Advertising
Advertising

Advice for Students: How to Talk to Professors

Advice for Students: How to Talk to Professors

A while back, I recommended that students get to know their professors. I realize, though, that many students are intimidated or put off by their professors. This is especially so when students need something — a favor, special help with an assignment, a second chance on a test.

It doesn’t need to be that way. Professors are people, just like everyone else, and if you approach your professors with the same basic respect and decency you offer everyone else you interact with, you’ll probably find that they react with the same.

There are, though, a few things you should keep in mind when you talk to your professors, especially if you’re going to be asking for a particular favor:

Advertising

  • Call them by the right title. A “Doctor” is someone with a PhD; not all professors have a PhD. “Professor” is usually appropriate, unless you’ve been told otherwise. I prefer to be called by my first name, and I make that point clearly on the first day of class; if your professor hasn’t said anything about this, you’re better off not using their first name. If you’re totally unsure, a “Mr.” or “Ms.” Is usually fine. Do not use “Mrs.” unless the professor herself uses it; after 30 years of women making this point, it’s time to recognize that not all adult women are or want to be married.
  • Tell the truth. After the first couple of semesters of teaching, your average professor has pretty much heard it all. It’s a sad fact, but true nonetheless, that we grow pretty jaded and take all student excuses with a grain of salt. If a professor thinks s/he’s being played, they’re not going to respond very well to whatever request you have to make, so you might as well be honest. If you feel you absolutely must lie, at least make it a huge flaming whopper of a lie, so the professor can get a good laugh when they share it at the next faculty meeting.
  • Be prepared to do the work. If you’ve missed an assignment or a test or are falling behind in your reading, and you are seeking help to get caught up or a special dispensation to make up the assignment, you’d better be prepared to do the work — and generally under more difficult circumstances. I get the impression that a lot of students imagine I might just say “don’t worry about it, I’ll give you the points anyway” which, of course, is not going to happen.
  • Be clear and concise. Unless you’re paying a “social call”, get to the point quickly: tell your prof what you need or want and be done with it. Don’t spend 30 minutes explaining your childhood and family arrangements and how hard it is getting a job with a few felony convictions on your record and blah blah blah for a 10-point assignment. Simply say “Professor, I missed an assignment, can I make it up? Can I do something else?”
  • Pay social calls. Your professor is probably required by school policy to be in his or her office and available to students for a set number of hours per week. On top of that, most professors like talking to students — it’s part of the reason we took the job. Chances are, though, that s/he spends the majority of her or his office hours playing Minesweeper and reading email, because students almost never drop in on her. Pay your professor a visit or two, just to talk. Tell him or her about the work you’re interested in or about problems you’re having (but remember, a professor is not a therapist; they’ll talk about whatever you want, but may not be able to offer professional advice). Build relationships with your professors — at the very least, they’ll remember you when you call up three years later asking for a reference letter.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, flirt. The days of professors marrying their promising students are long, long gone. Nowadays, even the hint of favoritism can ruin a professor’s career — let alone any actual relationship-type behavior. Unless your professor is a total sleazebag, any sign of flirtation will make him or her shut down immediately. They simply cannot risk it.
    • Note: Many students develop crushes on their professors. They do not respond much to the argument that a professor’s position and authority makes any romantic response on their part problematic at best; most college students feel they are adults and able to make their own decisions, and that there is therefore nothing all that improper about a relationship between a prof and a student. And they’re right: they are adults and they are capable of making their own decisions, and should have the good sense therefore to leave their professors alone. It may well be the case that a professor, being human, slips up — maybe he’s getting a divorce or just broke up with her boyfriend or any number of circumstances, and a student comes along and seems to find them interesting and attractive and all that. This transgression may cost them their jobs and the careers they’ve worked hard to build. And in the end, all crushes pass; professors, who seem so competent and intriguing in their classrooms, turn out to be normal people with normal people’s faults outside the classroom, and the attraction fades. So give it a pass; keep your relationship with your professors friendly but not too friendly.
  • Prepare for disappointment. Depending on how far you’ve let your studies slide, there might not be anything a professor can do and still be fair to the rest of her or his students. Or it might not be technically possible: arranging make-up tests, for example, is difficult. Your prof probably spent hours writing his or her syllabus, and probably spent another hour explaining it to you at the beginning of the class, so he or she’s got a lot invested in the rules it explains. Too many students try to bend or break the rules for her or him to be easily swayed from them. They especially hate it when people don’t do an assignment and then ask for a way to make it up; it throws off our whole “rhythm” to read an assignment from 6 weeks ago. So often a professor won’t or can’t help you. Your only option might be to shift into damage control, see what you can do, and ask honestly if you should continue in the class. And learn from your failure; take the class again and do it right.
  • Hold the threats. Professors get threatened with lawsuits a lot, and even threats of physical violence are not unheard of when things don’t go a student’s way. Obviously, professors aren’t going to respond very well to threats. On top of that, most professors have pretty good relationships with their departments and superiors, which means they know that baseless accusations and going over their heads isn’t going to get a student very far. If you find yourself needing to resort to threats, chances are you probably don’t have much of a reason for a professor to help you out, and you should start thinking about how to do better next time.

