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Talking to your Professors

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It’s a good idea to get to know your instructors in college. You may wonder how to approach someone that may seem unapproachable or that may intimidate you. Some instructors will not be as easy to talk to as others. If you follow a few simple guidelines, your discussion will not only be helpful, but possibly enjoyable.

  • Visit during office hours. Check your class syllabus for office hours. If the instructor’s office hours don’t fit into your schedule, schedule an appointment. “Dropping in” or trying to talk before or after class is not a good idea – your professor is very busy and you may not get the attention you deserve. It isn’t that your professor doesn’t want to talk to you, but professors have other responsibilities besides teaching your class.
  • Make sure you have legitimate issues to discuss. A few examples of “legitimate” issues include:

You can’t understand why you performed poorly on an exam or other assignment. (If the reason for your poor performance was lack of preparation, don’t waste time by asking what you can do to improve. Study smarter and the problem will take care of itself.)

You are considering majoring in your instructor’s area of interest and would like additional information.

You are having difficulty understanding a certain concept or problem and need extra help. Make sure that you have an example of what you need help with.

  • Prepare for a meeting with your professor.

Plan your questions ahead of time and write them down. This doesn’t mean that questions won’t come up that aren’t on your list, but it helps to make sure you cover all of your concerns. You can’t get answers to questions that you don’t ask.

If you are going to discuss grades, take class materials with you. Include your graded materials, lecture notes, and other study aids. Your instructor may be able to determine what you may be missing or what you can do differently by looking over these materials.

If you are thinking about a major or graduate school in your instructor’s area of expertise and you want additional information, come prepared. Some questions to consider during your visit include: What initially interested you about this area of study? , What especially interests you in the field now? , What career opportunities exist in relation to this major? , Does the professor know of any internships that may be available? , What opportunities exist within the department for study or research? , What can I do to prepare for graduate study?

  • Be friendly and have an open attitude. This is easy if you like the professor and are doing well in the class. If you are performing poorly in the class, it can be difficult. Your instructor is an expert in the subject he is teaching. Respect your instructor for his expertise. Your instructor may be less helpful if you are defensive or have an attitude. Be open to suggestions and listen to what you are being told.
  • Be Punctual. This shows respect for the professor’s time. Don’t arrive early and don’t arrive late. If you are not able to keep your appointment, contact the professor in some way to advise him of this. Do not just blow him off.
  • Address your instructor by his last name with the appropriate title – Professor, Doctor, etc.
  • Be grateful. Always thank the professor for his time and the help he has provided. This keeps the door open for future help.
  • Deal with issues as they come up. If you wait to talk to your instructor about a concern, you may find that the problem you were having has now gotten larger and could’ve been resolved easily had you acted sooner.
  • Don’t attempt to use class time to talk about personal concerns. Address these concerns privately. Even the best professor can become impatient when valuable class time is interrupted by personal concerns. By all means, ask questions in class, but limit it to the material being covered.

Meeting the expectations of your instructors can be an advantage for you when it comes to talking to them. Make sure you are meeting their expectations by being serious and mature about college. Instructors like students who are curious, inquisitive, and want to learn. Assume responsibility for the class – do the work that is assigned, be prepared, be punctual, attend class regularly, and stay for the entire class. Be an active learner – participate in class, listen intently, and ask relevant questions. Respect learning, your fellow classmates, and your professor. Be open and accepting of differences in ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Do not interrupt or act inappropriately.

It can be really uncomfortable and stressful to approach a professor. Most professors are happy to provide information and help you work through any problems you may be having. You may find a few instructors that are difficult to talk to and who appear uninterested. Don’t take it personally. The relationships you have with your instructors can make you feel good about learning and make college more enjoyable. Instructors can also provide letters of reference, job and internship information, and networking opportunities. Invest time in getting to know your instructors. Your effort will pay off.


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