her students. It might not be technically possible. Learn from your failure and take the class again the right way.

• Hold the threats. Professors aren’t going to respond very well to threats. If you find the need to resort to threats, chances are you probably don’t have much of a reason for a professor to help you, and you should start thinking about how to do better next time.

Hopefully these tips will help you develop a better bond with your professors. Here’s hoping that you have a great rest of the semester.

Dr. Wandra Arrington
Dr. Wandra Arrington
Dr. Wandra Arrington is the Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at Alcorn State University. She will be a contributor for The Campus Chronicle for the 2022-2023 academic school year.

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