Living@Guelph - Choose Your Own Adventure Living
Talking to the Professor
By Barb Stuart

Approaching a professor outside class hours or raising your hand to ask a question in class may seem a bit intimidating. Fears aside, interchanges between students and professors are an integral part of the University experience. Talking with students is, for most professors, a positive part of their job and one of the many reasons they became teachers.

Listed below are a few ideas to help make the most of talking to your professors:

  • Professors are interested in the subject matter they teach. If you are excited by what your are discovering, share it with them.
  • Professors are human beings with feelings. If you approach them in a friendly way, you are likely to get a friendly response.
  • Introduce yourself by name and identify the course in which you are registered. "I'm _____ and I'm in your class." If you've done this only once, the professor may not recall your name. Repeat your name, give them a chance to learn it through repetition.
  • Be respectful of their time. Before dropping by their office, check when they have scheduled office hours. Don't assume, if you arrive at another time, they will be able to see you. If you have a question or comment to make immediately before or after class, show consideration by saying, "I have a quick question, is this a good time to talk or should I talk to you during office hours?" Most professors use the e-mail system. If you are unable to talk to a professor in person, consider writing a short e-mail message or investigate whether the course has a 'LISTSERV' associated with it.
  • Although e-mail may seem impersonal, show the same consideration and politeness when communicating on-line as you would if you were talking to your professor face-to-face.
  • They can't read minds, so they won't know you're concerned about something unless you tell them.
  • To help you, they need something to help you with - go in with specific questions, problems you've tried and have been unsuccessful at, or questions or passages you didn't understand. They can't answer statements like "I'm having trouble with your course." Your questions provide the professor with valuable feedback on how the class understands the course material.
  • If you do not understand a concept being presented, it is likely that others do not as well. Ask for clarification.
  • Listen to the questions asked by others. Understandably, professors feel annoyed if the questions they have just answered is asked again because the student failed to listen to the response.
  • If you have concerns about your grades, talk to the professor. They can go over the examination or assignment with you to show where it can be improved.
  • Attend class regularly. A professor may be less motivated to work outside class time with a student who has not been conscientious enough to get to class.
  • Teaching is only one part of professors' responsibilities on campus. Show interest in them as scholars and researchers by asking about these important activities.