Stylish Academic’s Guide to Contacting Professors

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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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The Arbitrary Nature of College Grades

Hello, World.

In light of school starting soon, I wanted to share my thoughts on college grades. For you just beginning college, you’ve likely heard mixed reviews, either college is way harder than high school or that college grades are different, slightly more arbitrary.What do I mean by arbitrary? Rarely do you ever see a final breakdown of your grade. Yes, the professors put percentages and weighted assignments and whatnot on their syllabus, but it becomes kind of unnecessary because you can use those percentages to guesstimate what your grade will be, but know that you will likely not have your final returned to you, so that grade will be unclear. There are many areas that may remain unclear, but just have faith that your professor will give you a grade close to the one you think you deserve based on your performance. One of the reasons I wanted to share the arbitrary nature of college grads is because there were a few instances in my college years where my final grade was confusing to me. Most of the time I was pretty good at inferring what grade would be on “report card” if you will. Sometimes, though, I was utterly confused.

One example? When I had to take a science, I took geology thinking it’d be an easy A. When everyone basically failed the midterm, though, I started to sweat. There were a lot of moments where I accepted a Bt would probably appear next to Geology at the end of the semester. But I made a point to arrive on time, attend every single class, and talk to my professor a lot during lab and field trips. This was the largest class I had in college, as many of us were simply trying to fulfill our science requirement with something not as intense as biochemistry or O-Chem, stuff science majors even struggled with. So, I studied for hours, more than I usually would to be honest, for the geology final, went in, and nearly cried by the end because the test was far more challenging than I imagined. The girl in front of my actually stood up and exclaimed, “well that was fun to fail.” Nobody felt great about the final, but I did my best and hoped my grade would be a Bt or higher. Final grades came out, and an A- appeared on my transcript. I texted my then-roommate, who literally responded with “HOW?” because she saw me after the final, and probably assumed what I also assumed: that I was getting a B at most. But, I think my apparent dedication to the course, and my interactions with my professor helped him bump me up since no one was doing stellar work, at least in my section. So, thus concludes the first example where my work didn’t necessarily reflect my grade, but I took the grade and smiled and moved on.

The next two examples are grades where I thought I had the A in the bag, and was blind sighted by a Bt. I cried the first time this happened, and was utterly irritated the second time. Being a Type-A student who works her butt off, I know when grades don’t add up, and I take it seriously. This is also a lesson in advocating for yourself! So, the first time my grade came back lower than expected was my junior year when I took a legal theory class. I was so excited, it was an elective class that I took for fun, and figured I would do well in. So, I knew the breakdown of how grades were formed in the class, and going into the final I had not received below a 94% on any assignment, paper, or quiz. So, I was feeling confident, especially because in the syllabus, 89% was the cut off for an A-. The final was open book, open note. I didn’t study as much as I should have, and definitely relied too heavily on the open aspect of the test, but I still felt I did well, probably a B- range. So, when final grades came out and I had a Bt in the course, I immediately broke down in tears and freaked out. I was so confused and felt like the grade wasn’t right. After talking to my parents, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to ask my professor for a grade breakdown. When she returned the breakdown, my grade was a 89.5%, which according to the syllabus, was an A-. I emailed the professor back, and explained that I appreciated the breakdown, but also referred to the grading the syllabus outlined. She emailed me back really quickly, explaining I was right and she would change my grade! Relief set in, and I felt SO happy. This was hugely important because had I never advocated for myself, I would still have a Bt in the class, and a lower GPA (when applying to law schools).

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The final example I have of explaining why grades are somewhat arbitrary comes in the fall of my senior year, right when I was applying to law school. I was taking a seminar class, which is a special program my college offered where everyone is required to read the great books of our world, and talk about them in meaningful ways. I’m not going to lie, the program is better in theory than practice, or at least I felt it didn’t really accomplish what I thought it would. I had one good experience, which was during my junior year, and the rest felt like mediocre English classes where no oner read and everyone basically regurgitated SparkNotes. However, many of my friends had great experiences, so it really just depends on the professor, the class, etc. But ANYWAY, I had a professor who had been recommended to me, and I kind of realized a few weeks in that this seminar wasn’t going to go well. For one thing, I was having trouble getting into the conversations, and the professor would talk for a huge portion of class, which is basically anti-seminar (there should be no lecture, and minimal participation from the professor). So, I went through the motions, but at the end of the semester, I had to meet with the professor to talk about my grade and final paper idea. During the conversation, he said my grade was really close between an A- and a Bt because I didn’t talk enough (keep in mind no one really talked, and those who did were kind of all over the place with their thoughts and didn’t really leave the topic open). I felt a little defeated, but I tried to improve my participation for the last few weeks, and my writing grade was over 100%. When grades came, I had a Bt. I was upset. I wasn’t sure what grade I deserved because the dynamic of the class was so weird, but I wanted to see a breakdown. So, I emailed the professor. He was like, I’m traveling but will get back to you in a week. I was stressing for the week, hoping my grade was wrong, or at least that I would see a clearer explanation about the Bt. Finally, he got back to me, and realized he miscalculated my grade by ten points. The difference? An A- instead of a Bt. So, he apologized for the confusion, and changed the grade. I’m not trying to sound whiney in this story, or that I fight for grades I don’t deserve. I actually get horrible anxiety about asking for grade breakdowns, but sometimes they are totally worth it!

