Navigating the professor-student relationship

Uvic_Commercial_2014-288During university, there are always professors you really connect with and enjoy their class and others that you just don’t. Just like in life, certain personality types work for some people while others don’t. At some point, you will probably feel like one of your professors is an old curmudgeon that doesn’t care about the students.

If I’ve learned two things about all professors, it’s that they care about their students and they are passionate about teaching their subject. They want you to learn a lot in their class, do well on exams and enjoy it as much as they do.

No professor wants students to drop their class or for the midterm average to be extremely low. Professors are an invaluable resource; however, there are certain guidelines I’ve learned over the years to make the professor-student relationship a positive experience.

Let’s just say I have made many trips to the office of my professor over the years for a multitude of reasons: clarifying lecture material, bringing in a study group, going over an exam or life/career advice. In some classes, you may need to interact with a professor to view your midterms. I highly encourage doing this as soon as possible because, as time passes, the useful feedback you learn from viewing your exam diminishes. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I leave the office of the professor feeling much better over the concern that brought me there in the first place.

A few of my favorite professors I think of as role models and I still keep in touch every so often even after the class is finished. There are some simple guidelines that make interacting with a professor a guaranteed positive experience. These can be applied to any professional correspondence in life.

  • Respect – This means addressing the email to the professor using their correct title and last name spelled correctly, “Hi Dr. Lastname,.”   Make sure you use your full name and, usually, include your student number at the end of the email if you are inquiring about something where it may be required,  such as an exam score.
  • Be direct, but pleasant – You’re looking to find a solution to a concern and the professor will help you do that, but professors are busy and probably get a lot of emails so get to the point. Don’t be blunt or rude, but also don’t be wishy-washy. Keep it simple. For example, “I really enjoy your class, Dr. Lastname, but I was having some trouble understanding this concept. Here are a few questions I have or, if you have time, maybe we could set up an appointment or office hours and we could go over this concept.”
  • Ask about their research or their life if you are genuinely interested – I wish that professors would teach you more about what they’ve learned in their life experience in academia during class; however, meeting a professor in their office is a great way to ask them these sorts of questions if you are interested. I find life lessons that professors may bestow upon you priceless.
  • Be prepared – If you want to query a mark or ask for an explanation of a concept, think about what you’re going to say. If it’s about a mark, make sure you have thought of why you think you earned a certain mark and, if the professor doesn’t feel the argument is valid, they may explain why and let it go at this point. If you want to ask about a concept, be sure to study that concept beforehand and ask specific questions about what you don’t understand. Don’t just say you don’t understand the entire concept; tell them what you do understand.

Things absolutely not to do:

  • Berate the professor
  • Use foul language
  • Demand anything
  • Take an entitled attitude like you “deserve” something

In my opinion, office hours of professors are an underused resource for students and can be very beneficial if implemented in the proper way. Everybody has a boss, so the ability of dealing with an authority figure in a professional manner is vital to a successful career. Try to develop good habits and you will have a positive experience with professors!

1103131105 - Tara Paterson





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