Professors share insights on how students can network with instructors

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Students often wonder how to best connect and communicate with instructors and professors throughout their college years. There are always questions: Where do I sit in class? What methods of communication should I use? Should I go to office hours? How can I stand out and make a good impression? The questions can be endless and the answers unclear.

Three Penn State faculty members offered helpful tips into the “dos” and “don’ts” for the practice of student-professor networking.

Q: What initiatives do you like to see students take at the beginning of a course or throughout the semester?

“Regardless of the size of the class, I like students to participate and introduce themselves,” said Steve Manuel, a senior lecturer in advertising/public relations in the College of Communications. “Tell me something about you, because it helps me remember you. I also like students to suggest activities other than those contained in the curriculum. I like trying new things, and students quite often come up with something I hadn't thought of.”

“I like to see students sitting towards the front of the class,” said Maggie Slattery, an associate professor of bioengineering in the College of Engineering. “I am more likely to recognize and remember the people I see when I’m lecturing.”

Q: What are some of the ways you find best help you to become better connected with an individual student?

“Office hours are a great way for me to get to know students,” said Sam Richards, a senior lecturer in sociology in the College of the Liberal Arts. “Talking about anything other than grades is fine during office hours, at least for me. I think students can get a lot of great advice from professors about a wide range of issues. We are a resource that is very much underutilized.”

Q: What do you believe is the most beneficial way for a student to communicate with you throughout the semester?

“I encourage students to talk to me whenever they have a problem,” Slattery said. “It takes a lot for a student to come to me too often. Email is one of the best ways to start. If it’s too difficult to talk about via email, I will direct them where to go -- make an appointment, for example.”

Q: What are some of the biggest difficulties you face as a professor when it comes to dealing with students?

“Keep parents out of it,” said Richards. “Most of us are very willing to address issues when we need to do so. But parents getting involved when it's not necessary is a turn-off. Having said that, I've received some wonderful emails from parents asking questions about my class. In fact, I love meeting parents, but not when they are contesting a grade or random issue on behalf of their child.”

Q: How do you feel students can further their experience and knowledge of your course beyond the scheduled class times each week?

“I have students all the time who see a news story in the paper, online or on television news that they notify me about from a PR perspective and inquire about what I would have done,” Manuel said. “Those are the students who I believe will do well in the future. Those are the students I want working for me.”

Q: At what point do you think it is appropriate for a student to ask you for a letter of recommendation? Can you provide ideas for students to consider before they approach a professor with such a request?

“Students need to realize that generic recommendation letters from a professor who doesn't know them are generally a bad idea and not useful,” said Richards. “With large general education classes and the limited opportunities to get to know professors, it can be a challenge to find letter writers. So, think ahead.”

“I give my freshmen handouts on this topic because I believe it’s very important,” added Slattery. “Think about, ‘Can this person say something interesting about me?’ Ask yourself if the professor or instructor knows you well enough that they could comment on you positively.”

Q: What are some examples of inappropriate student behavior that you advise other students to avoid?

“Inappropriate student behavior can range from the way one dresses for a meeting to using a cell phone in any way while speaking to me,” said Manuel. “If you check your texts while we meet, the meeting is over. I also think it's inappropriate to tell a professor you will do anything for a better grade.”

Q: What advice would you provide to students when it comes to the “dos” and “don’ts” of connecting and communicating with their professors?

“Treat your experience professionally,” Slattery said. “Use your best judgment when handling situations and be intuitive when it comes to communicating with your professors and instructors.”

“Don't be nervous with professors,” Richards added. “The more you can be yourself in their presence, the better it is for you and for us.”

Contacts: 

Kelly Newburg

Last Updated August 06, 2012