As I said, most professors will respond in kind if you treat them openly and decently. We didn’t become professors because we wanted to make students’ lives miserable (well, most of us, anyway…). We became professors out of a passion for our disciplines and a desire to share our knowledge with you. As a general rule, professors respect commitment and genuine curiosity, and will go out of their way to help if they feel that you are honestly interested in doing well. On the other hand, professors get to feeling pretty used by the numerous students who work hard only at gaming the system, and if they feel you’re one of those students, they’re not likely to bend very far to make life easier for you.

Advertising

Good luck!

Advertising

Advertising

More by this author

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed Back to Basics: Your Calendar Learn Something New Every Day 10 Tips for More Effective PowerPoint Presentations

Trending in Communication

110 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks 2When You Start to Enjoy Being Single, These 12 Things Will Happen 321 Best Tips On Making A Long Distance Relationship Work 4The Skill That Most People Don’t Have: Active Listening 518 Signs You’ve Found Your Soulmate

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on August 16, 2018

10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Enjoy Taking Risks

The ability to take risks by stepping outside your comfort zone is the primary way by which we grow. But we are often afraid to take that first step.

In truth, comfort zones are not really about comfort, they are about fear. Break the chains of fear to get outside. Once you do, you will learn to enjoy the process of taking risks and growing in the process.

Here are 10 ways to help you step out of your comfort zone and get closer to success:

1. Become aware of what’s outside of your comfort zone

What are the things that you believe are worth doing but are afraid of doing yourself because of the potential for disappointment or failure?

Draw a circle and write those things down outside the circle. This process will not only allow you to clearly identify your discomforts, but your comforts. Write identified comforts inside the circle.

2. Become clear about what you are aiming to overcome

Take the list of discomforts and go deeper. Remember, the primary emotion you are trying to overcome is fear.

Advertising

How does this fear apply uniquely to each situation? Be very specific.

Are you afraid of walking up to people and introducing yourself in social situations? Why? Is it because you are insecure about the sound of your voice? Are you insecure about your looks?

Or, are you afraid of being ignored?

3. Get comfortable with discomfort

One way to get outside of your comfort zone is to literally expand it. Make it a goal to avoid running away from discomfort.

Let’s stay with the theme of meeting people in social settings. If you start feeling a little panicked when talking to someone you’ve just met, try to stay with it a little longer than you normally would before retreating to comfort. If you stay long enough and practice often enough, it will start to become less uncomfortable.

4. See failure as a teacher

Many of us are so afraid of failure that we would rather do nothing than take a shot at our dreams.

Advertising

Begin to treat failure as a teacher. What did you learn from the experience? How can you take that lesson to your next adventure to increase your chance of success?

Many highly successful people failed plenty of times before they succeeded. Here’re some examples:

10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

5. Take baby steps

Don’t try to jump outside your comfort zone, you will likely become overwhelmed and jump right back in.

Take small steps toward the fear you are trying to overcome. If you want to do public speaking, start by taking every opportunity to speak to small groups of people. You can even practice with family and friends.

Take a look at this article on how you can start taking baby steps:

Advertising

The Number One Secret to Life Success: Baby Steps

6. Hang out with risk takers

There is no substitute for this step. If you want to become better at something, you must start hanging out with the people who are doing what you want to do and start emulating them. (Here’re 8 Reasons Why Risk Takers Are More Likely To Be Successful).

Almost inevitably, their influence will start have an effect on your behavior.

7. Be honest with yourself when you are trying to make excuses

Don’t say “Oh, I just don’t have the time for this right now.” Instead, be honest and say “I am afraid to do this.”

Don’t make excuses, just be honest. You will be in a better place to confront what is truly bothering you and increase your chance of moving forward.

8. Identify how stepping out will benefit you

What will the ability to engage in public speaking do for your personal and professional growth? Keep these potential benefits in mind as motivations to push through fear.

Advertising

9. Don’t take yourself too seriously

Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Risk taking will inevitably involve failure and setbacks that will sometimes make you look foolish to others. Be happy to roll with the punches when others poke fun.

If you aren’t convinced yet, check out these 6 Reasons Not to Take Life So Seriously.

10. Focus on the fun

Enjoy the process of stepping outside your safe boundaries. Enjoy the fun of discovering things about yourself that you may not have been aware of previously.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Read Next