As a Northwestern undergrad, you have access to experts in all of the subjects you are studying: your professors.
Connecting with faculty can help you understand course material better, and expand your learning in a variety of ways. Faculty can also point you toward research and other opportunities that create a gateway to your career. The benefits are many. In fact, studies show that students who engage with faculty do better academically, feel more confident, and are more satisfied overall in college.
Approaching faculty can be intimidating, though, and many students are unsure of what to say and how to say it. Don’t let intimidation hold you back. Follow the guidelines below for a productive faculty-interaction experience:
How do I arrange to meet with a professor?
- Go to office hours. On the front of your class syllabus, your professor has probably listed days and times that he/she will be available to meet with students. Take advantage of this time that the professor has set aside for students. You don't need to make an appointment to attend office hours.
- If you would like a one-on-one meeting or cannot make office hours, email the professor — or even better, talk to the professor right before or after class — and see if you can set up an appointment.
How do I email a professor?
- You can find faculty email addresses by searching their names on Northwestern’s website.
- Always address the faculty member as “Dr. so-and-so” or “Professor so-and-so.” Most faculty do not want to be addressed as “Mr.” or “Ms.” And don't use first names, unless they ask you to.
- You don’t need to be ultra-formal in an email, but refrain from text-speak or overly casual language. Avoid starting the email with “Hey,” as in “Hey Professor so-and-so.”
- Keep the email short and to the point, and put in the subject line what it is that you are asking for, such as help with coursework, a letter of recommendation, or the possibility of working on a research project with the professor.
- If asking for a face-to-face meeting, offer some dates and times that you are available to come by their office.
What if the professor is not answering my email?
- Don’t get discouraged. Faculty members are answering dozens of emails every day, and yours might have just gotten lost in the shuffle. Give them a few days and try again.
- Call their office phone. This number can be found on the Northwestern website as well. Follow the same etiquette as email; call them “Dr.” or “Professor,” and try to make it clear what you are asking for. If you get voice mail, leave a message with your contact information so they can get back to you.
- Keep trying. Persistence pays off.
I’ve arranged a meeting with the professor. Now what?
- Be on time.
- Be sure you know where the professor expects to meet you. Ask for directions if you are unsure.
- Be presentable. You can leave the tux and prom dress at home along with the sweatpants and pajamas. A nice shirt and jeans will do.
- Come prepared to ask questions. Never be embarrassed about what you don’t know; you are here to learn, and the faculty are eager to teach. But do show the professor that you have kept your end of the bargain by doing the reading and reviewing lecture notes before the meeting.
- Always thank the professor for his/her time.
What if I’m asking for a letter of recommendation?
- Provide plenty of lead time. Remember that faculty members are busy, and are probably writing many such letters. Allow at least 2 weeks, preferably more.
- Provide faculty members with background information that will help them write a strong letter, for instance, a concise personal statement, a resume, etc.
- Remind them of when you had their course, and describe any memorable assignments or projects you completed.
- Explain exactly what they need to do: where to send the letter, by when, and so on.
- After you meet, send an email to thank them.
- Send a courteous reminder email about a week before the deadline.
- Once the letter has been sent, follow up to thank them for their help.