Talking To Professors – It’s Easier Than You Think

While you’re underway in your academic career you should keep an eye out for people who can help you along the way.  Many students don’t take full advantage of all the school services and I’ll get into that more in another article, but for now I’ll just talk about the one resource that is right in front of you.  This person stands in front of you each day and talks your ear off about something that probably doesn’t interest you as much as the stuff going on out the window.  These people are called “Professors.”

How Do I Get Help From My Professors?

Professors can be intimidating. But they are human just like you.   I encourage everyone to talk to their prof after hours or after class, but I’d also caution everyone not to over do it.  Don’t be that stalker or that goodie two shoes kid because the rest of the class will just riducule you (and they are kind of right to do so).   Booking an appointment with them during their office hours, or just by popping in with a coffee from Tim’s can take all the intimidation away in an instant.   A professor can help you with an assignment, or an issue that you struggle with way better than a friend can.  Sure a friend might be able to “get you” better, but don’t forget it’s the prof that does the grading… I learned this the hard way on an essay.

How Can Professors Help Me?

Professors are connected. When professors are hired by universities their workload is usually spread out the following way:

  • 45% teaching – this is the part the students see, in and out of the class room including labs and grading
  • 45% research – this is what usually fills up their summer
  • 10% outreach – projects for the community, or province, or some publication

The break down changes for each teaching position, but there are still 3 diverse ways for a professor to meet people and connect with them.  In my faculty, professors pretty much doubled as recruiting agents for the industry and they were the perfect person to do this.  They know what’s required to do the jobs, and they taught the person that is doing the hiring for the company.  Needless to say, a reference letter from a professor can go a long way.

Not All Professors Are The Same

You’ll quickly understand this once you get to your 2nd or 3rd year, but not all profs are the same.  I’m not sure about other universities, but at the U of M you will rarely find an excellent professor in 1st year.  The finer talent is usually reserved for the follow-up years, these are the people that can kick start your career while you’re still in school.  Some profs just hate talking to students plain and simple.  They are either at the university solely for research and are filling their allotted time for teaching.  Likely they have tenure and they couldn’t care less what people thought of them.  Other times it;s a new instructor who isn’t a full fledged professor, who is new to town and is just establishing his or her career. If you’re taking online classes for college than you won’t have to worry about human interaction at all and you can just email back and forth. Online colleges handle things much better since they have to depend on email communication for almost every aspect of your degree.

Professors Are Human Too

I was lucky to be in agriculture and the profs there were pretty great.  Talking to professors was pretty easy, in fact, it;s not uncommon for a professor to haul the class out for beers after the final exam.  It was a great opportunity to see them in a social environment where there wasn’t any textbooks involved.  Our student group hosted events where we would bring the faculty, students, and industry all together for this very reason.  It gives the students a great chance to build their networking skills with a professional.  So when you see your professor be ready to take care of what you came for as they are busy people, but don’t just talk about class.  By building a relationship with a professor it will get you further later on when you’re looking for leads to a job, or a kick-ass reference letter to get a job.

Will you try and build a relationship with your professor this semester?  Anyone have any cool stories about those “special professors” that had a part in determining their future? 

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12 years ago

I went to a rather small state college so talking to professors and asking for help was never a big concern because most were all willing to help. I had a little trouble talking to professors teaching lecture halls though but it can be done.

12 years ago

I didn’t do a good job of this when I was in college. Professors and TAs are great resources and students should take advantage of office hours as much as possible. It’s much easier to understand the subject if the professor can explain it to you personally. If I go back to school, I would definitely go see the professors more.

12 years ago
Reply to  Aaron Hung

The more I hear of the USA college system, the more small state colleges sound great for initial years of a degree.

12 years ago
Reply to  retirebyforty

Ya, I found the TAs to be an even bigger help than the prof in a lot of cases. They kind of have a foot on each side of the line in academia, being both a student and a teacher in some regards. Plus, for most undergraduate-level courses they are just as much an authority!

12 years ago

I went to a school with 28000 other kids. I recall one general management class has 1000 students (crazy to think about). I never even spoke to that professor. It was more like attending a concert rather than a lecture. It wasn’t until Senior year that I discovered the benefits of befriending Professors. I was interested in attending Grad School for Economics, so I reached out to my Professor. As it turned out, he was the Director of Graduate Studies. I worked closely with him to get accepted. Unfortunately (looking back) I chose to accept a job offer than the… Read more »

12 years ago
Reply to  Funancials

The job offer must have at least been a good one?

The Wealthy Canadian
12 years ago

Call it what you want, but while attending university I always made a point to visit my professor for each of my courses at the beginning of each semester. Whether it was for a quick question regarding a course syllabus or a specific one about a particular chapter or reading, I made a point to connect. At the end of the day, perception is important in a lot of situations in our lives. If a professor thinks you have a genuine interest in his or her course, he or she may give you the benefit of the doubt when you… Read more »

12 years ago

Could not agree more. I had several of my profs in my college basketball pools. It worked out well financially and academically for me!

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