Hi AskUG! I am starting my third year at UTSC. In the past years I have been terrified to approach my profs if I had any questions. It’s getting in the way of my academics and I don’t know what to do about it. How do I establish and maintain good relationship with my professors?
Dear Terrified but Hopeful,
First of all, let’s take a look at why it is important for you to build a good relationship with your professor.
Your professor is the go-to person if you are having troubles understanding the material. He or she is the first person that can help you find the appropriate tools to make it clearer or point you in the right direction to help you find additional sources. Nevertheless, your motivation to build a good relationship with your professors should not come solely on the fact that they theoretically could cut you some slack if you’re falling behind – remember: it is YOUR responsibility to keep track of all the material and study it accordingly. The professor is just your guide. And here is our guide to your professor:
Don’t Be Intimidated
Surely looking at a grown-up at the front of the class isn’t new to any of us – whether you’re fresh outta high school or in your graduate year. Still, most of us continue fearing some of our professors. I mean jeez, how can anyone stand in front of a group of 200 people and talk with confidence, or even make a joke or two? In times like this remember – your professors are also humans, just like you are. They have been where you are now. And they know how to help if you’re struggling with something. After all, we all put our pants on one leg at a time.
Making the Initial Contact
After you’ve conquered your fear, it is time to brace yourself and come up to your professor to meet him/her personally. Best if you do it after the first class when the material they just taught is still fresh in your head. Breathe, it is just another human before you. Smile, shake their hand, introduce yourself and DON’T leave just yet – comment on their lecture or just tell them how excited you are to begin their course. Make it personalized, but not personal – you can comment on their lecture but don’t tell them about that time you drank too much. They will remember you and will recognize your face in the future, which gives you advantage over other students.
Tip: Professors always share a bit of their personal story and where they have been before they started teaching. Pay attention to that – it’s good material for future conversations.
The “They Are Here to Help Me” Mantra
Repeating these words to yourself as you trot to their office will give you confidence and remind you why you’re trotting to their office in the first place. They will be more than happy to provide extra knowledge to curious students. They appreciate the visits during their office hours and love getting to know their students better. So be brave and go forth in search for help, but don’t be arrogant about it, and don’t abuse their time. Again, they are human too.
Base It On Who They Are
Pay attention to what they tell you about themselves and make notes of the things that you’d like to discuss after class or during their office hours.
IMPORTANT: there is a fine line between being genuinely interested in them and writing down every single personal thing that they share with you. That’s called stalking. People usually frown upon that.
Don’t share too much about yourself either, unless you’re asked to. This applies to simple human relationship too: people love to talk about themselves and they love to have someone to listen. Be a listener – listen to what your professor tells you. And don’t be afraid of the awkward silences – they are a good way out of the conversation.
Chat with your professors on topics that they are interested in. For example, if they published books – give those books a look and then discuss them. If your professor is open to it, occasionally email them interesting things that you found on the Internet and ask for their commentary or opinion. This opens a door for a conversation on something that they might be interested in AND you will get to know their opinion on subjects that interest you.
Social Media and Professors
For the sake of professionalism, don’t befriend them on Facebook or begin following them on Instagram at the beginning of the semester. Not only does this infringe on professionalism, but it also looks weird. Most likely they will need to approve your request, and if they do – try to not go wild by liking every single of their posts. If they have a blog – perhaps checking in once in a while is okay. But be sure to let them know that you’re following their blog and that you, too, are concerned about the starving children in Africa.
I wish you a great start to your year and good luck! You’ll do great!