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Engaging with Professors

Professor helping students in class

During your academic career, there will be many opportunities for you to interact and build meaningful relationships with your professors. The section below provides communication tips to help cultivate these relationships.

Making Contributions that Count

Participating in discussions, particularly in your DWC seminaris an important way to contribute in class. The aim of class participation is to learn from others and allow them to learn from you. These suggestions will help you make meaningful contributions to class discussions. 

Before Class

As you read the assignment, take notes on information that is unclear. 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.

During Class

Participating in class is key! If you are reluctant to speak in class, challenge yourself to say something early in the discussion. The longer you wait, the more challenging it may become

There are ways that you 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 thoughts. Be detailed and specific in how you build upon your classmate’s 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 tell why you found it interesting.
  • Ask a question that encourages the professor or a classmate to clarify.
  • Disagreeing is fine! In fact, it often shows that you are thinking critically about the material. If you are disagreeing with someone’s comment, point out what is interesting about it before explaining why you disagree.

Email Etiquette: Communicating with Your Professors

Email can be a helpful means of communication with your professors because it allows you to ask questions outside of class and keep your professors apprised of any updates that might impact your progress.   That said, be careful about relying on email too much, especially for questions that can be asked in class or answered by re-reading the syllabus. The tips below are helpful when crafting professional emails, including those you send to your professors.

1. Include a clear, concise subject line 

At times, we all get lost in the flurry of emails we receive.  Having a detailed subject line will make it easier for professors to distinguish your email from the many others that they receive. 

2. Use proper greetings  

Using a proper greeting in professional writing is always a good idea. Addressing your professor as “Dear Professor ___” is your best betIf, however, your professor says, “You can call me Al,” then go for it! 

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

Be thorough  but not lengthy – in your message. You should also try to anticipate any follow-up questions by putting that information in your initial message. Take the following, for example: 

Dear Professor Atwater,

I am enrolled in 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.

Sincerely, Jordan Rogers ’25

This email shows that the student has reviewed the syllabus and provided alternate times to meet. This is always helpful for any recipient. 

4. Consider the timing of your email 

Even if you are upset about a grade, it is always best to send the email when you are calm. Wait and send it when you feel your internal storm has passed. This will help you maintain a courteous and respectful tone – everyone appreciates that, and you’ll probably get a nicer response in return!

5. Proofread before sending

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? 
  • Was this question already answered in class? 
  • Did I include a polite greeting? 
  • Did I use spell-check?
  • Did I maintain a respectful tone? 
  • Did I include my email signature? 
  • If I am requesting a meeting, did I include my availability? 

Give faculty members time to respond. Expect that there may be some delay before you receive a response. It may take a professor more time to respond in weeks that are especially busy.

Using Office Hours

Meeting with professors during office hours is a great way to have your questions answered while building relationships. Oftentimes, it can lead to their supporting you in finding internships and providing reference letters.

1.  Make an appointment

If you have a question or concern that is complicated, ask the professor if he or she is available after class or by appointment. If appropriate, you might suggest a coffee or lunch – even virtually! Keep in mind that before the start of class, a professor is mentally preparing for the lecture and may not be able to give your question the time it deserves. 

2.  Be prepared

Review the syllabus to be sure you understand course policies before visiting your professor. Feel free to ask for clarification on any policies you may not understand. If you are seeking help with an assignment, take some time to jot questions down beforehand. If you are asking for a letter of recommendation, be sure that you leave your professor ample time to write it. 

3.  Be self-aware 

In addition to arriving on time, be sure to acknowledge that you respect and appreciate the professor’s time.  Before leaving the meeting, make sure you understand the professor’s decision and what your next steps will be. 

You will find that by following the tips above, you are opening the door to new connections with faculty who also value and appreciate the relationships that they form with students.