Reaching out to your prof might be intimidating, but it could lead to success
Forming new friendships is one of the building blocks of a good university experience. Students who are headed towards completing their degree tend to have a core group of friends or a sense of camaraderie on campus — and at this point in the semester, most first-years have had the chance to start making friends through classes, clubs, or parties. But the most overlooked friendship might be one with your professor.
Building rapport with a professor is a relationship that can foster growth and success in your academic and professional life. Many students might be hesitant to pursue such connections or may not know how to approach their profs. Building that rapport requires some effort from students.
Dr. Michael Reed, a medieval studies prof here at UVic, states that an easy way to get to know your professor is to come to office hours.
“50 percent if not 60 percent of my students never come to office hours,” he says, adding that, “office hours are a wonderful time, particularly at the beginning of the year, to introduce yourself.”
Reed emphasizes the importance of visiting your professor while they are in their office, and also says that taking multiple classes with the same professor can help this process.
“When you take multiple courses with that person, you are engaging with that person in different contexts … you’re seeing different facets, different nuances of that person. And also it’s just a question of the longer you spend with someone, you get to know them better.”
This strategy is often conducive to better grades and success in general too, since “you get to know what they expect,” says Reed. This is crucial, as the requirements on essays and projects differ from one professor to another, and a better understanding of their teaching style and expectations will put you on the right path.
Moreover, building rapport in these ways can lead to future references for graduate school or employment. According to Reed, a strong personal relationship with a professor is necessary for a reference, as many times students can be turned down.
“Most people are too polite to say ‘no I won’t provide the reference,’” he says, adding that, “if the student gets a message from the prof which isn’t an immediate yes, maybe ‘I’m very busy’ or ‘I don’t know you quite well enough,’ drop it like a lead fish.”
There are many reasons why a professor might not reciprocate your effort to build rapport. Reed says there is hesitation from professors because “if [they] are too friendly, that could maybe be misconstrued as something inappropriate.” This is something to note for students. Approaching a professor must be done in a professional and academically appropriate way.
Moreover, knowing the professor’s pronouns and title is also important.
“Check your syllabus, check the emails you get from your prof, see what their signature line is,” says Reed. This is a simple thing to look for, and it can change a professor’s attitude toward you.
Finally, Reed believes that finding interests outside of the course can help to build rapport. It could be gaming (Reed specifically said “play D&D”), music, sports, etc. If you can find interests outside of the course, it would expand the relationship from just course material.
Becoming friends with your professor seems like a tough task, but this is a great blueprint for students to get started with. This advice could help improve your grades or get you a glowing reference later on in your life.
If you have a professor you like and you notice you have some similar interests, approach them professionally and take the time to introduce yourself during their office hours. This is especially good practice if you know you will encounter them again later in your degree. If their office hours don’t work for you, plenty of professors are willing to accommodate a meeting scheduled at another date and time.
So, don’t be afraid to ask, because you could miss out on some of the most lucrative friendships the campus has to offer.