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Talking to Your Professor: Do’s and Don’ts

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You have been told that you stand out in the crowd because of your unique attributes. But when you enter a classroom, you are just another student in the eye of the professors. The reason being they invest long office hours each semester dealing with the students who look alike, act alike and repeat the same mischief. So, you are not unique to them. Terrible, but true! The more terrible thing is taking the wrong approach while talking to your professor. And if you don’t talk to your professors, you should really start now. But the last thing you would want to do is to repeat every annoying “student mistakes” that drive professors up the wall. The good news is we have come up with a list of do’s and don’ts.

Engaging in a real conversation with your professor is essential for many reasons; the most important ones being:

  • You don’t want to waste time struggling with the study material you don’t understand
  • It is a great networking opportunity to meet experts in your field
  • You receive extra information about the expectations of the course that you cannot find in the course material or syllabus
  • It’s a great practice for interacting with people at any level of authority later in your life
  • You feel more confident in the school environment.

Despite these benefits, talking to professor can be frightening. It is frightening because these are the people who control your life right now. They decide your grades, they have authority over you, and they know more than you do. If you are still scared, read this list of do’s and don’ts to maintain professionalism and confidence.

Do’s and Don’ts When Talking to Professors —

1. Do arrive prepared:

Start by giving a brief introduction of yours (since they may not remember your name) and the purpose of your visit. It is natural to be nervous because professors can be intimidating. If you anticipate being nervous, use a flashcard to write down your questions before the meeting and read it once or twice so that you know what to say.

2. Don’t wait for the professor to start the conversation:

Nothing is worse than awkward silence when you are responsible for leading the conversation. You visited his/her office for a reason, right? So don’t just sit there, stare at him/her, get to the point. State you purpose, ask a question. Remember, it is not the professors’ duty to make you comfortable in their office hours; you need to identify the reason before you pay visit to them.

3. Do remember that their job is to teach:

Many students ask their professors to give them good thesis papers topics to select from. This is a terrible idea. It is your job to brainstorm for ideas for the paper. Select few potential topics, write your outline, formulate a thesis and have them checked by your professor and request for suggestions (if any). Remember they are not there to finish your school; they are there to guide you along. Similarly, don’t create an awkward situation by asking what chapters will be on the exam (unless they specifically indicated that some chapters would be omitted and you did not catch it).

4. Don’t think that you are bothering them:

It is the professors’ duty to listen to students and help them to study. Do not cloud your mind by thinking you are annoying them even if they are one of those professors who made it absolutely clear that they have something to do during the office hours. You are paying for their time so you have every right to knock on their doors.

5. Do your part; they will happily do theirs:

It is true that when a professor sees a student truly putting in the effort, the professor is more than happy to go above and beyond for that student. As we mentioned earlier, instead of going during office hours and asking them about paper topics, go with 3-4 potential thesis questions brainstormed by you so that the office hours are spent in discussing what topic would fit to your course.

6. Don’t go while you are not well:

Professors don’t want your germs, especially when they are juggling between their teaching, research and personal lives. Do not think that it will reflect your dedication that you showed up even you are sick. Don’t send your friend to office hours in place of you either; they want to see you while discussing your problems, not anyone else.

7. Do feel free to ask questions:

In reality, professors want to hear from you. Yes it is true, professor like to hear from you. If you are confused about certain topic or just curious about certain subject you are reviewing in the class, ask them about it. Like we said earlier, professors want to help those students who are eager to learn.

8. Don’t ask stupid questions:

For the sake of the conversation or just out of curiosity, students do ask stupid questions. Here are few examples —

  • What are the reading topics for this week? (You can get them easily because they are right in the syllabus, look it up for yourself)
  • What sections of chapter 5 are in the exam? (They are not supposed to tell you anything like it and you sound like you are lazy)
  • How much weightage does the assignment carry to the final grade? (It is also there in the syllabus, read the syllabus carefully).

To avoid this, read the syllabus thoroughly and refer to it in your conversation so that your professor understands you have tried finding answers on your own.

9. Do explain your situation while staying calm:

If you want to ask your professor something, ask them. Do not feel nervous or hesitate. If you want a deadline adjustment, calmly point out the problem and explain the situation in detail. Believe it or not, the professors too are normal human beings. They do understand how life treats us.

10. Don’t cry and whine about it:

Professors don’t want to hear your endless list of excuses, or worse, see you in tears, or even whine like a child. Act like an adult you are. Remember it is a professional situation, here you need to act calmly, project your points and try to convince your professors.

