UNDERGRADUATE ADMISSIONS at WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY in ST. LOUIS

But what if my professors try to eat me??

Reaching Out To A Professor: A Student’s Guide To Success

With*Important note: Professor Loomis, the professor pictured above, would (probably) never actually eat any of his students alive.

At some point in college, you’ll realize that you need to go and talk to your professor outside of class. If you’re like me, this will likely be after you finish your first chemistry lecture and realize that did not understand a significant portion of the material that was just discussed. But it might be about a paper that you’re writing, a group that you’re interested, or you just think that your professor is the bee’s knees’ and you really want to get to know them. However it happens, arranging an independent meeting with a professor is something that is inevitable.

The inspiration for this article came from a meeting that I just had a few days ago with a professor in our computer science department. As a part of our summer internship here, we are highly encouraged to reach out to WashU faculty to learn more about their work, their career path, or just to network and make connections. In my case, I wanted to talk to her about the Girls Who Code group that I’m working to create on campus and learn a little bit about her research.

How you start the conversation is up to you. If you have the professor for one of your classes, ask when they have office hours and drop in. I have a tendency to forget these hours or push off visiting, so I find it helpful to write the specific time, location, and motive in every calendar I own. This however might be a little excessive for you, so do whatever you need to hold yourself accountable for going and treat yo’ self when you are done.

If office hours aren’t feasible for you, a simple email can do the trick. This is a great option if you’re nervous about reaching out, because really, no professor in existence will chew your head off over an email. All you have to include is a short introduction, a brief explanation of why you want to talk to them, and ask if they would be available for a casual meeting sometime. If you don’t hear back in a week or two, it is totally okay to send a follow up email. Sometimes they are busy, and one email just slips through the cracks.

Once you’ve arranged a meeting, how you plan for it is up to you. If you want to bring a small notepad with question written on it ahead of time, that’s awesome, but if you prefer to just let the conversation flow, there’s nothing wrong with that too. With that being said, if you are going to ask the professor about their career or research, you should absolutely try and investigate what they do a little ahead of time. If you show a professor that you have a significant interest in their work, you can help shift the conversation in a positive direction. 

While going through all of this with a high school teacher may seem a little strange, it is a totally normal thing to do in college. For many of you guys, it won’t be a big deal at all. If you are nervous about the process, hopefully this article will help calm any of the nerves you might have.

And with that, I’ll just leave this little gift for you all here:

Talking to professors can be scary
expectations most definitely can vary
But never fear
they’re really quite dear
Though with my poetry, be wary