Introduce yourself to your professors, they said. Ask them about the syllabus, or their office hours, they said.
“Introduce yourself!” is one of the most common pieces of advice given to college students at the beginning of the semester. While it’s good advice, a lot of students can make small mistakes that end up making what should be a positive interaction an awkward one. In this post, I’ll walk you through (1) Why you should absolutely introduce yourself, (2) common mistakes that students make, and (3) some of the best ways to reduce the awkward factor.
Why you should ABSOLUTELY introduce yourself to your professors.
There are a lot of benefits from getting to know your professors. But, to do this, you need to introduce yourself. Why? because depending on the size of your school, professors may have anywhere from 60-over 300 students per semester. That’s a lot of names and faces for anyone. If you want the professor to learn your name, your best bet is to initiate.
Having your professor know who you are from go has a lot of benefits. Professors are great people to have you write letters of recommendation Thinking of applying to any scholarships this year? you’ll probably need a professor to write you a letter, and most professors won’t write letters for students just because they sat through one of their classes. Maybe you need a reference for a job? Professors can also be a good sources for this–especially if you’re going for a campus job. Professors are connected. You might be at a school for a few years, professors spend their career there. Professors are also excellent sources of help in a difficult class. Knowing them can make a lot of difference.
There are a lot of benefits to having your professor know who you are. SO, you want to make a good first impression. BUT, common advice can leave you looking more like an idiot than a great student. Here’s why.
Often, students are advised to ask professors about something on the syllabus or about their office hours. This seems like great advice because these are low stakes topics that should be of concern to both students and professors. What’s the problem?
- You asked a question about the syllabus, when the answer is IN the syllabus. If there is one major pet peeve that is shared among university professors, it is when students ask endless questions about the class and the answer is in the syllabus. We give you the syllabus so that you have all this excellent information at the beginning of the school year. Don’t just ask a question about the syllabus when the answer is pretty clearly already in there. Doing this says to the professor that you are Lazy, that you didn’t put forth the effort of finding the answer before you asked. Advice: Don’t ask a question about the syllabus JUST to ask a question about the syllabus.
- You asked a question about office hours when the professor already told you when they were. Similar to the syllabus pet peeve, professors kind of expect you to know how office hours work–and they’ll usually tell you the first week of class. Professors would prefer not to have to re-explain an administrative thing like office hours individually to every student.
- You found an unimportant pretext for talking to them. I really don’t recommend this one, and it comes from personal experience. My freshman year of college, I wanted to introduce myself to my Math professor, I didn’t have any questions about office hours or the syllabus, and I thought I needed to have some pretense for talking to him after class. So, I told him I was concerned about getting out of class late because I had another class across campus that met 10 minutes after this class ended. His response? Mile high eyebrows. Why, you ask? Because in reality it wasn’t HIS problem. It was MY problem. If he ran class over, then it was my responsibility to figure out how to handle the situation gracefully: leave before the end of his lecture or arrive late to my next class. Also, this was the second class, so it was like I was asking him if he was going to do a bad job in class.
Reduce the Awkward Factor
There are easy ways to reduce the awkward factor when introducing yourself to a professor. Below are a couple of examples of students who have done this really well.
- Keep it Simple. Last semester, I had a student introduce himself to me on his first day of class. He came up to the front after class, shook my hand, told me his name and said he was excited for the class this semester. This worked. It was straight forward, simple, and to the point. I highly recommend this option.
- Ask for a clarification–but only if its needed. Sometimes, syllabi or verbal instructions CAN be confusing. If you have actually read the syllabus through and there is something that is unclear, then you should ask about it. For example, if assignments are due online, but only a date and no time is specified, asking if the professor wants them at the beginning of class or at midnight is a really great question to ask. This shows that you are detail oriented and capable of reading the syllabus through.
- Stopping by office hours. If you didn’t manage to introduce yourself after class one of the first few days, this can be a great option. But, professors are busy people, so I don’t recommend just stopping by office hours to chat. Rather, have a specific question or two about the class, assignments, or a previous lecture. Since the semester has started, this should theoretically be a more focused/less random type of question. When in doubt, ask for advice: ask about what makes a successful student in the class, about what clubs/organizations are available for someone interested in this topic, about where you could go to get more information on interesting topic X that you talked about in class.
In short: Introducing yourself to your professors at the beginning of the year is a good strategy for doing well in their class. Don’t come up with a random excuse or ask them questions you should be able to find the answer to. DO be straight forward, professional, and keep it focused. Good luck!