Fostering Healthy Relationships with Professors

In college, classes and instructors are different from high school, and the change can feel uncomfortable at first. You might have large lecture-style classes with a professor teaching at the front of the hall, or you might have small seminar-style classes where the professor expects everyone to contribute their ideas. Not knowing your classmates or professors can feel scary at the beginning, but you’ll get used to the format and pretty soon it will feel normal. 

Check out these simple suggestions to help you get more out of your classes and develop good relationships with professors.

Be Respectful in Class and on Email

It’s always a good idea to be more formal than not when communicating with your professors. Usually they will tell you if they want to be called something besides Professor or Dr. So-and-So, but until then, stick to being formal. If you’re sending a note or email, start it with: “Dear Professor [Last Name].”

Speak Up in Class

If the class is on the smaller side and relies on students to contribute their ideas, your professor will no doubt appreciate it if you speak up. Discussions are an important part of many college classes. It can feel intimidating at first, but if you’ve prepared, you’ll likely do fine. Keep in mind that many students feel nervous about sharing their thoughts, so you’re not alone.

Use Office Hours

Make a practice of going to your professor’s office hours. This is the place to discuss issues like term paper topics, previous lectures that were confusing or unclear, or research topics that may interest you. Professors enjoy students who take an active interest in their coursework, and they’ve designed their office hours for you and other students. Go meet them. 

Some large lecture-style classes may include a graduate teacher assistant (TA), who could be your main point of contact for questions or concerns. They might hold their own office hours and/or teach the lab portion of a science class. Get to know them. They can help explain topics in-depth and share helpful insights.

Go to Study Sessions

When your professor or TA runs a study session, make a plan to go. In these sessions, you’ll learn what is being emphasized from the coursework and which areas to focus on. Your professor or TA will notice your attendance and attention, which benefits you. They’re more likely to go out of their way for a student who is making an effort.

Be Prepared

If you want to discuss a class topic or ask questions about class material during office hours, do a little planning before you go. Think through the questions you want to ask or the topic you’d like to discuss. Make an effort to learn the material before asking professors or TAs to explain a topic further. This makes good use of their time—and yours—during office hours.

Communicate According to Their Guidelines

At the beginning of the term, professors will set guidelines and expectations for communicating with them outside of class and during office hours. It’s important to respect and follow those guidelines. Don’t email your professors in the middle of the night or on a weekend and expect a response. They have lives too. If the issue is urgent, make that clear in your note. If it is an urgent personal problem, you should probably contact the Dean of Students’ Office or counseling services.

Avoid Waiting Until the Last Minute

If you need help or an extension on an assignment, or you’re in danger of failing a class, reach out to your professor or TA as soon as you can. Don’t wait until the last minute. They won’t be able to help you two days before grades are due, for example, but they can help guide you if they understand your circumstances

Be Aware of Relationship Boundaries

Professors and TAs may be cordial, informal, and friendly as you get to know them. However, it’s not appropriate for faculty or graduate TAs to have a social, intimate, or physical relationship with an undergraduate student. If you feel that a faculty or staff member is acting outside of acceptable boundaries, let someone know. The Dean of Students’ Office or the campus office on sexual harassment are both good places to discuss your concern.

Find out how to report sexual harassment on campus

If you work hard, respect your instructors’ time, and respect them as people, they will take time for you too. A positive student-professor relationship can make your college experience so much more enjoyable and rich and can open doors to research projects, mentorship, letters of recommendation, and guidance on your post-college plans.

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