As you’re probably experiencing by now, university brings many new experiences and challenges! To me, one of the biggest challenges was simply talking to professors. In high school, it was easy to create a connection with teachers mainly because classes were smaller and we had more time dedicated to completing work, which allowed the teacher to learn about each student. However, it is easy to get caught in the misconception that university classes are just a place to sit, listen, and learn, rather than a place to feel comfortable with asking the professor for help or creating a connection.
There are many reasons why you may want to talk to a professor including: getting help with course content, raising concerns about deadlines or assessments, asking for life advice, understanding their research, or letting them know about your accommodations. In fact, I have used all of these reasons to contact professors in the past few years. But, it was difficult because I thought I would be judged for not doing well all the time, or that I would not get personalized support, and believed professors would be too busy to really help me. I was very wrong!
During my first semester at U of T, I decided to work through my own problems with homework and only asked my peers for assistance. However, as it turned out that wasn’t quite enough, so I got the motivation one day and went to my very first office hour for my linear algebra course. The professor reviewed the problems I had issues with step by step, and even wrote my name down so they’d remember me in the future and follow up with me.
Similarly, in the second semester, I wanted to learn more about another engineering discipline, and so I emailed a professor to ask more about that program. The professor’s knowledge and enthusiasm during our conversation during office hours are what drove me to change my major!
These positive experiences made me less afraid of approaching professors with questions or simply sending an email. I started creating connections with professors that have different backgrounds and skills that have guided my success. I quickly learned that I can go see a professor if I didn’t do well on a midterm and be reminded that I tried my best, that my grade doesn’t define me, and learn where I made my mistakes. But, it’s not just as simple as showing up to their office hours, you need to put in some work beforehand. Here’s what I do to feel empowered to attend:
- Participate in class so the professor recognizes me. Sometimes this can be difficult so I ask questions one-to-one at the end of lecture or during a break!
- Send an email to clarify some course content or any other concerns I may have. Whether it’s job applications, deadlines, or a small question, an email is an easy (and less daunting) way to get assistance!
- Go to office hours, even if I don’t need help. Sometimes other students are asking really helpful questions, or I can just connect with the professor about future career/education plans!
Yes – talking to professors can be intimidating, but even just a quick email will probably help you and make their day. They are there to help when you need it, but only if you let them know! If you are struggling to bring the courage to do this, there is a Speaking to Power with Clarity and Effectiveness Event happening November 6th! This event will assist you in connecting with peers and professors around supports you may need. I hope to see you then!