How to Build Relationships with Your Professors

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At every freshman orientation ever students are given the same spiel, “professors are people too, they are beneficial assets, network with them, and so on.” While this is great in theory, students fail to practice what they’ve been preached and have trouble building a relationship with their professors.
I’m here to reinforce the idea that: Yes, it’s important to network with your professors no matter how scary it is, and to let you know that it actually isn’t that scary so long as you take the proper measures and come prepared.
HOW TO-

Why build a relationship with your professor?

There are a number of reasons that you would want to build a relationship with your professor. The first and foremost being that you want your professor to see you as a person, not another name on their class roster. Emergencies happen and most professors are lenient given the right situation, but air headed moments happen, too, and your professor is going to be more likely to help you out if they know you and know that you’re a hard working student.
Beyond them being able to give you wiggle room if you do end up dropping the ball mid-semester, having relationships with professors is absolutely essential if you plan on going to grad school. Most (if not all) grad schools require letters of recommendation from your professors. It’s a lot better if your professor can make claims about your personality, your integrity, and your promise as a student rather than only being able to say, “Well, they got a B+ in my class.”
I won’t go on any longer about why you should befriend your professors because deep down we all already know that it’s a good idea, but let me jump into how you can actually go about doing so.

How to build a relationship with your professor:

I’m going to list a few key things to keep in mind when forging the relationship, but you don’t have to do all of these things – however, keep in mind the more you do the more likely you’ll end up with a new key player in your professional network.
  • Introduce yourself – this might seem a bit obvious, but it’s often the scariest part. At the beginning of every semester you should either introduce yourself before or after class, otherwise stop into office hours and do so. A quick, “Hi, my name is Morgan and I’m really excited for your class.” can suffice, but if you can expand on that even better! You can ask how the information will relate to a previous class you took, whether they can recommend any outside reading to help you understand, anything to show that you are an eager and diligent student.
  • Go to office hours – Professors are there waiting for students, but most students will never take advantage of this opportunity to get one on one help! If you are struggling (or if you just want to make sure that you’re understanding!) then you can go and have your professor set you on the right path. This is going to show to them that you are willing to put in extra time and effort to understand the material.
  • Don’t skip class – I repeat: don’t skip class. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have a class at two that technically has around 70 students enrolled, but we are lucky if fifteen show up. Now the professor knows the few of us who do show up, and beyond the long term benefits of making a good impression on him, he often rewards our attendance with straightforward advice on what to study for upcoming exams, and every now and then (if very few of us show up) he’ll give us a bonus point for being there.
  • Get help early – Don’t wait until you’ve bombed three assignments to go in for help – show the initiative to go in after the first so you can figure out what you’re not understanding and get caught up before you fall too far behind. Again, this shows that you’re a passionate student ready to learn even if you have to make an extra effort.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Take these steps early in the semester – towards the end professors are swarmed with students making a desperate last ditch effort to get their grade up. If you’re three months in and just now introducing yourself, it’s going to look a bit fishy.
  • Be genuine – again, professors have to deal with a lot of people trying to get a boost in their grade without putting in the work, and if you’re shmoozing and brown nosing then chances are the professor will see right through you.
  • You don’t have to build a relationship with every professor, every semester. Focus on professors teaching a class that you are passionate about or that is relevant to your future career path.

Midterm Grades Not What You Expected?

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If you haven’t just finished taking your Midterms, there’s a good chance you’re right in the middle of them. If you are one of the students who have already taken them- and received your grade, you may be feeling less than great about the outcome. If you got one (or more) of your Midterm grades back and noticed that you received much lower marks than you would have liked to see glaring back at you in a big, red letter, maybe it’s time to double check your points.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If you have received a low grade on your exam and felt like you were completely blanking during the entire time you were taking it, then your low grade marks are more than likely warranted. But, if you felt really confident about your test and can’t see how your high percentage resulted in a low letter grade, skimming over your markings for accuracy may be beneficial. Professors are normal people too, meaning that it isn’t abnormal for them to make a mistake here and there. If you’ve dissected your exam with a fine tooth comb and still believe that you received a grade in error, here’s a few things you can do to clear up the matter professionally.

1) Ask your teacher to go over the exam in class- If time and class materials allow, it may be a good idea to ask your professor to go over the exam during class time. There may be some other students in your class who also are confused about why they received the markings they did. And, if you and those other students had the same issue but did miss out on some of the points due to lack of attention, vague test directions, etc, your teacher may decide to adjust the grading process for a curve or decide to not count a particular question. Seeing how your teacher graded each question along with the correct answer could give you some clarity into why you missed those points.

