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Communicating With Faculty

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.

When you communicate with a faculty member, you are also sending messages about who you are. Make a positive impression by communicating thoughtfully. Be courteous. Err on the side of formality. State your request clearly, but be concise. More below:

Connect With a Faculty Member

Ask for a letter of recommendation

Writing recommendation letters is part of what faculty members do, and they expect to be asked. That said, remember that they have busy lives and will need plenty of lead time to write a letter. Allow at least 3 weeks. The best way to ask for a recommendation letter is in person. If you can’t attend office hours, send a polite email (see below) explaining your request and asking if the professor could meet with you. In your request, remind them of when you had their course(s), and describe any memorable assignments or projects you completed.

Once they have agreed to write the letter, provide the faculty member with background information that will help them write a strong letter — for instance, a concise personal statement, a resume, etc. Explain exactly what they need to do: where to send the letter, by when, and so on. If you are not automatically notified that the letter has been submitted, 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.

If the professor isn't responding to your emails, 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. You can also call their office phone, following the same etiquette as in email.

Learn more about their work

This is a perfectly legitimate reason for contacting a faculty member. You might want to get to know your professor to establish a mentoring relationship, for a potential letter of recommendation, or simply because you are interested in their work. Some faculty members may prefer to do this outside office hours, so it’s best to inquire first, either by email (see below) or in person before or after class. You can explain who you are and that you would like to speak to them about their research, career path, and/or any other topics that interest you. Ask if they are willing, and when might be a good time to meet.

Before you meet with your professor, prepare by writing down what you would like your professor to know about you (your academic and professional interests, your personal background, etc.). Try to keep this relatively short. Also, write down questions you have about the professor's research, academic interests, professional development, teaching experience, or anything else you would like to know. Feel free to ask for advice; most faculty members are happy to offer it, especially to students who show interest in their fields. You don’t need to read from these notes during your meeting, but they'll be helpful in establishing and remembering what you want to discuss.

When you meet, thank the professor for meeting with you. Explain why you wanted to meet, say a little bit about yourself, and ask questions. Allow the conversation to develop organically — it’s OK if you veer away from your previously established questions. The main objective is to establish a rapport.

After the meeting, send your professor a short thank-you email. Mention one or two topics you especially appreciated talking about, and express your interest in potentially meeting again to talk about them in more depth later in the quarter. If your professor offered you advice, briefly explain steps you are taking to follow that advice. For the rest of the quarter and after you have finished the class, continue developing the relationship by checking in with your professor occasionally.

Email Dos and Don'ts

Asking to Meet for Questions About a Class

Effective

Subject: Question about [Specific Class Topic/Homework Assignment/Reading]

Dear [Professor/Dr.] [Professor’s last name],

My name is [your name]; I am in your [class title] class. I am having trouble understanding [specific class topic/homework assignment/reading]. Unfortunately, I have a regular conflict with your office hours, but would greatly appreciate some guidance on this. Would it be possible to set up a time to meet with you, at your convenience? I am available [dates and times during the week during which you are available].

Thank you,

[Your name]


Not so effective

Subject: Hi

Hey [Mr./Ms.] [Professor’s name],

I was wondering if I could meet with you. I’m having trouble understanding the readings from your class and need a good grade. Can I come by?

Thanks,

[Your Name]

Asking to Meet for a Recommendation Letter

Effective

Subject: Recommendation Question

Dear [Professor/Dr.] [Professor’s last name],

My name is [your name]; I am in your [class title] class. I am enjoying the class so far, especially [aspect of class you enjoy].

I am applying for [job/school/scholarship/etc.], and since I enjoy your class and would like to continue in this field, I would greatly appreciate meeting with you at your convenience to discuss the possibility of receiving a letter of recommendation from you. Unfortunately, I have class during your office hours, so I am wondering if we could meet at another time. The letter is due in [length of time at least 3 weeks from email date]. Would it be possible for us to meet? I am available [dates and times during the week during which you are available].

I have attached my resume for your convenience, if you would like to see it.

Thank you,

[Your name]


Not so effective

Subject: Can I Have a Letter of Recommendation?

Hey [Mr./Ms.] [Professor’s name],

I was wondering if I could get a letter of recommendation from you. I’m applying for [job/school/scholarship/etc.], and it’s due next week. Please let me know if you can do this.

Thanks,

[Your name]

Asking to Meet for General Conversation

Effective

Subject: Informational Meeting

Dear [Professor/Dr.] [Professor’s last name],

My name is [your name]; I am in your [class title] class. I would greatly appreciate the chance to meet and speak with you about [topic you are interested in—professor’s research, career path, etc.], as I [am interested in the topic/am looking to potentially pursue this line of work/have a background in the topic/etc.].  Would it be best for me to come in during your regular office hours, or would you be available to meet for a one-on-one appointment? I am available [dates and times during which you are available].

Thank you,

[Your name]


Not So Effective

Subject: Meet Up?

Hey [Mr./Ms.] [Professor’s name],

I was hoping we could meet up to chat about your work. Are you free next week?

Thanks,

[Your name]