Communicating with Professors

By Alyssa Seowoo Kim (she/her/hers), Peer Success Leader, 2019-2020 

Read time: <5 minutes

How do you feel about your classes? Do you feel like you’ve transitioned well to college life? Are you stressed about changing your major? Do you know what you want to do after graduation?

I’m sure I am not the only one who’s stressed about everything at the moment. I honestly haven’t fully recovered from the long summer break. I'm anxious about my grades and am not sure what I’m going to do with my life.

So, I talk to my professors.

Talking to professors was one of the hardest but most rewarding things I did during my freshman year. It was scary to go to their office hours and speak to them. I remember freaking out and thinking, “WHAT AM I GONNA SAY?” Honestly, I had no choice during my first semester because I was failing my general chemistry class as a pre-med student. I cried after receiving my first exam grade with the fear that I wouldn't be able to even apply to medical school. I really thought my life was over. After a couple of days of panic, the only option left on the table was to talk to the professor and ask how I could do better in the class.

I went to Dr. Schmehl’s office hours, introduced myself, and told him that I want to do better (all while tearing up). It is embarrassing to think about it now, but I was quite desperate. The professor and I went over the first exam together and we found a pattern of my mistakes. He recommended I focus on work problems in the textbook and suggested some study strategies I could try.

After the first office hour visit, I felt relieved. I was no longer nervous talking to him, so I went to his office almost twice a week with questions. My exam grades got better and better over the semester. He sent me an email after the final, saying “You did extraordinarily well on the final exam. Your grade for the semester will be an A. Congratulations.”

This was a tremendous experience because I not only received a good grade from him but I also knew that he genuinely wanted me to succeed. I talked about my dreams, goals, and background during his office hours, and I felt like he really knows who I am.

It was a good motivation to put more time and effort into the class because I knew that [my professor] wants me to do well and knows that I am capable. When you know someone wants you to succeed, you don’t want to let that person down.

I want to be honest that I don’t talk to all my professors in every class. Sometimes I don’t feel the need or have time to do so. I usually speak to a couple of professors per semester. However, whenever I talk to them, I feel much better.

Recently, I’ve been talking to a couple of professors in the psychology department. I became quite unsure if I want to pursue medicine or psychology after graduating from Tulane. Knowing that some professors mentioned that they were once pre-med in undergraduate, I went to their office hours and asked them about their experience. I questioned why they choose to study psychology and what is it like to be a professor. I also asked what they believe I should do with my life. Even though they cannot give me the ultimate answer to the last question, their insight greatly helped me to organize and narrow down my ideas. The professors I spoke with were surprisingly open about their own experience and blatantly talked about the pros and cons of academia.

Yes, I understand that it can be challenging to approach professors at first. You might find them intimidating or scary because they are professors and we are students. You might think they will laugh at you when you ask stupid questions. However, professors are people who enjoy talking to us and want to help us. They are more than willing to help us to succeed in classes, Tulane, and life.

If you feel awkward going to office hours, you can start asking questions before and after the class. This could inspire confidence and maybe you'll feel a little more comfortable talking to them. You can always email them and set up an appointment if you’re unavailable during their office hours. Or you can say hi if you see them at the crosswalk on Freret or anywhere on campus.

The first step is always the hardest, but just try it. You'll feel much better if you do!

Dr. Wyland showed this video in my class, and I found it hilarious. It's a video in which a professor talks about common misconceptions about office hours. Enjoy!

What are Office Hours?