All of this is to say that sometimes professors miscalculate, sometimes they give you a little boost because you put in a lot of effort and never missed class. Most professors retain about a 10% participation grade, which can really affect where your final grade falls. If you attend class 90%+ of the time, and do your best, they will often bump you a bit up, at least from a minus to a solid letter or from a solid letter to a plus. Do good work, and don’t count on getting higher grades than you deserve. But, if you feel something isn’t right, ask about it. If you’re struggling, go to office hours and show you’re invested in the class. Also, recognize that your professor probably has 100 or so grades to keep track of, where you only have one, so your calculation could be more accurate. In the end, college grades are more arbitrary than you expect, it’s not like high school, so prepare to keep track of your grades, know your scores on assignments, and ask questions if something doesn’t feel right. If the grade seems a little higher than expected, you can either ask about it, or assume the participation grade saved you! But in the end, enjoy college and only stress about grades when you feel something is wrong.

Truly,
Callie leigh

Why Getting to Know Professors in College Matters

Hello, World.

Today I wanted to share my thoughts about an aspect of college life that is often treated as… well, not a priority: Professors. A lot of students seem to forget that the person standing at the front of the room is not only a professor, but also a mentor, reference, advisor, and, most importantly, a person. Professors love when you take time to get to know them, and getting to know them is highly important while you’re in college. I go to a college where the faculty to student ratio is 13:1, so I have an easier time getting to know my professors than students at colleges or universities where the ratio is 25:1. (Admissions tip: while looking at colleges, make sure you look at this ratio and consider if you want to be a person or a number).

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I know it can be difficult to get to know professors when in school because you have extracurricular activities to go to, friends to hangout with, family members calling to talk, and sleep to catch up on, but know that college is ultimately about education. All of the things in your life are important, but a major part of succeeding in a class is the professor. If you know the professor well, you’re more likely to admit when you don’t understand something or when you need help studying for an exam or while writing a paper. In light of this, I wanted to offer some tips about how to get to know professors!

First, make a point to participate in class. By speaking up, your professor will know you care, that you are paying attention, and they will remember your name more easily.

Second, ask questions. While constantly spewing information is great, asking thoughtful or challenging questions will show your professor you are engaged, and have a desire to learn more about the subject material.

Third, go to office hours! I can seriously not stress this enough. In my experience, professors are much more laid back in office hours, and are willing to really talk with your about the class or just about life if necessary. Also, by going to see your professor on your own time, instead of going on a coffee run with friends, they will see that you really want to learn from them. This is another way of getting them to remember not only your name, but also who you are as a person and a student.

Fourth, ask them about themselves. Find out where they went to school, what their experience in college was, or how they feel about the subject matter you are studying. Asking about them opens them up a little, and allows for a greater bond to grow than just “I’m your professor, and I will teach you about the literature produced during the Renaissance.”

Lastly, read some of their work. Almost all professors, unless they are new, have published something about what they teach. If you’re interested in the material they are teaching, and want to know what they think about it, read up on them. Reading their work will also show you how successful they are outside of the classroom. Also, a lot of professors write about things that may not be in the curriculum of the class, but is still super interesting!

So, get to know your professors! If you plan to go to graduate school or get a job after college, professors are great recommenders. You do not want to get to the final stage of college, and realize you aren’t close enough to any professor to ask him or her for a letter of recommendation. Also, the experience of college is simply superior if you have good relationships with professors because you will get way more out of your classes. Professors are seasoned veterans in whatever field of study you pursue, and they are at your disposal, so take full advantage!

How do you get to know your professors?

Truly,
Callie leigh