Academic relationships developed between professors/teacher's assistants and students play a large role in a student's professional and intellectual development. Research has shown multiple positive effects of academic relationships such as increases in achievement, motivation and learning.

Here are some tips that Columbia students have had about interacting with their professors and quick tips for developing a solid academic relationship!

How do I address my professor in an email and face-to-face?

  • Be formal. Avoid text message abbreviations and chat language that you use with your friends. A good way to gauge your language is by asking yourself, “Would I use this language in a graded paper?”
  • Though not all professors care about propriety, it’s best to be safe for those who do!  You might call her/him “Professor” instead of Dr., Mr., Ms., etc.
  • Remember to say “please” and “thank you”!
  • When addressing an email, “Hey!” is not an appropriate opening. Instead, try “Dear Professor [last name],…”
  • Get to the point. Be concise and clear about the purpose of your emails.
  • Re-read and edit your email before hitting ‘send.’

How should I schedule an appointment?

  • Read the syllabus! If you are in a course with the professor currently, the process to schedule appointments is usually explained on the syllabus.
  • Check out her/his office door. Professors will often have a sign on their office door explaining how to make an appointment or when office hours are held.
  • If you are not currently in a course with that professor, go to the department office – you might be able to find information on bulletin boards or her/his office.
  • If you are comfortable approaching a professor in person, check out her/his class schedule and stop in at the end of class.

Additional tips:

  • When emailing a professor to schedule appointments, give options of availability – this will make it easier for your professor to find a time to meet with you.
  • Don’t forget - professors are busy, too! Give professors at least a week to respond.

How can I develop an academic relationship with my professor?

  • Go to office hours to talk about a topic that your professor has expertise in.
  • Ask your professor about their career path, research or experiences.  Ask for advice on careers and programs of study.
  • You might want to try emailing more than one professor whom you would like to develop a relationship with. The reality is that some professors may not respond, so reaching out to more than one professor will give you greater odds of establishing an academic relationship with someone whose work you find interesting.
  • Consider inviting a faculty member to lunch on campus, alone or with friends.

How should I prepare for a meeting with my professor?

  • Do as much research on your own as possible. Do not ask questions that can be answered by looking at the syllabus or reading the assigned chapter.
  • Write down all of your questions so you will not be struggling to remember what you wanted to discuss.
  • Dress appropriately. Business casual wear shows that you are professional.

How can I ask my professor for a letter of recommendation?

  • Be mindful of giving your professor enough time to write the recommendation, at least one month.
  • Be prepared to explain what the letter is for, and provide all pertinent information, including your resume, personal statement, appropriate forms and deadlines.
  • Remember: It is more important to have a strong letter than WHO writes the letter.  Approach professors whom you have developed a rapport with so they can really speak to your character.
  • The Center for Student Advising has a mechanism for putting a letter “on ice” called a dossier file. You can use this to store letters from past professors.
  • Anticipate the questions the professor might have for you. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes!

What’s an appropriate way of talking to a professor about my grade in the class?

  • Talk to your professor before the final grade is assigned.
  • Try to approach the topic by letting the professor know that you are concerned about your grade.  For example: “Can you give me advice going forward?”

Columbia University Resources


Last updated March 20, 2015