Jennifer Kimble, Donna Llewellyn, Ph.D., & Joyce Weinsheimer, Ph.D.
A considerable amount of research shows that student-faculty interaction is a crucial part of success in college. As you look ahead to applying for internships, co-op positions, scholarships, even graduate school or your first job, strong letters of recommendation from your faculty will be an important part of the application process. Therefore, you should start to get to know your faculty early—as soon as your first year—and being to develop meaningful professional relationships with them. Below are some tips in cultivating relationships with your instructors.
- You will have large lecture classes for many of your first-year and sophomore level classes. Don’t be intimidated in getting to know your professor. Every faculty member has office hours that are typically listed on the syllabus. Attend them. Ask meaningful questions about the course during them. IF the class size is intimidating, try to create study groups and cultivate online resources to help make the class seem smaller for you.
- Attend every class and sit as close to the front and center as possible. Make sure you are prepared to learn and have no distractions on your desk (eating loud/smelly foods, phones, etc.). Be aware of your body language. Look alert and interested. Don’t slouch in your chair. Don’t dress like you just rolled out of bed. If it’s a class where you have a laptop, don’t have Facebook, Twitter, or websites not related to the class open; no texting, and keep your ringer on silent! Give the class and the professor your utmost attention and be respectful. Professors can tell when you are multitasking during their lecture.
- View the class as a true opportunity for learning. Go deeper with the subject matter. Explore how a concept from one class can be applied to another. Read any articles the instructor wrote about the topic.
- If you have to miss class, get the notes from a trusted classmate. You may want to apologize to the instructor for missing class and check if he/she made any announcements to the class. (Don’t ask if s/he “covered anything important in class”—everything in class is important!)
- When you communicate with faculty through e-mail, do so appropriately and professionally. Don’t write to a professor the same way you do to your friends. (See “Communicating Professionally through Email” for more advice about emailing professors.)
- Take advantage of your professor’s office hours—and use them appropriately! Here are some examples of how to interact with professors during office hours.
- If you stop by without an appointment during office hours, ask if they have 10 minutes to talk about X. Be cognizant of his/her time and keep your questions to 10 minutes. Have questions written down to help you stay on track. Remember that faculty have other responsibilities (meetings/reports/projects/etc.) that demand their time. If it is not a convenient time, offer to send him or her a short email to schedule an appointment (and be sure to follow through).
- Start off the conversation by introducing yourself (name, major, and what class you have him/her for). For example, “Hi, I’m Taylor and I’m in your 3pm General Chemistry course. I wanted to ask you a few questions about yesterday’s lecture on acid-base reactions. Is this a good time?”)
- If you have a diagnosed disability and are registered with the Office of Disability Services, share your Faculty Accommodation Letter with your instructor at the beginning of the semester and discuss the testing and/or other accommodations that you will need.
- Ask questions about an upcoming assignment to make sure that you understand it correctly or that your approach to the assignment is valued by your instructor. For papers, you might share an outline or ask for feedback on a draft.
- If you aren’t doing well in a course, go to office hours IMMEDIATELY. Don’t wait until the end of the semester when it is too late for you to get help. Give your instructor a chance to help you figure out what’s going wrong and how you might improve your learning. Be ready to talk about what you’re doing and the results you’re getting. Your instructor may be able to suggest another approach that will work better for you.
- Avoid questions that might offend your instructor. “Did I miss anything important?” “Will this be on the test?” “Will you give me an ‘A’ for this?” Instead, let your instructor know that you want to learn. You are seeking guidance about (1) the best way to increase your understanding of the course content and (2) how to demonstrate what you know on a paper, project, or test.
- If you receive a grade that you disagree with on an assignment or a test, talk with your instructor about the situation in a way that opens rather than closes the conversation. Rather than demand that your instructor change your grade, ask your instructor for feedback. How could you have answered the question more effectively? What would have been a better approach? Occasionally faculty make mistakes during the grading process, and it’s ok to discuss this possibility. Raising your concerns in a respectful manner, however, is key to a good discussion.
- If you have really enjoyed a particular professor’s class or you feel a certain professor has made a difference in your education, take advantage of the “Thank a Teacher” program coordinated by the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Just like you enjoy being acknowledged for doing good work, so do your professors! The link for this program can be found at here: Georgia Tech Thank a Teacher Program.
- “Take a Professor to Lunch” is offered each semester and is coordinated by the Student Center Programs Board. Keep an eye out for banners and advertisements in The Technique. Typically, faculty are honored to be invited. If you are uncomfortable or nervous about eating lunch with a professor on your own, ask a classmate to join you—and make it a small group. Be prepared to make small talk during the lunch, discussing how your instructor became interested in teaching, doing research at Georgia Tech, or why you might be interested in going to graduate school.
- Read some of these “Words of Wisdom” on how to interact with faculty directly from Tech faculty themselves:
“I really encourage students to use office hours. It kills two birds with one stone—get to know your professor and get help with class work! I’ve had some students express fear that if they constantly come to me for help I won’t be able to say they are a good student when it’s really quite the contrary.” –Chemistry professor
“I also think that little things go a long way. I notice when students call me by name when they see me in the hall or on campus. I notice when they ask me questions after class or during recitation, etc. All of those little things can add up to make a much larger impression on a professor.” –Chemistry professor
“I would recommend that students attend any social functions (cookouts, poster sessions, etc.) sponsored by their major department and talk to the faculty in an informal setting. Also, the ‘Take a Prof to Lunch’ is an easy way for them to talk to a professor in a one-on-one setting.” –Biology professor
“Ask your professor to allow you to interview them about careers and/or their career. Ask your professor to lunch. Get in the habit of asking course related questions either during or after class or during office hours. If you are in a large class, form a small informal study group and then have the whole group go to office hours to clarify the things that are not understood.” –Chemistry professor
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