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Profs are people, too: How to effectively communicate with your profs

By Grace McCabe, 4th-year English major

One big difference between high school and university is the communication (or lack thereof) that you have with your professor. In high school, your teachers took attendance for each class and kept track of you and your work. Now you are one of several hundred students in a first-year lecture hall! Chances are your professor does not know your name, they most certainly are not taking attendance and you can be sure they are not chasing you to hand in an assignment or study for a test.

Communication with professors is limited, so you’ll want to make the most of opportunities when they arise. More importantly, you can create opportunities to speak with your professors during office hours or through email.

Here are a few guidelines and pieces of advice for communicating with your professor:

1. It all starts with the email: Make sure you address your professor in a respectful and professional manner. DO NOT start an email with “Hey,” or “’Sup man” (it has been done before). DO start an email with “Hello Professor…” or “Dear Doctor…” Your initial greeting sets the tone and shows respect — think of this like serious workplace communication! Also, make sure you sign off appropriately with either “Thank you” or “Regards” and then your name. Professors will sometimes indicate to you how they would like to be addressed. Always give a formal address at the beginning of an email unless otherwise instructed.

2. Think, record, and send: If you feel too intimidated to put up your hand and ask a question in your lecture, that’s okay! Sending your professor a quick email with your questions after class is a great way to open the lines of communication. If something from the lecture was unclear or confusing to you, asking questions through email will show the professor that you are thinking about/ the subject matter outside of the lecture. Very impressive. Your question might be applicable to the entire class and the professor may address it in the next lecture. Make sure that it is an insightful, appropriate, and thought out questions and always thank your professor for their time and attention to your inquiry.

3. Create opportunities: Office hours are a great opportunity to meet with your professor one-on-one and have he or she get to know you and put a face to the name. Professors hold office hours for a reason; they want students to come and they want to hear your ideas. I usually opt to book an appointment with my professors to ensure I have enough time to speak with them and I prepare what I want to say/discuss beforehand. Make the most of your time and of theirs! Open office hours are great too, but make sure you get there early. Also, be aware that you may only get 10 minutes of their time if they have a lot of other students to see. Be appreciative of this time and thank them at the end. You are both busy people so keep that in mind.

4. Think long-term: Establishing relationships with professors is important for the future when you may need a reference. You want your professor to know who you are! You are making an impression right now, so make it a good one. Sitting in the first few rows of your classroom is another great way to make sure you are seen, and trust me — professors notice these things!

If you feel anxious or intimidated about speaking to your professor one-on-one, don’t worry, because it can definitely seem a little scary. When I was in first year, I remember thinking that my professors were these larger than life, all-knowing, all powerful daunting figures. Here they were standing at the front of the lecture hall, speaking out in a booming voice to a giant class and dictating how the hours of my life were to be spent outside the classroom.

But remember that professors are people, too! They’ve all been through this crazy and confusing experience called university and they understand the process so you have that in common right away. They are here to help you succeed in every possible way so make the most of opportunities to communicate with your professors!

Coming up: Stay tuned for a blog next week on How to Communicate with your TA!

Photo courtesy of Richard Stowey under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.