Ask an Expert: Your Professor

Please note the listing of office hours on your syllabus. Faculty also may post this information by their office door.

Tips on approaching your professor:

  1. At the start and end of class are not always the best times to talk, especially for a topic that may take a little longer to discuss. Use the office hours instead.
  2. It is wise to make sure that the answer to your question is not already easily answered elsewhere, such as in the syllabus, the text, the class notes, asking a friend. If you are having trouble with an assignment, such as a homework problem, make sure you have put in the time to try to solve it on your own first. You can show the work to them so they can see where you went off track.
  3. Professors like their subject area and like to talk to people who like their subject area. If you have questions that go beyond the scope of the class, it is okay to ask your professor such questions. On the other hand, be sensitive to their own work load and time constraints. Don't take up too much of their time.
  4. In general, be prepared (think through what you want to say and why), be friendly, be polite, and use the time efficiently.
  5. Should I say Dr.? Mr.? Bob? Some professors make it clear they want to be called by their first name. If they haven't said so, as a general rule, address them as Dr. ______, unless they don't have a PhD, in which case, Mr/Mrs./Ms. is fine (sometimes the syllabus will give you a clue as to their choice of title). Those who don't care won't be offended, and you'll avoid offending those who do care!

When it probably isn't a good idea to approach your professor:

  • When you would be interrupting him or her
  • To complain about your grade.
    Professors are happy to help you before you get your grade, or to give you advice on how to improve your grade on the next test, but the responsibility to master the material lies on you, not the professor, not the SI leader, not your parents, not the library, not the textbook, just you. All the rest are just resources--to learn the material, to take the initiative to succeed, that is on you. If expectations are unclear, it is up to you to clarify them before the tests or final grading period.

    On the other hand, if you think there has been an honest mistake or if you truly can't understand how you got the grade you got, you may politely ask your professor to go over those sections of the test with you. Approach the matter in good faith that your professor means to be both fair and to set high standards for learning. Avoid making accusatory statements or judgements about what the professor did or didn't do. 99 times out of 100, the professor didn't make a mistake, and you'll look bad if you act otherwise. For 1 out of 100 times in which the professor did make a mistake, it'll make you look better if you can be gracious about the whole thing.
  • To find out what you missed if you didn't go to class.
    Absences happen, due to anything from a world crisis to a broken alarm clock, but this is not the faculty member's responsibility (surprisingly enough, they are not omnipotent!) Ask someone in class if you can copy their notes (I usually ask before my absence if at all possible--they tend to be more careful as they take notes, and they will often ask me to return the favor, which I do gladly). If you aren't sure that person's notes are complete, compare your replacement notes with several different students to make sure you have it all. Comparing notes is sometimes a LEAD activity, and you can ask the tutor if that can be one of the activities for the day. Whether in SI or with study partners on your own, it is a good idea to discuss what has gone on in class, and that would be a good way to make up for an absence as well.

(NOTE: LEAD Tutors are not allowed to let students copy their class notes, because we feel that undermines your chance to learn independent study skills and to be honest, it just feels wrong--sorry! They can, however, discuss with you what has gone on in class).