Question from: Terrified but Hopeful

Hi, AskUG! I am starting my third year at UTSC. In the past years, I have been terrified to approach my profs when I had 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 relationships 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 trouble understanding the material. They are the first person that can help you find the appropriate tools to make the information clearer, or point you in the right direction in order to find additional sources. Nevertheless, your motivation to build a good relationship with your professors should not come solely from the fact that they are the only ones that could cut you some slack if you’re falling behind. Always remember that it is your responsibility to keep track of all the material and study it accordingly: the professor is just your guide. Speaking of which, here is our guide to opening up to your professor:

  • Don’t be intimidated.

Surely, a person of authority at the front of a classroom isn’t a new sight to any of us, regardless of whether you’re fresh outta high school, or in your graduate year; nonetheless, most of us continue to fear our professors. It helps to remember that professors are human just like you, and judging by their position, they have been where you are now, and they know how to help if you’re struggling with something.

  • Make the initial contact.

After you’ve conquered your fear, it is time to take action. It’s 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 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 an 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.

  • Memorize the “They Are Here to Help Me” mantra.

Repeating these words to yourself as you trot into their office will remind you why you’re trotting to their office in the first place. They will be more than happy to provide extra information 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, and don’t abuse their time.

  • 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. People love talking about themselves and they love to have someone listening. Be a listener – listen to what your professor tells you, and don’t be afraid of the awkward silences: they are a good indicator that you need to exit the conversation.

Chat with your professors about 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 about 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 is this unprofessional, but it also looks weird. In the case that they approve your request, don’t go wild by liking every one of their posts. If they have a blog, checking-in from time-to-time is okay, but be sure to let them know that you’re following their blog and that you too are concerned about the rising prices of foreign coffee beans.

I wish you a great start to your year!


Erza Applebaum, Ask UG

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