11. Do be professional and polite:

No matter how friendly a professor is in the classroom, you always remain professional with them. No cussing, crude jokes or get super personal with them (like they are not required to know how you were throwing up last time after eating leftover egg salad, for example), use their last name to address them etc. If they can’t get answers to your questions at this moment or properly, don’t just snap at them. Thank them for their time and walk away.

12. Don’t arrive and attack:

If you don’t like your professor, and the primary goal of going into their office is to criticize them or their teaching style or something else, it is probably best not to go. Remember, after all, they are responsible for giving you grades at the end of the semester. Odds are that they won’t be weighted in your favor at the end of the semester.

13. Do speak up:

A healthy debate about an issue discussed in the class or discussion about the issues brought up in the class (professors are likely to enjoy this) or a question why you received certain grades are appropriate in a meeting with professors. This is not attacking and it is often necessary to make aware of your presence.

14. Don’t put up lamest excuses:

Students have tendencies to make up stories when they fail to accomplish a task. Don’t be like it. ‘I have sent you the paper yesterday’, ‘My hard drive crashed’, ‘I did not save it’ are the most lame and most common excuses that professor often hear. The funny part is, they already know that you are lying. If you want deadline extension, ask for it, save yourself from the melodrama.

15. Do take responsibility:

Missed a deadline? Feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of the semester? Best not to blame your professor. They did not sign you up for the course or made you stay late with your friends. You are the one who should take responsibility for your own actions.

16. Don’t send them multiple e-mails:

Often you approach your professor with some issues, they ask you to send an e-mail because they are too occupied at that moment to talk to you. After sending them the mail, wait at least 48 hours for their response. This seems average amount of time for any professor. Don’t e-mail them after two hours asking whether they received your e-mail, and then re-send another mail after five minutes on not getting any response.

This is how you talk to your professors in their office hours.

But how to act when you are within a classroom? Now get ready to learn the classroom etiquette. This might be a strange thing to talk about, but it is necessary, and it is always nice to know the do’s and don’ts for any situation. To act politely and professionally within the classroom, you need to read these general rules of classroom etiquette.

Do’s and Don’ts for Classroom Etiquette —

1. Don’t eat crunchy food:

Please stop chewing chips or crunchy food in the classroom. When professors are engaged in giving serious lecture, you are rustling through a bag of chips; Admit it, it is incredibly distracting and completely unnecessary. Alternatively, there are so many great snacks that do not require loud chewing, crunching or the like.

2. Do not speak overly personal things:

There is a consistent problem in few students who share overly intimate stuff of family and personal life in class that should not be discussed in public. The class is not the place to talk about your dad’s drug issues or domestic violence you are suffering from or when your sister accidently got pregnant. We do feel bad for you, but this is inappropriate to be shared in a class. If you need someone to talk about personal things, you can go to free counseling sessions for students.

3. Do not treat your class like the YouTube comment section:

Class is not the place to get into an aggressive debate about abortion or gay marriage or evolution or anything. There’s a difference between expressing your thoughts and forcing your opinions on somebody. Professors love it when you share what you are thinking with others, but some classes are more lecture-based. It is disruptive and annoying when somebody is constantly placing his/her views when not necessary. An easier way to figure out how your professors handle sharing opinions in the class is to watch what the professor does when someone starts to bring up a controversial topic. Note, does he prompt for more discussion on the topic or just answers it quickly to move on.

4. Do raise hands:

It is never Okay to interrupt the flow of the professor what he/she was saying, even it is just a one or two word or loud scoff or something – it is disrespectful. However, raising your hand gives your professor the choice whether they let you interject the flow of the lecture or answer your question. They are the professor, they are in charge of the class – just shouting out your opinion is disruptive and extremely disrespectful in the situation.

So there you have it! The complete guide to talking to your professors whether it is in the classroom or outside the classroom.

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Hi, I am Mark, a Literature writer by profession. Fueled by a lifelong passion for Literature, story, and creative expression, I went on to get a PhD in creative writing. Over all these years, my passion has helped me manage a publication of my write ups in prominent websites and e-magazines. I have also been working part-time as a writing expert for for 5+ years now. It’s fun to guide students on academic write ups and bag those top grades like a pro. Apart from my professional life, I am a big-time foodie and travel enthusiast in my personal life. So, when I am not working, I am probably travelling places to try regional delicacies and sharing my experiences with people through my blog. 

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