Relationships With Professors in Grad School


The relationship between professors and students is important.  The development of strong relationships between professors and students may result in the accumulation of more knowledge, the achievement of a higher grade point average, and the promise of post-graduate support in the form of letters of recommendations or even job opportunities.

In short, developing strong relationships with your professors may enhance the graduate school experience making it fun, enjoyable, satisfying, and successful.

What do Grad School Professors Expect from their Students?

To build a strong relationship with your professors, it is useful to understand what many of them might expect of you as a student. College professors expect their students, especially their graduate students, to be independent, responsible, and trust-worthy adults. They expect them to do good work, participate in class, and take responsibility for their own actions and outcomes. While professors care about their students’ grades, they do not necessarily feel responsible for ensuring students achieve them—rather, professors place the onus on students to do all of the things they need to do to earn their academic success.

At the same time, professors want to be available to students to help them navigate the sometimes confusing and challenging world of graduate level academia. Most professors want their students to succeed, and are willing to do whatever they need to meet their students half-way. They typically work hard on preparing lectures, exams, and assignments, and they expect students to do their part by participating in class, studying hard, and completing their work on time and with integrity.

Five Things to do to Develop Strong Relationships with Your Grad School Professors

By knowing what many professors expect of their students, you can begin to take steps to develop strong relationships with your professors. The following is a list of five things to do to help you develop a strong relationship with each of your graduate school professors:

1. Be a good student in and out of the classroom.

Attend all of your classes, arrive on time, participate, and complete your work with discipline and integrity. Be kind, respectful, and considerate to your classmates and professors, even if you disagree with their opinions or don’t like them personally.

2. Make appointments to meet with your professors during their office hours within the first week of classes.

Prior to the meetings, read the syllabus for each class, make a list of questions, and develop some idea of what level of commitment you’re willing to give to each class. Then, during your appointments, introduce yourself, ask meaningful questions, and tell your professors what they can count on from you during the semester.

3. If you have specific needs, tell your professors within the first week of classes.

Let them know if you anticipate struggling with any of the material, if you have a learning disability, or if you have any special needs or requests. Also, if you know you will be missing any classes during the semester, let your professors know early on and plan on reminding them closer to the date(s) of absence(s). Once you have been absent, take responsibility for obtaining missed notes, assignments, and lectures.

4. At the beginning of each semester, thoroughly read the syllabus for each class.

Syllabi act as a contract between professors and students. Most professors devote a significant amount of time making their syllabi comprehensive, informative, and user-friendly so students are fully aware of the rules, guidelines, and regulations governing the class. Attention and adherence to the syllabus will promote a smooth, productive, and successful semester.

Take note of each professor’s attendance, grading, and participation policies and make sure you understand the materials, classwork, and homework required for each class. Throughout the semester, follow the syllabi’s coursework outlines and ask questions if you feel lost or confused. Syllabi, when used appropriately, allow you to take charge of your own learning.

5. Treat your professors as partners in your education rather than as people who are responsible for your success.

Actively engage in class and consistently complete your classwork, homework, and larger assignments on time and with integrity. Be prepared for classes, stay awake and alert during classes, and use your classes to develop a deeper understanding of the courses’ subjects. Also, treat your professors with kindness and respect by using class time to learn, taking positive advantage of your professors’ office hours, and utilizing resources made available to you.

By taking these five steps and acting as a responsible student, you will likely develop strong relationships with your professors. If taking these five steps fails, listen closely to your professors’ guidance and ask questions about how to best succeed in class. Most professors are committed to their students’ success and are willing to develop relationships with students who work hard and demonstrate a willingness to take responsibility for their education.

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