Building Rapport with Professors

Students make the most of their TU experience by developing meaningful relationships with faculty both inside and outside of class.

emf faculty and students
Faculty members work closely with students pursuing signature academic experiences such as internships, study abroad and undergraduate research.

Towson University has outstanding faculty who are as dedicated to teaching students as they are to public service, mentoring and scholarship, research and creative activity. You cannot make the most of TU without connecting with faculty both inside and outside of class. Outside of class, faculty can guide you in shaping your career interests and help you identify opportunities that will enhance your undergraduate experience.

Tips for Building Rapport

It is important to remember that most professors work more than 40 hours per week to keep up with their responsibilities, which often include travel. Many do all of this while trying to balance a family and home life. It is important for you to be aware of what they do, how hard they work, and be considerate of their time when you interact with them. So, how do you get to know a faculty member?

  • Learn about your professor’s teaching and research. If you want to get an idea of what activities a particular professor is involved with, take a look at their university webpage (example) or personal website (example). Most professors will often have a copy of their Curriculum Vitae (CV) on their website, which lists their publications and activities.
  • Don’t be shy. Faculty want to get to know students. Just as you may be excited about or interested in a certain topic, the faculty are excited about helping you shape your interests and offer a broader perspective on TU and on your education.
  • Visit your professor. Faculty have office hours--by definition, office hours are a time that faculty set aside for students to meet individually. Office hours are especially helpful if you’d like to gain a better understanding of a subject discussed in class, discuss an assignment or recent grade, of if you’ve missed class due to illness. Remember, the best conversations with faculty center on learning, rather than grades. When you schedule time to meet with a professor during office hours, be sure to arrive on time and be mindful of possible (and likely) time constraints. 
  • Discuss your professor’s field of interest. Don’t hesitate to contact the professor of a course in which you’re interested to get more explicit information about it. Professors always enjoy discussing their fields of interest, especially with intellectually curious students. If you are interested in research, this is a great way to find out if the faculty member is working on topic that intrigues you.
  • Thank your professor for the time they’ve spent helping you. A simple word of thanks as you leave the meeting, or an email thank you shortly after will go a long way in making a good impression.
  • Maintain the relationship. Don't hesitate in asking to meet again if you did not receive all the information you needed. For example, "Professor Smith, I really appreciate you spending some time talking with me about graduate school as it will help me make some decisions. I would like to meet with you again to follow-up with some related areas. When can we arrange to do that?" 

Tips for Communicating with Professors

The way in which you communicate and present yourself when communicating to your professors is extremely important. When you write or speak to a professor, you should view it as a professional exchange. How you choose to interact conveys your level of seriousness and professionalism. As with any professional interaction, it is in your best interest to be respectful, polite, and courteous when communicating with professors. Your emails, and the words you use, are a reflection of you and your attitudes.

When you email a professor, keep in mind that you are not texting with a friend or writing a casual message to an acquaintance -- this is a formal interaction with someone who is an expert in their field and in an official position to evaluate you and grade your work. Your emails should contain the proper parts of letter, convey respect and courtesy, and reflect the fact you are a serious student. Here are a few specific tips:

  • Use an account with an appropriate email address. Ideally, you should use your university email account. Cutesy, offensive, or childish email addresses are inappropriate in professional interactions.
  • Always use an informative subject line. Do not leave the subject line blank. It is helpful if your subject contains the course name and a brief explanation of the nature of the email. For example: "Math 3333-Question about Homework" or "Math 2331-Request for Meeting".
  • Address the professor politely. Begin your email with a greeting such as "Dear Professor Smith" or "Hi Dr. Jones". Know your professor's last name and use it with their appropriate title. Do not assume an informal greeting unless the professor has specifically stated that a more casual greeting is preferred. In email or in person, address a faculty member as Professor and use appropriate tone and language, until you are invited to do otherwise. End your message with a closing and signature, such as "Sincerely, YourName" or "Thanks, YourName". If the professor does not know you well, use your full name. If the professor knows you or you've spoke in person a few times, your first name will suffice.
  • Be clear and concise. Make sure your message is easy to understand, and that you do not go into unnecessary details. Writing in a professional manner does not mean your message must be long. If your question is short or direct, a one-sentence email (provided it includes a greeting and signature) is fine.
  • Use correct spelling and proper grammar. Do not use grammatically incorrect colloquialisms, such as "gonna" or "could of". Do not use emoticons. Do not use text abbreviations, such as "R U gonna have ur class 2morrow cuz i won't b there".
  • Do not use your email to ask basic questions you can answer for yourself or to vent, rant, or whine. If you don't know what a word means, try looking it up in the index of the textbook. If you don't know how to do an exercise, check your notes to see if a similar one was done in lecture. Class policies, such as office hours, assignment details, writing guidelines, grading criteria, policies on missed classes and exams, etc. are almost always addressed in the syllabus. If something is still not clear, then by all means ask your question --- but first attempt to answer the question yourself and only write if you need further clarification. If you have a complaint, or are not happy about something, explain yourself calmly and ask if anything can be done. You may very well be frustrated about a situation, but sending an angry email will not help things. In situations like this, it is also often more helpful to talk to the professor in person rather than send an email -- particularly since tone and intent can often be misinterpreted in emails.
  • Allow time for a response. Professors are busy and have many other job responsibilities in addition to your class. Also, you should not expect professors to be responding to email at night or first thing in the morning. Allow up to 24 hours for a professor to reply -- possibly more if it is a weekend or holiday.
  • Do not use email as a substitute for face-to-face conversation. Most professors complain that students fail to take advantage of office hours and speak with them in person. Many issues are often better handled in person than by email. Discussions about assignments or grades, questions about homework problems, requests for a letter of recommendation, and in-depth conversations about academic topics are all best done in person.
 Adapted with permission from Dr. Mark Tomforde (University of Houston).