Appendix C: How to Interact with Your Professors

Professors are nice folks that do things like teach classes, do research, and act as members of the university community. Some of them tend to focus more on the teaching side of things, while others spend more of their time researching. You’ll spend plenty of time interacting with profs at university, so it’s important to get a sense of how to do so.

Show Them Respect
As with any other person you may interact with in a professional setting, you should treat your professors with respect in hopes that they will do the same to you. The student-professor relationship is a bit different than the student-teacher relationship, and if you act like an adult they will more than likely treat you like one.

Don’t Waste Their Time
Professors are usually hired by universities with the expectation that they will publish a given amount of research per year or contract. Because of this, professors are often very busy trying to balance teaching several courses and doing a bunch of research. They designate a certain amount of their time to their course-based workload, and a certain amount to their research. Doing that research is one of the things that makes them great experts to teach you about their field.
When you do need to speak with a professor outside of the classroom, don’t waste their time. Professors are supposed to hold a certain amount of weekly office hours so that you know when to find them, so show up then when you know they’ll be available.
If you have specific questions regarding course work, show up knowing what you need to ask. University can be stressful, so you should try to ask them for help earlier rather than later. It’s better to ask for advice on an assignment a couple of weeks before it’s due than the day before.

Get to know them
University provides students with the opportunity to work closely with their professors.
This is especially later on in degrees as courses get smaller or if you do an honours program, which usually involves a student being paired with a supervising professor.
Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Professors are there not only to teach you, but also to be a resource to you as someone who has experience not only in your field of study, but also in life as a university student and academic.

Don’t disrupt their classes, but don’t be afraid to think critically and question them
Good professors love to engage their students, making them think critically about their subject and question what they are told. In fact, in certain fields professors will often deliberately propose bold ideas to their classes in hopes of eliciting responses. When this happens, or when you disagree with a theory and wish to speak up, remember that you have the ability to either start an interesting conversation…or derail the class by being disrespectful. Students have a name for someone who does this on a regular basis: “that guy”. Nobody wants to be “that guy”.

Know your rights
You’re going to university to learn from your professors, certainly. But it’s your education. Sometimes you get off on the wrong foot. Sometimes you have a disagreement. These things are normal, and can happen in any professional environment, but there are always people you can talk to. Your best bet is to ask your student union, or an academic adviser what the process is at your institution.

Work with them
There are often TA or research assistant position at universities. These can be an amazing way to get an inside look at how research is done, to learn lots and to get to know your professors better.

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