2) Visit your professor during office hours- If you’re in a big lecture hall with 50+ students in one class, you may not get the attention you need to discuss your exam questions with your professor. Instead, try to stop by your professor’s office during out-of-class hours and ask if they wouldn’t mind spending some time going over your exam with you. Showing your teacher that you’re concerned about your grade and that you’re being proactive to keep them up and managed is a beneficial factor in their eyes. They want to see that you’re taking the responsibility and actions to keep up with your academics. And, you never know, your teacher may notice that they made a simple calculation mistake and have no problem updating your score for you. Try not to go into this meeting hasty and angry; if you were a professor with over 100 students, you’d have high chances of making a simple mistake too! And no, it’s not because your professor hates you or is an evil person, they may just have made a careless mistake and can clear it up for you easily.

3) If you and your professor are still butting heads- If you believe even after the above listed actions that your professor is still keeping points from you that are rightfully yours, taking the issue to the next level up may not be a bad idea. This doesn’t mean break down the front door of your College Dean’s house and demand they look into your issue and serve you your well deserved justice. If you’re going to take the matter to a higher authority you have to be respectful and go up the ladder in the right way. Going to someone at the very top of the line won’t get you anywhere. They have large scale issues to deal with, and you getting a 73.5% instead of a 74% is not their top priority- or concern. If you feel like you want to take it up the ladder, sit with your professor and tell them that you respect their decision, but you have a difference in opinion and as a student, you have the right to take a matter to the chair that manages your professor and you’d like to respectfully do so. This does NOT mean storming into your professor’s office and intimidating them with news that you’re taking the issue to the higher power. You never know if you’ll end up taking this professor again or needing a recommendation letter. Be tasteful, respectful and reasonable.

If you received low marks because you didn’t know the material or realized you have a bad case of test anxiety, there are always tutors and extra help available to you. There are plenty of groups and people on campus who are available to help you study for an exam or learn some concepts. If you feel like you get test anxiety during a test full of other students, you may want to ask your teacher if you can set it up to take your exam in a quiet room in the library. Of course, you will be monitored and your cell phone will NOT be allowed to come out, but at least you won’t hyper focus on how fast other students are finishing their exams or how many times the guy behind you is popping his gum or kicking your chair.

And if all of that fails, you can always go to your professor and admit defeat. They don’t want to see you fail, in fact they want to see you do well. If you explain to your professor that you tried really hard but just blanked on the material or thought the test was really challenging, ask them if you can possibly retake a new version of the exam or make up for it. In many cases, your teacher will be flexible with you and let you make up some, if not all, of the points you may have missed out on. Whatever happens, don’t freak out! There’s always a positive outcome that can be reached if you approach the situation respectfully and with the purpose of reaching an outcome, not being angry and hasty.

Surviving an Impossible Professor

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In college, you’re bound to meet that one professor who seems to speak a different language than the rest of the world. They may mutter really fast under his/her breath, talk so soft you can just faintly hear them, or are so scatter brained that only a bouncy ball could keep up with their lectures. Most of the time, these types of professors are incredibly intelligent, just a bit harder to follow in class.

If you’ve ever had a teacher who was almost impossible to follow smoothly, you know exactly what I’m talking about. One of my digital marketing teachers was next to impossible to get help from. He was strict to a ‘T’; every margin had to be just right, the font spacing had to be exactly as per standards, and you couldn’t have a hue off by a grain of salt. When revisions would come around, you’d see that you needed to revise, but had no idea exactly what was wrong with your first take. Upon asking the professor, you would receive a riddle (you know, like the ones Gollum was so fond of in Lord of The Rings). Not only was it frustrating that you had to completely re-design your layout or project, but you had a short amount of time to do it, and no idea what the riddle about “trees” and “wise men” meant. Why couldn’t he just say, you goofed up on the proportions, revise and come again? Sheesh!

Needless to say, I didn’t do so well in the class. Not because I didn’t understand the core principles, but because when I made a small error here and a small error there, they added up quickly. Being able to openly talk to your professor and communicate about where you went wrong and how to fix it is key. But, sometimes talking it out with your teacher just won’t cut it. What are you supposed to do?

1) Find a Friend- Even if it’s an online class (mine was), make sure you make a friend either through the conferences or through e-mail. Try to find someone who lives fairly close to you or is on campus to meet up for coffee and go over the coursework. You will be so much better off if you have a friend to help explain things to you. It could be something so silly as resizing your font or double spacing, but you’d never know unless you ask. Your friend will be your saving grace in this case, as they’ll serve as your mini-tutor. Of course, still ask your professor for help but if you’re not getting anywhere, it’s time to bring in the reinforcements. Cue class friend “A”.

2) Do ALL of the Assignments- OK, you totally got me. I DID fall behind on my work because I was too focused trying to perfect the first red marks that I got wrong that I quickly fell behind. The key here is to really do all of the work given by your professor. Even if it’s a lot of busy work, and a lot of little things that are super tedious to do, do them. They really will help you grasp the concepts of the class and may clear up some confusion. Most of the time, these mini activities directly correlate with the assignments that you’ll be doing for the ‘big grade’ so make sure you pay attention and get any help you need while you go over each section. If you notice a weak spot, call up that friend or sit through your teacher’s riddles until you have some clarity. If not, you may get hung up on one small concept and sacrifice your overall grade.

