How to Develop a Relationship with Your Professors

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Katie Priest
Two images of the blog author with one of her professors and with a class group photo in front of a white board.

Professors can often seem unapproachable. Oftentimes they are experts in their field, usually with a doctorate. So, as a college student, it seems that you have nothing to talk about, but you want to learn everything you possibly can from them. Also, if they’re teaching in your major, you want to learn more about what they have to say, and possibly develop a relationship with them post-grad to help you in your professional life.

As someone who has developed several positive relationships with professors, here are some of the best tips I have on how to develop and keep a collegial relationship with your professors.

1. Be a Good Student

This might seem like a given, but it’s my number one tip. It’s really hard to get a professor to take you seriously if you’re not taking their class seriously. Most professors are teaching 2 to 3 classes so there are a lot of students for them to meet and get to know over the course of a semester. Also, class participation is a great way to start off a conversation with a professor. Asking questions about course material or connecting something you saw outside of class with course material is a really great way to start having regular conversations with your professor. Students need to consistently show up, engage, and stand out instead of being those who miss class, sit in the back, or don’t participate.

2. Do Your Research

Your professor has to do research in their field in order to get a doctorate degree. You can look up your professor's name and find out what they did in their research. This might help you either figure out if this is a professor you want to pursue a relationship with or give you a jumping-off point to start a conversation. This is also a great way to show a professor that you’re invested in getting to know them because you took the time out of your personal life to do some research about who they are as a person. Additionally, people pick their research topics based on something they’re interested in, so this is going to be something they’re already going to want to talk to you about.

3. Professors are People, Too

Now that you started developing this relationship with your professor by talking about things related to academia, you can also start talking about things that aren’t necessarily related to academia. Talk about their weekend plans, their break plans, and ask them about their family if that’s something they share in class. Most of the time professors share pieces of their personal life in class and those are usually things they’re comfortable with sharing so you can bring it up in conversation if it’s something you want to know more about. For example, I have a professor who is from a country outside of the US, so we talked a lot about her time there. When she travels, it's something we can connect with outside of our academic connection.

4. Be Respectful

When you’re scheduling time with your professor, respect that time. They have multiple classes and have lives outside of being a professor. If they’re making time for you, you must respect that. Show up on time and make the most of that time that you have together outside of the classroom.

5. Stay in Touch

You know once you’ve developed a relationship with your professor whether or not they’re going to continue it with you outside of your university post-grad. A lot of times they’ll give you their personal email or phone number and it can seem really daunting about how to approach those conversations outside of your university. The best approach is to keep in touch every 3 to 6 months with a little update about what you’re doing related to whatever field that professor is in. Also check on who they are as a person and see what they’re up to.

All in all, developing a relationship with your professor is exactly the same as developing a relationship with any person; it takes time, care, and respect. But remember, it’s never impossible.

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