Stylish Academic’s Guide to Contacting Professors

Stylish Academic's 4 Step Guide to Contacting Professors.png

Hello, World.

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.

Hello, Professor James, I am Callie Coker and I am in your Tuesday%2FThursday Intro to Literary Criticism course. I am working on my paper that is due Friday, and I had a couple questions that I would like to discuss w.png

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?

Truly,

Callie leigh

 

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Law School: Letters of Recommendation

letters of recommendation

Hello, World.

Since I just spent a majority of the last academic year applying to law school, or preparing to apply, I wanted to share some insight on the application process. Though I am by NO means an expert on the process or have any idea what actually goes on inside the admissions offices on various campuses, I did a ton of research, and learned as I went in terms of applying. The first installment in my law school series will be focused on letters of recommendation. If you are currently a freshman or sophomore, start building or solidifying relationships with professors, staff, or mentors. Try to think of some people you would eventually want to write your letters of recommendation, and get to know them better. The being said, don’t vet recommenders, recommendations should be natural. You should be able to ask the person, and they should be able to comfortably write you a strong letter without a ton of information coming from you last minute.

If you are currently a junior or senior, think about who you work with currently, or worked with in the past, that knows you well and can advocate for your work ethic or other skills. You want to pick people who know you well and will write strong letters so that you stand out as an applicant. Most applicants have strong letters of recommendation. The people who don’t typically asked the wrong people. To give you an idea, I asked my thesis adviser who is the chair of my department, an attorney I interned for, and the administrator who oversees the Honor Council. I knew that the three people I asked would write me good letters, but I also knew that the three people represented three different angles of who I am as a student or worker. I wanted admissions offices to get a strong sense of who I am, and having a diverse group of recommenders seemed like a good idea to me.

Now, the important question that gets asked often too little is who to ask. Most people assume they have a great idea of who to ask, but you should also try to be strategic about who you ask. While I had a few professors that likely would have written great letters of recommendation, I knew my thesis adviser was the best choice because I worked really closely with her, and she knew my work ethic, especially pertaining to my major. While you may believe titles are important, you don’t want to ask the president of your college to write you a letter if it’s going to say something like, “great student, strong credentials, blah blah blah I don’t actually know this candidate well.” I went to a panel with the Deans of Admission for Stanford, Duke, and NYU, and they all said that titles are not important if the letter is super generic and doesn’t actually represent who the applicant is well.

When you ask people for recommendations, you should provide: (1) your resume, (2) any significant achievements you feel they should know about related directly to their field that isn’t present on your resume, and (3) statement of purpose/reason for applying. Some people will say they don’t need the aforementioned things because they know you well enough to write your letter without, but if they don’t say anything, it’s safer to give them too much information than not enough.

So, if you’re ahead of the game in terms of preparing to apply, think about recommenders early. If you’re about to start applying, do some thinking about who would be a good sampling of recommenders.

Please let me know if you have questions specific to you. Do you know who you would ask?

Truly,
Callie leigh