College Tips: How to Interact with Professors

Professors are people too. I know, it’s hard to remember that sometimes, what with them holding your life in the balance, but it’s is true. That means they’ve got their expectations, their pet peeves, their wants and their fears.

Also, remember that you might think you’re busy, but that’s generally nothing compared to what a professor has to deal with. Not only do they have to teach classes and read all of the classes’, but they’ve got to conduct research, write up papers for peer-reviewed journals (whose demands put your assignments to shame) and survive in the publish-or-perish atmosphere of academia.

If you want to get the most out of your classes and do the best that you can do, that’s something that you’ve got to realize and incorporate into your behavior.

What do I mean with that?

Address the professors how they want to be addressed

It’s generally quite easy to figure out how professors want to be addressed. Just look at what they put at the end of their emails or their course description. If they put ‘Professor McDoodle’ then that’s probably what you should call them in Class. Did they write ‘Jill’ or ‘Billy’? Then just call them by their first name.

In fact, what they put on there can inform you to more than just what they want to be called. It will also tell you how formal they expect you to be in class. Those that expect you to use their title probably want you to maintain the student professor relationship. Those that are okay with you using their first name probably are more okay with a relaxed atmosphere.

Introduce yourself

It’s a small act, but it can make a huge difference. Take the time to introduce yourself. If they don’t remember, no skin off your back. If they do, well then you’re on a first-name basis with the professor, which can always come in useful if you’ve got to ask them something or need something from them (letter of recommendation, anyone?).

When you’re introducing yourself, don’t do it when everybody else is doing so either. That pretty much renders your introduction useless as none of us can remember three dozen names at the same time.

Instead, if you can’t introduce yourself the first class, do so the second one. Take a moment to explain why (you were already being overwhelmed and I didn’t see the point) and the professor might even appreciate the thoughtfulness.

Ask questions

If you’ve got a good question, then ask it. Now, don’t take time away from the topics under discussion, but don’t be part of the silent majority either. It’s been shown that if somebody thinks that you’re smart in one area, then they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt in others as well.

That might well mean the difference between a B+ and an A- when you hand in an essay or an assignment. And I don’t know about you, but if I have to ask a few questions to every now and then to get that much of a difference in my grade, then you can be absolutely sure I’ll ask those questions!

Besides, you’ll learn more, which is always a bonus, to be sure.

If you need an extension don’t ask at the last second

If life has gotten in the way and you can’t get an assignment in on time, don’t ask ten minutes before the deadline if you can have an extension. Instead, make sure that you ask much earlier than that.


Because this shows that you know what you’re capable of and shows that you know your own limits and capacities. Students that ask for an extension right at the last minute are basically saying, ‘I waited until the last second to get this task out of the way and it turned out it couldn’t do it.’ That’s not what a professor wants to hear.

Students that, on the other hand, ask for an extension some days before the deadline sound like they’re saying, ‘I’ve been working on it for a few days now and I’ve realized that if I want to do the best I possibly can, I’m going to need an extension.’

That’s a good message to give. In fact, it might even beat getting an essay written up by some place like

Don’t sit at the back

I don’t care if you’ve got eagle eyes and the ears of a bat, you’re just not going to learn that much in the back of the class. If you’ve got a question, then the professor might not notice it. Even if they do, they might not call on you, as you’ve not shown a great deal of enthusiasm for their class.

Yes, that’s right. Those people that sit at the back are going to be considered less engaged and less interested in what the professor is teaching than those that sit further forward. That’s probably because in general, they are less engaged, don’t you think?

So, sit in the middle, sit further forward and for god’s sake, when the bell rings, don’t sprint for the door! A few seconds to let them finish whatever they’re trying to say is not going to kill you and will show them that bit of respect that all of us crave.

Mobile Phones? Hell no!

You know those videos of professors destroying mobile phones? I promise you, every professor has wanted to do that at some time. Some professors just actually carry through with the act. Whether your professor destroys your phone or not doesn’t really matter because by accepting texts (or even worse calls) you have destroyed the relationship between you and them.

And that can be more expensive than a mobile phone – particularly if it means you can’t finish your degree when you’re supposed to.

When you walk into that classroom, turn off your phone. It’s not hard to do and it will make sure that you don’t feel tempted to take a quick peek when you do get a message. Alternatively, just don’t take the phone into class with you. That will make it far more likely that you’ll actually be able to pay attention.

And it shows respect, which is always a nice bonus.

Last words

As I said in the introduction to this piece, professors are people too. They have had days, they have good ones. They can feel insecure and they can feel unappreciated. If you remember that, if you play into that, then you should find that you’ll get a much better rapport with them.

And when you’ve got a good rapport you can get away with asking stupid questions, not knowing the answer or ‘the dog ate my homework’.

So, make your life easier and the professor’s life a little better by taking the time to treat them with the respect they deserve. If you can do that, chances are they’ll do the same to you. And that can make your time at university so much easier. Heck, you when you need help or special treatment, this professor – the one that sees you as a human being and that you treat as a real person – is probably the one you can turn to.

And that can mean job opportunities, internships, letters or recommendation and even opportunities to work in labs. And all you had to do was treat them with respect. That’s doesn’t sound too hard, does it?