UTD has world-renowned faculty doing groundbreaking research, but as a freshman, it can be intimidating to form a relationship with these high-caliber individuals. But they don’t bite like a rattlesnake in your boot. They’re just regular people that want to enjoy the school year as much as you do. Here are a few tips on how to get ace-high with your professors.
Research their background
Relying completely on RateMyProfessor to gauge professors can be tempting, but you should look into an instructor’s background before choosing to take their class, as RMP tends to voice the extremes. Read their CV and recent articles or watch a conference that they spoke at. If you are really committed, read their publications. Who knows, maybe you’ll find you have something in common or that their research interests match your own. It can’t hurt to do a bit of extra digging before you walk in on that first day.
Read the syllabus
What in tarnation? You have to actually read when you get to university? Yes, a lot of questions right off the bat can be answered by just reading the syllabus. That’s why professors go over it on the first day of class. You can find when things are due, how assignments will be graded, attendance policies and expectations for the class all in this little document. At the bottom, there is usually a disclaimer that reads something like “The professor reserves the right to change the syllabus at any time during the semester.” For the most part, they’ll let you know when the dates change. If the professor does shift some assignments, it’s mostly for your benefit, not to punish you. Professors won’t sneakily change a date or try to trick you. They want you to succeed.
Show up for class
You’d be surprised how much professors appreciate students that just go to class. It shows you respect the professor, but also that you respect your own time and believe in investing in yourself. Not every professor has an attendance policy, but being present and available generally leads to a better understanding of the material and better performance on assignments. Going to class shows the professor that you are serious about your education.
Prepare for class
After showing up, one of the easiest ways to form a good relationship with your professor is to come to class prepared. That could include reading the right chapter, learning all the concepts for that week or just seeming engaged in the class discussion. Sometimes even asking questions will suffice. There are no dumb questions, but use common sense on this one.
Keep phone usage to a minimum
Most professors understand that smartphones and laptops are ubiquitous tools among our generation but make an effort to reduce your screen time while in the classroom. It shows respect to the professor and your fellow students. Technology can be a great tool for all majors, but don’t let it hinder your learning. If you have to make a phone call, discreetly leave the room and speak to the professor about your situation after class. Most understand that UTD students are working adults or parents with busy schedules. For the most part, if you have a device, try to stay on task and don’t just surf the web or play games.
Go to office hours
UTD professors always have office hours listed on their syllabus and sometimes allow you to make an appointment to work around your bustling schedule. Take advantage of that opportunity. Don’t just visit them right before the final exam. Make an effort over the semester to show how much you care about the subject and about your grade in the class. Also, have a specific goal in mind when you go to their office. Questions about a recent lecture, understanding your grade for a particular assignment or even future degree or career prospects. Make sure they remember your name for a good reason. Your interest and effort will leave a positive impression on your professor so that when it comes time to solicit letters of recommendation, you won’t have any trouble finding willing faculty members.
Learn proper email etiquette
Students should treat all emails to a professor as a formal method of communication. In your initial message, start with “Dear Dr./Professor…”, then introduce yourself and identify which class you belong to. Finally, get to the purpose of the correspondence. Keep it brief, polite and to the point. Your professor might be more relaxed and okay with you calling them by their first name. But be respectful of the time they spent in school and the years of study and scholarship that went into achieving that doctor title.
Respect their time
Some students think that the professor’s only job is teaching their class. Not only are they teaching multiple classes, but they have regular lives outside of UTD and mountains of grading to do. If they don’t immediately respond to an email, it’s not because they are trying to ignore you, but because they are busy with other things and will respond to you in due time. Just as a professor respects your time in the classroom, respect theirs when they’re grading, crafting lesson plans, conducting research or spending quality time with their families.