How to build relationships with professors

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On January 30, 2024

Students participate in summer research program at Missouri S&T with Dr. Joel Burken in the Butler-Carlton Greenhouse. Photo by Michael Pierce, 2021.

Developing relationships with college professors can be beneficial in many ways for your student. Not only will they probably do better in the class, but also it may lead to future research opportunities, great letters of recommendation and mentorship in your student’s field of interest. If they plan to ask for a letter of recommendation for grad school, internships, or jobs it is essential that strong relationships with one or more professors are created.

Professors will need to know your student’s personality, abilities, and work ethic. If their class is in a large lecture hall, it’s almost impossible for them to get to know your student personally unless your student is intentional.  Here are some tips to share with your student to help build strong, professional relationships.

1. Introduce yourself during office hours within the first couple weeks of class

The best time to introduce yourself to your professor is at the beginning of the semester because that’s when their office hours will be the least busy. Even if you don’t have any specific questions about the course, go in and tell them your name, year, major, and where you are from. Be ready to bring up something you found interesting from a lecture. Making the effort to get to know your teacher will help you stand out among your classmates.

2. Attend office hours every other week and ask questions 

Going to office hours every other week shows your genuine interest in the class material. Make sure you have something to talk about during office hours because sometimes there will be a line of students and you don’t want to waste their time. Prepare exactly what you want to talk about beforehand. It could be study advice, questions about an upcoming assignment, or career advice. Here are some sample questions to ask your professor during office hours:

  • ​​How did you become interested in this field?
  • What is something you wish you had known when you were an undergrad?
  • If I want to take a deeper dive into the material, what are some readings you would recommend?
  • What research are you currently working on?
  • How do you recommend I study for the upcoming exam?
  • What are common mistakes past students have made on this project/essay? 
  • I am interested in going into (insert career field), what advice can you give me? 

3. Sit in the first two rows of the class every class

While sitting in the front of the class can feel intimidating, this is a great way to get the professor to recognize your face and a good way to stay engaged in class. If you sit in the middle or back of the classroom, you will just blend in with the crowd. Try to keep it consistent and sit in the same general area every class (ex: front left). 

4. Raise your hand and participate in the discussion

In large lecture halls, this can be very scary, but this demonstrates that you are confident and not afraid of speaking in front of large groups. Keep in mind that there is a fine line between participating and overdoing it–don’t raise your hand for every little question you have, instead, try to ask questions that are general and applicable to the entire class. When the professor asks the class a question and is looking for student participation, raise your hand if you know the answer. Professors remember students who pay attention and participate. 

5. Make sure you know how they want to be addressed

Check the syllabus or pay attention during the first few classes. Some professors like being called by their first name, some like being called Professor (last name), or just Professor. In emails make certain to address them by their preferred name.

6. Check their preferred method of communication

Some professors prefer that you email the teacher’s assistant with questions before emailing them. Other professors may not like getting emails in the evenings or over the weekend. Check the syllabus to make sure you fully understand when to email and who to email first, or if they prefer being messaged through the student portal. Use your school email when emailing them. 

7. Never go on your phone or eat in class

This is very disrespectful, and your professor may come to know you, but not in a good way. Try turning off your phone for the duration of the class period to ensure you are focused on what the professor is talking about. Professors can usually tell when students are distracted, eating, or talking to friends while they are lecturing. Even if you think the professor won’t notice, don’t do anything that could be distracting to others. This may automatically put you on your professor’s bad side. 

8. Email anytime you miss a class and explain why you missed the class

Make sure that if you are missing class you have a valid excuse. Email the professor and tell them why you missed the class and ask if you can attend the next office hours to go over anything you may have missed. However, check the syllabus; some professors may prefer you get class notes from other students and only come to them with specific questions about the lecture. Explaining to the professor why you missed class lets them know that you were not just skipping class because you felt like it. 

9. Offer to help with research 

If you have time during office hours, ask if the professor is working on any research right now and offer your assistance. Make sure to check with your major’s department for any research opportunities, and check to see if there are specific guidelines for becoming a research assistant. Be sure to understand the process before approaching the professor about this.

10. Always attend review sessions

Attend any review sessions that the professor holds outside of class. Many students take these for granted and don’t go because they think they already know the material. Even if you feel like you could ace the test without attending, going demonstrates to your professor that you are interested in the material and doing the best you can to succeed in their class. Also, if you do end up doing worse than you expected on a test, you can tell them during office hours “I went to the review session and am still not fully understanding the material. What else can I do to study to improve my score next time?” If you did not attend the review session, professors will often just tell you that you should have attended. 

11. Do the extra credit

Completing the extra credit shows professors that you are passionate about doing well in their class. Also, most of the time, the extra credit will be something fun like completing a survey or watching a guest lecture outside of class. Extra credit allows you to have a buffer in case you don’t do as well as you expected on an assignment. 

12. Stay in touch after the semester ends 

Once the semester ends and you no longer have class with the professor, be sure to update the professor via email on any internships, jobs, or professional accomplishments you have achieved. Thank them for their role in helping you in these accomplishments, if applicable.  


Author of Article:  Medeleine Korn. Article adapted from  Please Note: Missouri S&T does not endorse or have a relationship with SOURCE and articles are provided for information purposes only.  Missouri S&T and SOURCE do not assume responsibility for error or omission in materials.  

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On January 30, 2024. Posted in Parents and Family