> Academic Skills > Engaging with Professors

Engaging with Professors

During the course of your academic career, there will be numerous opportunities for you to interact and engage with your professors. The quality of these interactions can make a big difference in your academic success.

Class Participation: Making Contributions that Count

Part of your Providence College education will involve participating in discussions, particularly in your seminar for Development of Western Civilization.  The aim of class participation is to learn from others and allow them to learn from you.  These suggestions will assist you in making meaningful contributions to a class discussion.

Before the class

As you read the assignment, take notes on information that needs clarification.  Also, if there is something that you find interesting, underline or highlight it. Be sure to understand the major points of the reading and consider your response to these points.

Review the syllabus and reflect upon the title of the lecture.  Be sure to understand the lecture topic in connection to the previous lectures and overall course objectives.

During class

Be sure to sit toward the front of class.  Doing so makes it easier to get the instructor’s attention and ask a question.  If you are reluctant to speak in class, challenge yourself to say something early in the discussion.  The longer you wait, the harder it will become.  Also, if you wait too long, another classmate may ask your question or make the observation that you intended to make.

There are lots of approaches to class participation that can add to a discussion.  These are just a few:

  • Ask a question to clarify some aspect of the reading.
  • Paraphrase a point that someone else has made and add your opinion.  Be detailed and specific in how you build upon your classmate’s initial observation.
  • Answer a question posed by the professor or a classmate.
  • Make a comment to link two people’s contributions.
  • Highlight an important aspect of the reading and why you found it interesting.
  • Ask a question that encourages the professor or a classmate to clarify a comment.
  • Disagree with someone in a respectful and constructive manner.  Try to point out what is interesting or compelling in someone’s comment before explaining why you disagree.

Email Etiquette: Effectively Communicating with Your Professors

Emails, when used effectively, are a valuable educational tool.  Email allows students to ask questions outside of class and increases the accessibility of faculty and staff.  Be careful about over-relying on email with faculty, especially for questions that can be asked in class or answered in the syllabus. To ensure that you are using email responsibly, be aware of these guidelines.

1. Include a clear, concise subject line so that your recipient knows what your email is about.

With so many requests from students, committee meetings, and personal issues, professors receive many emails.  Having a detailed subject line will make it easier for the professor to distinguish your email from the many others.

2. Formally address your recipient with his or her proper title.

Always use a proper salutation when addressing a professor.  Even if you know the professor personally, it is best to address him or her as “Dear Professor” to establish a respectful and professional tone.  Under no circumstances should you address your professor with informal or colloquial language, such as “hey.”

3. Identify who you are (e.g., student in DWC 101 003, student advisee) and why you are sending the email.

Be thorough and detailed in why you are contacting your professor.  You should also anticipate any follow-up questions by putting that information in your initial email.  Take the following, for example:

Dear Professor Marinelli,

My name is Manuela Barcelos and I attend your ENG 301 001 course.  I would like to meet with you and discuss the upcoming paper, but I have a class during your office hours.  Is there another time that you are available to meet?  I am available on Mondays from 2-4pm, Tuesdays from 11am-1:30pm, and Thursdays from 2:30-5pm.


Manuela Barcelos ’19

B.A. History


This email shows that student has reviewed the syllabus and provided alternative times to meet.  This work saves time and allows the professor to respond with suggestions.

4. Be respectful and aware of your tone.

Remember that you are communicating with a real person who has many responsibilities.  Be kind, be thankful, and never come across as demanding.

5. Use proper grammar and spelling.  Do not use any abbreviations or slang. 

Be sure to proofread your email, which ensures that you come across as a professional.  Make sure that your message is clear and easy to understand. Before you click send, read over the email and answer the following questions:

  • Is the answer to my question in the syllabus?
  • Did I include a polite greeting?
  • Did I spell everything correctly?
  • Was this question already answered in class?
  • How is my grammar?
  • How is my tone?
  • Did I include my email signature?
  • If I am requesting a meeting, did I include my availability?

Give faculty members time to respond.  Remember that professors are not available 24/7.  Expect that there may be some delay before you receive a response.  It might take a professor some time to get back to you if it is a busy time during the semester.

Utilizing Office Hours

Meeting with a professor during his or her office hours is a great way to have your questions answered while building a relationship.  Oftentimes, professors can assist students in finding internships and providing reference letters, so it is in your best interest to present yourself as a conscientious young professional.

1.  Make an Appointment

If you have a question or issue that is more complicated, try not to speak to the professor about it in the classroom.  Before the start of class, a professor is mentally preparing for the lecture and may not be able to offer you privacy or give your question the time it deserves.

2.  Be Prepared

Review the syllabus to be sure you understand course policies before visiting your professor. Be prepared with specific questions if you are seeking help with an assignment. If you are asking for a letter of recommendation, be sure that you give the professor adequate to time write it.

3.  Be Respectful

Treat the professor with respect and be cognizant of his or her time.  Before leaving the meeting, make sure you understand the professor’s decision and what your next steps will be.