Ask a Professor: How to Build Rapport With Your Professors
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- Connecting with your professors can help you succeed in class and achieve career goals.
- Start small by introducing yourself to your professors.
- Make time outside class to strengthen professional relationships with faculty.
As an undergraduate attending a large university, I initially struggled to connect with professors. I felt anonymous in cavernous lecture halls and usually interacted with teaching assistants more often than faculty members.
But as a graduate student and college professor myself, I quickly learned the value of building rapport with faculty members.
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Ready to Start Your Journey?
Why should you build a professional relationship with your professors? Students can benefit in several ways.
First, engaged students tend to do better in class. Connecting with professors demonstrates an investment in the class, which often pays off.
Second, most professors want to help students achieve their academic and professional goals. For example, they often write letters of recommendation for students who are applying to graduate school or jobs. Professors can also connect students with internships and career opportunities.
Finally, student engagement has been found to improve retention and graduation rates. Building connections with professors helps students stay engaged in their college community, which benefits students even after they graduate.
6 Tips for Connecting With Your Professors
What's the best way to connect with your professors? These tips start with small steps — like introducing yourself — and move on to advanced strategies.
1. Introduce Yourself
Most college professors teach dozens — sometimes even hundreds — of students each year. This makes introducing yourself an important first step.
Keep introductions casual. You can approach your professor after class or send an email. Make sure to include your name, grade level, and major.
When introducing yourself, feel free to share a brief explanation of why you're in their class. Express enthusiasm for the subject. Professors have invested an enormous amount of time and effort in their field, and students can often find common ground with academics by sharing their interest in the subject.
2. Stay Engaged in Class
Professors tend to remember the students who participate in class. After all, it's easy to lose track of students who sit silently in the back of the lecture hall and never participate.
Staying engaged starts with a solid attendance record. It also means coming to class prepared. Make sure to do the readings, complete assignments, and review your notes. During class discussions, share your thoughts and interact with classmates.
Engaged students ask questions, take notes during lectures, and attend review sessions. And staying engaged can do more than ensure your professor remembers your name — your professor may also end the semester with a particularly positive impression of you.
3. Learn About Your Professor
Whether you're taking an intro course in your major or a senior seminar, it's a good idea to learn a little about your professor. What is their specialty area? What other courses do they teach?
Even something as small as your professor's preferred title can make a major difference in building rapport. Using your professor's first name or leaving out their title can start you off on the wrong foot. When in doubt, use the title listed on the syllabus.
Knowing your professor's research area, teaching specialties, and background can help you build rapport. It can also mean getting more out of your professional relationship. Professors with industry experience can connect you with valuable networking opportunities.
Similarly, professors can recommend classes or reading, offer feedback on project ideas, or advise students on research papers.
4. Go to Office Hours
Professors hold office hours to connect with students. But most students choose not to take advantage of this opportunity.
Attending office hours helps build rapport with professors. As a first-year student, I initially avoided office hours. The first time I visited a professor's office, she was so excited someone showed up that she handed out M&Ms. Years later, that same professor became my master's advisor.
The initial connection fostered by visiting a professor's office can grow into an long-term advisor relationship. It also helps students in class — students who make time to ask questions in office hours often perform better on exams.
5. Attend Departmental Events
Students aiming to build stronger connections with their professors — particularly graduate students — should attend departmental events. Guest lectures, brown bag lunches, and honor society meetings offer extra opportunities to build rapport with professors.
Most college students never attend these kinds of campus events. But showing up can go a long way toward demonstrating your commitment to the field.
6. Keep in Touch
Recently, a former student reached out to ask for a letter of recommendation for grad school. Even though more than five years had passed since she'd taken my class, I happily agreed. She'd come to office hours, organized a fundraiser for the department's honor society, and kept in touch after leaving my class. That made it easy for me to write a strong recommendation letter.
It's a good idea to stay in touch with professors after the semester ends. A quick email to let your professor know that you're graduating or starting a new job can go a long way.
And maintaining ties with professors often keeps students from scrambling to figure out how to ask someone for a recommendation letter or introduction.
Many professors enter academia driven by research interests and a desire to share their knowledge with others. While it can seem intimidating to interact with faculty, many welcome the opportunity to connect with students.
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