University is a time for independence, professionalism, and to start acting like an adult (even though you probably don’t feel like one, just yet). An important part of developing these skills comes from interacting with lecturers. Although, college never really prepared you on how to do this. So, below are are some guidelines that you may help you get started…
The first time you contact a lecturer (other than your tutor) will probably be via email. We all get worried about making a good first impression, especially when tasked with doing so without face-to-face interaction. The key to emails is finding a suitable level of formality which will differ depending on the recipient. If you are emailing someone for the first time it is a good idea to start with – Hi Dr/Prof [insert first name] -. This is casual while showing that you have the respect for that person’s title. Then, following their response, you can gage how to address them in the future. For example, if they sign off their email response without their title then you can assume that you can email in the future with – Hi [insert name] -.
Okay, so you managed to start the email, now what? – Now you write the body of the text.
You should be as clear as possible about what you are asking the recipient. The clearer you are, the more useful the response will be. If you are asking a question (which you probably are) then make sure that you have tried to find the answer for yourself first. If you have tried then make clear this in the email, lecturers can tell when you have tried to find the answer and will appreciate that you have been proactive. Signing off an email is simple, you can simply just use your name. If you feel as though that is a little cold then maybe add – regards – or – best -. However, DO NOT put x’s at the end of an email. Finally, always include a subject for your email.
Sometimes lecturers do not respond to emails, and because we are used to a fast-paced life style we are quick to send a reminder email. The general rule with sending a reminder would be to leave it three working days before sending a polite email reminder, for example – Hi, I was wondering if you received my previous email –, this may seem silly as you know they received it but a lecturer’s mail box is usually overflowing. A final note on emails, if you have complex and/or many questions, you should consider arranging a meeting with the lecturer.
Meetings can be extremely useful for students, if they make the most of them. Arranging meetings in advance is the best way to start. This allows for both the student and lecturer to prepare, ensuring that you get the most from the meeting. Following your well-written email (using the guide above), it should be clear what the meeting is about. If you are looking for feedback on a draft then send your work in advance so that the lecturer can give you the feedback, and have the time to explain any questions you may have. If you are wanting feedback for a piece of work that has already been marked and graded, ensure you have read through the feedback thoroughly yourself before the meeting. Also, when you receive feedback try not to be too defensive as this can appear arrogant. Lecturers, believe it or not, want you to do well and fulfil your potential; their criticisms of a piece of work are there to help you improve.
Also, it can be useful to make notes in a meeting. Although this may seem a little unnatural to jot down everything someone is saying, it will benefit both you (you won’t forget anything) and the lecturer (there is less likely to be a follow-up email or meeting). Additionally, to make to most of a meeting you should make it clear if you do not understand what the lecturer has said. Asking for clarification can make you feel stupid, which is why you tend to try and avoid it with those who seem miles ahead of you in their academia careers, but it shouldn’t. Lecturers would prefer you to ask for clarification because as well as benefitting them (again, there is less likely to be a follow-up email or meeting), it shows that you care about your understanding and lecturers appreciate this. One thing you should never do is arrange a meeting and then arrive late or not show at all. If you need to cancel, even if it is only minutes until the meeting, then make sure you let the lecturer know.
There may be a point during your time at University when you need to speak to a lecturer about personal issues and/or concerns. Lecturers encourage this as they too were students once and would rather you seek help than suffer in silence. A lot of the time you will feel better after just making someone aware of your issue, and most personal matters can be easily solved. If you are not sure on how to approach a lecturer regarding personal issues, a good place to start is just to email them. You do not need to explain the ins-and-outs of your issue, but can simply ask for a – meeting regarding personal circumstances – or something along the lines of that.
Another thing that students are apprehensive to do is ask lecturers if you can have a meeting to discuss their work. You may find this daunting to ask, but lecturers are more than happy to sit down and chat about their research if you are interested.
Finally, it is important to thank your lecturers, whether they gave particularly good lecture, delivered an interesting module, or even answered a question well via email. Sending a thank you email is never pointless. You do not have to send an email after every lecture/module, simply making sure you mention the positives when you complete the module feedback forms is enough.