3) Write an Email- Even if you’re failing the class but trying your hardest, send your professor an e-mail or pull them aside after class. Let them know that you know you haven’t been doing so well, but you’re really trying the best that you can do. If you’ve been doing all of the assignments (on time) and putting forth your best effort, your teacher will see that you’ve really been honestly trying, and may help you out. Even if they talk to you in riddles the whole time, they’ll grasp the point that you’ve been doing all your work, trying really hard and took the initiative to come to them and tell them you’re struggling. They may be able to recommend a study group or extra presentation that could help you out. Or, they may set aside some time for you to come in and work with them one-on-one. Let them know that you DO care, and that you’re really just having a hard time. It’s better that they see you’re making the effort to try instead of just blowing through the class.

What Do You Mean TOO Sarcastic?

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Sarcasm. Undeniably funny, interesting, and intriguing if executed correctly. Today’s generation is so used to hearing and speaking in sarcastic languages that they don’t even realize they’re speaking in a native tongue to some members of older generations. Sarcasm is all over your college campus, in your peer groups, and it may even be in your family household. It’s a way to connect with people in a funny yet non-smothering way and create a sense of personality. It’s also excellent to use as icebreakers (among friends) and in awkward situations, as long as you’re not offending anyone or using it to be a “Bitter Betty” (also known as a grouch).

With my friends, I can tell them a whole story without saying one word of what actually happened and they’ll still understand the truth in all quantities, fact for fact. For instance, telling my best friend that I sprinted across a store without breathing to catch the last shirt on sale actually means that I took my time walking over there, trying it on, putting it down and coming back to it later to purchase it before anyone else snatched it up. Telling my father that a large boulder catapulted at my car’s windshield and cracked it means more along the lines of a small rock from a passing car chipped my window and it was relatively the size of a penny. Some people may call this embellishment, but sarcasm is used more so in the aspect that you KNOW the other person is going to know you’re exaggerating to make a conversation more entertaining.

For me, I’m used to plugging sarcasm into my everyday life. It comes out even more when I’m nervous, which can be a little awkward. There’s almost never a time that I’m not being sarcastic in some way, even if I don’t mean to! As college students, it’s really important to make sure you’re using sarcasm in the right places and at the right time. Telling your teacher, “Oh don’t worry, I love getting an F -.-” may just actually end up in you getting one. To your fellow peers, that statement may mean, “The last thing I’d ever want to do is get an F” but to your teacher, that statement means “Oh don’t worry, I love getting an F”.

See how that works out?

The other thing you have to be careful about with sarcasm is that a lot of times, people who don’t understand sarcasm or use it as frequently as you do may think what you’re saying is rude or a little too blunt. Even if you’re just kidding, sometimes being sarcastic at the wrong times or in conversation with the wrong people can give off the impression that you’re a bit hostile or rude. If you’re just getting to know someone and you’re not sure if they are hip with the sarcastic lingo, do without it. I’m sure you can think of a million things from the English language to talk about without inserting “said no one ever” into your responses.

Sarcasm in conversation is one thing, but sarcasm in print is another. Sarcastic writing is great for personal blogs and social media sites, but less satisfactory for school assignments or term papers. It’s important to remember that when you’re writing an assignment, you’re writing as a student who’s learning to be a credible and professional writer. For this reason, unless you’re writing a piece for a creative writing class or specialty assignment, don’t use sarcasm. Writing a report or term paper relies heavily on stating and citing credible and truthful information. Sarcasm, although it may be funny to those who understand it, could be misinterpreted as an embellishment of facts or truth that could get you in trouble with your professor.

Not to mention, using sarcasm to say things that you’re trying to say the opposite of (the “Grade F” situation for an example) could make you look incompetent (also see; “hopeless”). You’re using it as an “of course I already know that” type of statement, but for people that don’t thoroughly understand how sarcasm works may just think you’re missing really vital concepts and then just look at you like your brain fell on the floor. This happens a lot in the work environment. Your boss tells you that you need to do a better job mopping the floor, and you respond with “Oh no, usually I just pour water on the floor and then leave for the day” with a smirk on your face.

Not funny.

You’re probably just going to make your boss think that you actually just throw buckets of water on his company floor to create safety hazards for everyone. Then, you’ll probably be looking for a new job. Obviously you mopped the floor with the best intentions and to the best of your ability, but you shoved your whole foot and ankle in your mouth trying to be funny and sarcastic at the wrong time.

So, whether you’re a new or returning college student, make sure to use your sarcasm in quantities. Besides the coming off with the wrong impression stand point, you could really wear your good material out! Use it sparingly and with the right audiences, and you’ll both maximize your credibility as a student and employee while still impressing your friends and social circles.