More Than a Face: Building Academic Relationships with Professors

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Princess Robinson
A professor engages with class members while standing in front of a chalk board.

I grew up hearing that college would be filled with academic rigor. I often heard the phrase, “professors have so many students and classes that they won’t remember you or your name”. This is a myth and does not have to be true. Professors remember those with whom they often interact. The key is communication. It is imperative to properly communicate with your professors as it will help you achieve success, learn, and is an easy way to network.

Reaching Out via Email

Reaching out to your professors will help you to achieve academic and professional success. It is one of the first steps in which students learn professionalism because one should know how to talk to professors. Communicating via email is a key component of this.

Start with a concise subject line. Include the topic, your name, and the class/section you are in. Also, you should properly address a professor according to their title. If a professor has a PhD, address them by Dr. (Last name). If not, Professor (Last Name) should be fine. Make sure your student credentials are in your email signatures.

Below is an example of an email for students who may need tutoring (especially for professors’ whose office hours are by appointment):

Subject: Office Hour request from (student name) Class: (Course number and section)

Hello, Dr. Smith,

My name is (name) and I am a student in your (Course number, Section number) class. I am sending this email to request a time to ask questions regarding (insert topic area). The following are times of my availability: (list a few days and times). Please let me know if any of those times work or do not work with your schedule.

Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon!

Best regards,
Student’s First name, Last name
Student’s email

Timeliness is Important

The key to communicating with your professors is timeliness. Sending crisis emails will be of minimal effect. Not every professor will be responsive or direct you to someone or a resource that may help. In fact, you may have to send follow-up emails, in a respectful manner, when no response is received. However, what matters most is taking the first step to achieve academic success.

You can also communicate with your professor prior to the start of the class date, especially for advocacy purposes. As a student with a disability, I attribute most of my academic success to self-advocacy that takes place before the semester begins. Below is an email template that I use and would recommend any student with a disability to send prior to the start of the semester (at least two weeks before the first day of class):

Subject: Virtual Meeting request and Accommodations from (student name)

Hello Dr. Smith,

My name is (insert name). I am emailing you to communicate my accommodations that would allow me to receive an equitable opportunity to learn and succeed in your class. I am a (optional; list impairment or disability) student. Attached are my SAR (Student access and Resource Center) approved course accommodations for your class. I would also like to inquire about your availability (before class starts) so that we may set up a meeting, virtually or in person, to discuss my accommodation at your earliest convenience. Although accommodations are formally sent one week prior to the start of class, you can request the formal letter earlier so that you can have it during our meeting. I look forward to having you as a professor for (enter course name and section number). Attached are my accommodations (screenshot accommodations).

Best regards,
Student’s First name, Last name
Student’s email

Personal Learning Opportunities

Communicating with professors will help you learn. Attending a professors’ office hours may provide personalized learning opportunities. Ask real questions, such as, “I understand that…., but how does…. relate to…?” or “I was thinking… however, this isn’t matching up. Could you steer me in the right direction?” This will allow the professor to become knowledgeable on your learning style or area to improve. Another valuable thing that I have gained from getting to know professors is receiving life lessons. Sometimes we as students are so concerned with our grades that we forget that professors are humans as well. Showing curiosity of their success stories will allow them to share insight in motivating students to not give up in the learning process.

Nucleus of Networking

Your professors are your first avenues to networking. I would not be where I am today without getting to know my professors. I spent the past two years of college in a select business leadership program that teaches students how to make a positive impact in the business executive world. I would not have had that opportunity if I did not say hello and initiate conversation with professors and deans at a university event. I asked for their cards. Within several months, I sent an email to meet with one of those professors, switched to a business major, and earned admission to the leadership academy that helped me make progress in the Honors College.

Lastly, it isn’t difficult for a professor to provide a professional letter of recommendation for a student that they know. You may need to provide a letter of recommendation request outlining your goals, involvement, and achievements, but a professor that knows a student is more willing to devote time to their success.

College is indeed tough, especially for first-generation students. However, it is not unattainable, especially if you make efforts to work now and play later. It is possible to be more than a face.

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