Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew: How to Interact with Professors

What do you want to be when you get to college? One of the masses—a nameless face among hundreds or thousands—or someone whom a professor can call by name, offer personalized guidance, and write a great recommendation for later?

Interacting with faculty is something that some students naturally do well, some students do poorly, some students avoid, and some just never consider. Making an initial good impression can have subtle benefits of which a student might not be aware. A student who interacts with the professor (e.g., by coming to office hours or asking questions) is more likely to be remembered. A professor might be more likely to respond to that student in depth rather than superficially and may be more likely to give him or her the benefit of the doubt (e.g., if a student misses class).

But more importantly, making a good impression with a professor can lead to a relationship that benefits the student's overall college (and post-college) success.

So how does a student interact with his or her professors? First, all four faculty members at our "What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew"roundtable agreed: be respectful. Whether it's by email or in person, treat your professors the way you want to be treated. Never, ever convey a sense of entitlement. Remember that professors have lives outside of the classroom. Don't expect an instantaneous response when emailing a professor, especially after hours or on the weekend.

Our panelists gave more specific advice both inside and outside the classroom for positive interactions.

Interactions in the classroom

• Sit in the front of the classroom, never in the back. Not only are faces visible to the professor, but students can answer and ask questions easier when sitting in the front.

• Ask questions. Don’t feel “uncool” if you need to ask questions. Most professors prefer that you ask questions during class than after class, both for the benefit of the other students and because the professor has someplace else to go after class.

• Answer questions. Don’t be afraid to answer questions when a professor asks. If you know the answer, be bold enough to raise your hand and answer. It helps the flow of the class. Interactions with your professor helps you stay engaged and thus remember and understand more. (Dr. M. interjected here that students who constantly raise their hands shouldn't feel offended if a professor passes him or her over sometimes so that other students have a chance to answer.)

• Express interest in the subject of the class. Tell professors about articles you've read or experiences you've had that have to do with subject you’re learning. It helps the professors get to know you better, and may also help you in the future.

Don't text, talk, fall asleep, walk in late, leave early, etc. Being rude will get you noticed—but not in a good way.
Show respect. Address your professor as "Dr.," "Mr./Ms." unless he or she specifically asks you not to. Never address him or her by his/her first name unless s/he tells you to!  Also, be respectful of your professor's views and your fellow students' views. Don't assume everyone holds the same worldview as you do, and don't assume you are right and "they" are wrong. College is, after all, about expanding your mind, being challenged, and learning from others.

Interactions outside the classroom

Respect—and take advantage of—their office hours. Meet with them during their office hours. Don't show up in the middle of the day and expect them to drop everything to meet with you. Office hours will always be posted on a professor's door and in the syllabus.
Ask for help.  If you need help, go to office hours and don’t wait until it’s too late for help. Ask early in the semester for help. Be able to explain what you’re having difficulties with. Don’t just say “I don’t get it.” The more information that you can provide with what you don’t understand, the better your professors can help. Prepare your questions ahead of time of what you’re going to ask your prof.
• Join or create a study group. Some of the most successful students are the students that interact with each other.
• Communicate respectfully. Again, check the syllabus to see how your professor prefers to be contacted. Use correct grammar in email and texting correspondence and address your professor properly (see "Show respect" above). Do not begin your email with "Hey" or worse, "Hey, dude." (And yes, my husband has been addressed as such by students more than once.) Do not call your professors on the weekend or after business hours unless s/he has explicitly given you permission to do so. Also, sign your name at the bottom of your email! Professors don't necessarily know who belongs to what address.

All our panelists emphasized that forming a relationship—being known to and by—with professors is key to college success and also to success after college. Never be afraid of introducing yourself to faculty members. Don't be annoying, but never think of them as the enemy. They want you to succeed and to really learn from them and from your fellow students. College professors love what they are teaching! Think about it this way: most of them have spent at least 5-8 years in graduate school specializing in their subjects so that they can convey the material to you.

{This is #4 in the series: "What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew." See also:
#1: Write Well.

#2. Read the Syllabus.
#3. Be Responsible.
#5. Study 
#6. Get Involved}

1 comment:

  1. My dh would add a preface to the ask for help section - only after you've done some work first. He has had a student come to office hours three days before the final exam expecting help to pass the course Except he'd only attended a couple of lectures (they were too early) hadn't done any of the assignments, and hadn't read the textbook or the lecture notes that were available online.


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