February 6, 2023

Communicating Effectively with Instructors: How to Ace Office Hours and Email Interactions

By B&SC Blog Team

Communicating Effectively with Instructors: How to Ace Office Hours and Email Interactions

A variety of factors play into the quality of your college experience, but professors deserve a great deal of credit. Bringing valuable insight and inspiration to the table, these trusted professionals shape your college trajectory.

An excellent professor can make a world of difference with lectures alone, but that’s only the beginning. The real benefits of talented professors become evident during office hours and other one-on-one or small group interactions. This is when you get a better sense for your instructor’s depth of knowledge and passion for the subject matter.

Unfortunately, many students skate through college without bothering to take full advantage of their professors’ extensive knowledge and experience. This is a shame, as close interactions with professors can provide numerous advantages. Not only will you gain a better appreciation for topics you might otherwise find uninspiring, you could also come away with a prized letter of recommendation – or a leg up as you seek the latest internship.

Don’t waste this extraordinary opportunity to boost your academic experience and get your career off to an impressive start. To help you develop better relationships with your instructors and advisors, we’ve compiled top tips for interacting both digitally and in person. Keep reading to discover the secrets to communicating via email or during office hours.

Tips for Communicating with Professors During Office Hours

Part of a professor’s job is to set aside extensive time outside of class to meet individually with students. Known as office hours, these sessions remove the pressure from the classroom setting and allow students and professors to build stronger connections.

Office hours can feel intimidating, so many students avoid them, even after professors have made it clear that they’re encouraged to drop in. These suggestions should take fear out of the equation and get you excited to make the most of office hours.

Be Prepared

Do your research before you show up for office hours. Time with your professor is limited, after all, and you’ll want to utilize every minute.

If you have no idea where to start, consider your biggest challenges thus far. Which topics do you find confusing? How can your professor provide a more nuanced or in-depth explanation? Prepare a few basic questions you’d like to ask – but avoid the urge to script the entire encounter, as this will make your visit feel awkward.

Not all office hour sessions need to revolve around classroom struggles. If you’re genuinely excited about your professor’s past work or current research, let them know. Professors love to discuss their academic efforts with students, but most won’t broach these topics unless asked.

Do your research to determine what, exactly, your professors have accomplished and which topics they might find most engaging. You’ll be amazed by how quickly they light up when asked to share their insight on topics they’re passionate about.

Introduce Yourself

You may have completed icebreaker exercises in class, but your professor will likely require another brief introduction before you get started. This can be simple, perhaps consisting solely of your name, your major, and why you enrolled in a given class.

As you introduce yourself, remember that physical language is just as important as verbal. Use a firm handshake and make strong eye contact with your professor. Maintain good posture to convey an air of confidence.

All this doesn’t mean you need to regard your first office hours session as an interview – but a few formalities will help you convey respect and get your relationship with your instructor off to a great start.

Be Professional

Your professor deserves your utmost respect. This means extending the same courtesies you’d grant to an employer or anyone else you admire.

Begin by dressing in, at minimum, business casual attire. Professional conduct also means arriving on time for scheduled visits, keeping your phone on silent, and listening intently to everything your professor has to say. This is your chance to make a positive impression – don’t waste it.

Tips for Writing Effective Emails to Your Professors

While many of your interactions with professors will occur face-to-face during office hours, digital communication is also essential. It’s an especially vital part of your academic experience if you take classes online or in a hybrid format.

While some people are wary of online coursework precisely because it involves limited face-to-face interactions, this approach doesn’t always come at the cost of strong professor-college student communication. In fact, digital tools often provide a more accessible means of relationship-building for students who are unable to make the most of in-person office hours.

As with in-person visits, you’ll need to make strategic use of your digital outreach efforts. These suggestions should help:

Write a Clear Subject Line

Your professors receive a barrage of emails every day. They make every effort to respond to all those who strive to get in touch, but emails sometimes get lost in the fray. Do your part to prevent this by ensuring the subject line for every email is crystal clear. There should never be any doubt as to the purpose of your message.

Use the Right Credentials

Digital interactions are often casual these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to go casual when addressing your professor in an email. When in doubt, show respect by using the proper credentials, especially in the salutation.

Keep in mind these will differ from one professor to the next. If you’re unsure how to address your professors, look to your syllabi for insight. Later on, your professors may let you know it’s okay to address them casually – but you should never do so unless you’ve received the all-clear.

Introduce Yourself & Provide Class Details

Don’t expect your professor to automatically know who you are, even if you attend lectures in person or enjoy small class sizes. By the end of the semester, your professor should know the basics, even if you’ve largely neglected to get in touch – but this takes time.

Streamline the process by introducing yourself and mentioning which class you’re enrolled in. Your introduction may also highlight your major or a few details about your academic or career aspirations.

Ensure the Content is Clear & Concise

Short and sweet is always preferable when interacting with professors via email. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to engage in in-depth discussions, but initial emails should be concise whenever possible.

Edit your email multiple times to ensure only the most vital content is included. Use targeted descriptions or terminology to get your point across quickly and effectively. This is a great opportunity to practice the communication skills you’re currently building through targeted coursework.

Review Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation

Grammar mistakes are easily avoidable, so there’s absolutely no excuse for sending error-filled emails. Make the most of spelling and grammar checks, but don’t rely on these alone – you’ll also need to proofread your content on several occasions to ensure that it’s ready to send.

Benefits of Communicating with Professors

As we’ve touched on previously, the benefits of communicating with professors cannot be understated. Your effort to develop stronger relationships with your instructors could transform not only your college experience, but also your career trajectory. The following are among the most compelling advantages worth pursuing:

  • Better understanding of complicated coursework. Yes, you can learn a lot by attending lectures, reading textbooks, and writing papers – but this will not give you the level of in-depth insight that a brief chat with a knowledgeable instructor can provide. Whether you need clarification on a confusing topic or simply want a more personal perspective on your coursework, you’ll come away feeling far more intrigued by the subject of your class.
  • A great source for letters of recommendation. If you plan to eventually attend grad school, it’s time to start thinking about letters of recommendation. You’ll likely need multiple letters to land a spot at your college of choice. Professors can be great resources for these, but not if you’ve neglected to interact with them throughout the course of the semester. Instead of ignoring instructors and then suddenly expecting them to come up with glowing reviews, start fostering strong relationships from the outset.
  • Reduced stress before exams. Do you constantly feel worried about exams or term papers? Your professors are well-aware of how nerve-wracking these can be, but they’re not about to coddle you by making coursework easier. Instead, they want to help you rise to the occasion. This means working closely with you to ensure you master the material. As a result, you’ll not only ace each exam – you’ll gain an in-depth understanding that lasts long after you’ve graduated.
  • Insider access to internships. It’s common knowledge that internships are among the most important college endeavors. Land a solid internship, and you’ll gain the connections you need to score your dream job as soon as you graduate. The competition can be fierce, however, so you’ll want to build relationships with insiders who know all about the latest opportunities. Instructors are more inclined to offer a heads-up on the latest internships if they suspect you’ll be a solid fit for the role in question.

Start Your Journey Today

The instructors at Bryant & Stratton are as personable as they are knowledgeable. They take great joy in cultivating strong bonds with students from all walks of life.
If you like the idea of attending a college where you are valued by faculty members and fellow students alike, look no further than Bryant & Stratton. Find your program today to learn more about our degree programs and our commitment to student success.

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