How to approach your professors


How can the second letter of the alphabet create such a feeling of dread in me? In many cases, students find that their marks don't match the effort and time they put into an assignment. It can be discouraging and disappointing, particularly if the TA or professor has not provided enough guidance or explained where you went wrong, and how to improve. Feeling intimidated by professors is quite normal, and building a relationship with them can be challenging in a classroom with several hundred kids. Despite this, you should consider professors valuable resources for helping you do well in a course; they can also act as references if you apply for graduate or professional school, a second-entry program, or even your first job! It's worth making the time and effort to get to know your professors. The first step is creating a relationship in the classroom, and that means coming to class with a positive attitude. If you want to be noticed, here are some tips:

In the classroom…

  • Sit somewhere in the first few rows, in the same spot every week. Not only does this allow your prof to make eye contact with you, but it allows him or her to associate your face with a certain spot. It works — I've tried it! Sounds silly, but they remember you better.
  • Say hello to your professors as you come in and say goodbye when you leave.
  • Be on time for class, and don't be the first person out the door afterwards. Showing interest in what you're learning is not only beneficial to you, but it sends the right message to the professor.
  • If you are going to be late, be respectful. Try to sit at the end of the row, or near the door so you don't disturb others.
  • Attend every class. I know it can be hard to do, but it is possible. And when you are there, pay attention. Attending class is for your benefit, not the professor's.
  • Don't distract yourself and others with web-surfing, texting, etc., during class. Put your phone on silent.
  • Be prepared for class so you can ask thoughtful questions and offer your opinions.

At an appointment...

It's a good idea to make contact with your professors outside of class. You can take up any problems you're having, further discuss a topic that was covered in class, or ask for advice on your academic career. Remember these tips, though: 1. Respect the office hours. Office hours exist for a reason: rather than bombard the professor before or after class, consider making an appointment so that he or she can give you undivided attention. Office hours are really there for student consultation. If you do make an appointment, let the professor know in advance what you want to talk about, so that he or she can be prepared. How do you approach the situation?
  • “Professor X, I had a few questions about the test. May I make an appointment to discuss them with you?”
  • “Professor X, I’m not getting the kind of grades I want in your class, and I was hoping to make an appointment to talk to you about how you think I can improve. Is there a good time for me to stop by your office?”
  • “Professor X, would you mind if I came by during your office hours to further discuss the subject we covered in class today? It really interests me and I’d like to know more about it.”
  • “Professor X, I’m thinking about applying for graduate school and I’d really value your advice on program options.”
2. If the prof says email, then email. No, don't call. Email. Don’t put instructors on the spot right before or after class because they probably won’t have time to talk to you. Instead, follow the contact instructions on the course syllabus or website — some professors prefer to be contacted by phone, while others prefer email. Follow the instructions to put them at ease. 3. Be on time! This is an obvious point that students sometimes forget — don't keep your professor waiting. It makes a bad impression and makes it seem you don't care. Be sure to show up on time for your appointment, or if you’re just dropping in during your instructor’s office hours, don’t arrive at the last minute, or you might both feel rushed. 4. Wait, even if your professor is late. They have classes, meetings, and sometimes they get tied up when their other duties run overtime. Being patient and waiting for 10 minutes shows them you cared enough to wait. If the professor doesn't make it, don't take it personally. 5. Be prepared and arrive with a purpose. Before you attend an appointment, prepare for the meeting. For example, if you need assistance on how to improve on a test, bring an example with you to get feedback on where you went wrong. You can also get tips on how to improve your study methods. Being prepared also means that you've looked over the comments on your work and thought about them rationally. Rather than coming to the professor and saying, "I totally disagree with the comment in this section; it is completely wrong," you can say, "I looked over the comment, and perhaps there was a misunderstanding. I was trying to say such and such in this section. How could I have said it better?" 6. Have a good attitude. It's tough when you get a bad grade, but it's still important to have a good attitude and not be defensive with your professors. Keep an open mind, and thank them for the time they take to help you. 7. Take responsibility. You should also take responsibility for any mistakes that you’ve made. Don’t make excuses for not doing well — it shows a lack of maturity and gives the impression that you aren’t willing to work at fixing your problems. 8. Take it all with a grain of salt I took one of my essays to a TA and asked about a comment that read "paragraph too long." The TA defined a proper-length paragraph differently than the Writing Centre. Take comments with a grain of salt. Use them to gain insight from an educated mind, but don't be afraid to also seek out other sources of help, such as the Writing Centre, or a student who received an A. Try to reconcile these sources of help with the comments from your professors and TAs Your profs are there for you! - Fariya

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