I’m completely unconvinced that October begins Sunday. For starters, it’s still 80 degrees, sometimes 90, on most days. I have yet to be able to wear a sweatshirt comfortably. Though my fall candles are working wonders for convincing me it’s fall, the weather and mother nature has different ideas. However, we are well into the school year, so I guess fall is here? Regardless, I thought now would be a good time to offer my top four tips for contacting professors. When I started college, I believed that I should go to office hours, connect with my professors, and get to know them. Professors are great people (most of the time), and they enjoy when students try to meet with them and show an interest in the course. However, some professors are difficult to locate. They have office hours, but each time you arrive at their office during the specified hours, they are nowhere to be found. How do you combat this issue? I’m so glad you asked. Talking to them after class is usually a starting point. However, shooting them an email is usually a good way to start if they’re also one of the professors who peace out right when class ends. If you have a professor who is really bad at email — this happens more than you think — try a carrier pigeon or handwritten letter… Just kidding. If that is the case, tracking them down right after class is usually most effective. If they leave quickly, catch up with them, and talk until they reach whatever their destination is.
If you have a professor who is really bad at email — this happens more than you think — try a carrier pigeon or handwritten letter… Just kidding. If that is the case, tracking them down right after class is usually most effective. If they leave quickly, catch up with them, and talk until they reach whatever their destination is. In this situation, cut the small talk and lead with the purpose for talking to them (i.e., “I’m thinking about writing about the intersection of passivity and the tension between freedom and confinement in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but I’m having trouble reconciling…”). This way, they can answer the question quickly because you aren’t asking just as they have to say goodbye.
Now, let’s turn to email. Email is the most common way to contact professors. Whether you’re communicating solely over email or you’re attempting to schedule an in-person meeting, there are 4 tried and true steps to make sure the professor is available, for setting up a meeting and fostering a relationship with them. Cultivating strong relationships with professors is important because they will be your letters of recommendation for continuing education or for jobs upon graduation. Additionally, if you’re as lucky as I was, your professors are also awesome people who share a common love (i.e., your major/passion/hobby). So, how do you contact them?
Step One: Say hello, introduce yourself if necessary (if you’re in a really large class and your professor doesn’t know you and won’t recognize your name).
Step Two: Explain why you’re contacting them. Would you like to set up a meeting? Would you like him or her to offer feedback on your paper topic? Would you like them to review a draft (if they’ve offered this)?
Step Three: Reiterate that you enjoy the class and are hoping to learn more.
Step four: Close with a suggestion of when you would like to meet or when you would need the answer to your questions. So, if your paper is due Friday and you email them Monday, say, “I hope to receive your feedback by Wednesday evening so I have time to incorporate your suggestions into my final draft.” While this may seem pushy, professors are busy people, so a little nudge or time limit is helpful for both you and them. If they know it’s pressing, they will prioritize it better. There’s nothing worse than them giving you feedback that you don’t have time to include. When they read your final they will likely point out the lack of whatever they suggested.
Here is a sample email to a professor. This is an email I would send to my college professors if I wanted to meet with them. Emailing professors is especially important if their office hours conflict with your schedule. This email assumes you are in a big class or it is very early in the semester. If you clearly know your professor, you can forgo specifying which class you are in, and instead jump into the body of the email. The email also assumes your professor is difficult to meet with, but if you know they’re willing to meet with students, you can give an abbreviated summary of your paper and issue. The summary of what you want to discuss is important for two reasons. First, the professor could (in theory) prepare for the meeting better if he knows what you wish to discuss. Second, if they are hard to reach, you cut out back and forth emails. If they respond that they cannot meet, the can at least answer your questions in the same email.
So, there you have my steps for contacting a professor. I think it’s important to show that you care, that you want to learn, and you aren’t asking them to help you because you’ve procrastinated and are now panicking.
How do you contact professors? Have you ever felt nervous or scared to reach out to a professor?