Reblogged from: peer advisor. (Go to the original post…)
Ever feel like you could use some extra assistance from your professor, or need to ask them a question that you can’t ask in class? We all do sometimes, and professors know that. Although it can be a bit intimidating, it is definitely very useful to reach out to professors either via email or by showing up at their office hours, and professors are usually very happy to hear from you!
Emails v. Office Hours
Once you decide to ask for help, it may be tricky to decide whether the questions you have can be answered with an email, or if you need to sit down and talk to the professor one-on-one. A good rule of thumb is to email a professor if you only have one or two questions, such as a logistical question about submitting an assignment, or which format to use when citing sources on a paper. Otherwise, if you have general questions about the course, want to discuss concepts from a reading or lecture, or would like to discuss the content of a paper or exam, it is best to attend office hours and speak to your professor one-on-one.
Tips for Emailing Professors
As previously mentioned, emailing professors is a very useful way to clarify confusion about a homework assignment, let them know you cannot attend class for a valid reason, or to ask them when you can meet if you are unable to attend their office hours. It is unwise to email professors with questions that can easily be answered by looking at the course’s Moodle page or syllabus.
When sending any kind of formal email, it is a good idea to have a clear subject, which can include the course title and a brief explanation of what you are asking. It is also important to use your Wesleyan email, or another formal email address. Do not email a professor from your middle school email that looks something like email@example.com. You can start your email with a more formal greeting, like Dear, To, or Hello and then address your professor as Professor (Last Name).
Next, you should explain why you are writing. You may say something along the lines of I am writing to ask you…, I am writing to confirm…, or I would like to clarify… and continue with your query. Your email should not exceed one to two paragraphs – if you need to write more, you should probably meet with your professor instead. Next, you should thank the professor by ending the email with Thank you, or a line saying something similar to I appreciate your time. Finally, some good closers can be Best, Regards, or See you in class followed by your name.
Depending on how the professor answers, you can always be a bit more casual in your follow up emails. However, if you cannot judge the formality of the email, it is always best to me overly polite than too casual. It is important to follow up with emails to professors. If you have not received a response after two or three weekdays pass, it is not unreasonable to email the professor again with a follow up. It is also always polite to email a professor thanking them after they respond to you, so they know you have read their reply and appreciate it.
Tips for Attending Office Hours
Office hours can be a really great way to form personal relationships with professors and show them that you are a proactive student, interested in doing well in their class. It is always a good idea to attend office hours once or twice a semester for all classes, to make sure your professor knows who you are (especially in a large course), and to make sure you are on track in a class. Professors set up these times once or twice a week, which can usually be found on a course syllabus or on their faculty page on the Wesleyan website, so students have a time to meet them. It is a great idea to go and speak to professors if you are unsure of how you are doing, before you fall behind. You can also attend office hours to ask for clarity about concepts on a test or to go over questions you got wrong on an exam, to clarify a paper prompt, to look over a paper outline or ask for additional sources for research.
Sometimes a professor’s office hours directly overlap with another class or prior engagement. Professors know this will happen, and are usually very accommodating and willing to schedule another appointment time with you — just make sure to email them a few days in advance and tell them what times are convenient for you. If you make an appointment with a professor, make sure to arrive on time! For general office hours, it is up to you when to show up during that time slot. If possible, it is best not to arrive five minutes before the end of their office hours, so you have time to talk. During really busy times in the semester (midterms, finals, right before an assignment is due), it may be smart to arrive towards the beginning of office hours, just in case you have to wait.
It is helpful to prepare for your meeting a bit to ensure you get the most out of your meeting. If you have a question about an upcoming exam, make sure you have reviewed the material a little before you arrive. If you are asking about a paper, make sure you have at least read the prompt and given it some thought. Finally, always be polite! Ask your professors how their day is going, and thank them for their help when it is over.
Contacting professors, either by email or by attending office hours, may be intimidating, but professors are people to and their job is to help you! Good luck!