A big part of university life is your relationships with your professors and teaching assistants (TAs). Not only will you be seeing them (almost) every day in class, but a good relationship with them may also help your professional and academic career!
It can take a while to understand how to interact with professors and TAs both online and in person, especially if you are someone who is nervous and shy. But, luckily, managing those relation- ships is not as daunting as you might imagine.
How to address your profs and TAs
Profs: Though it may seem trivial, an instructor’s title represents their accomplishments, status and the respect that they deserve. If they have a PhD, you can address them as “Dr.” but the simplest way is to address them as “Professor.” Many instructors don’t actually have PhDs, but if they are teaching a university class they are inhabiting the role of professor and can be addressed as such.
TAs: This is a little easier. Most TAs are still students themselves so they don’t have any title in their names. Addressing them by their first name is just fine.
For those of us who are shyer in person, email is the best way to contact your profs and TAs. Keep in mind, it may take them a day or two to get back to you, depending on their workload. But if you don’t see any replies after 48 hours, don’t hesitate to remind them in person or send a follow up email. Many profs outline their specific availability in the class syllabus.
Here is how to email a prof:
Dear/Hello Professor Last Name,
I hope you had a good day/weekend (optional, but nice to have).
I’m in your Class Name, Section Number that meets on This Day (so they know who you are). This is the question I have/the help I need (why you are emailing). I’ve looked in the syllabus and at my notes from class and online and I asked someone else from the class (what have you done to try to answer this question yourself?), but I’m still not sure. Could you please look into ... and help me with ... (let them know what you’re asking them to do).
Some more general things to keep in mind!
They will treat you like adults, so act like one: Unlike in high school where a teacher’s permission is needed before you can use the bathroom, your instructors do not mind, or care, what you do in class as long as you aren’t being disruptive. If you need to use the bathroom or leave briefly, quietly make your way out and try not to disturb other students. Your instructors also won’t be chasing behind you to make sure you remember to do your homework. Every student is responsible for themselves and their work.
They are human as well: There might come a time where you feel the urge to rant about your instructors on RateMyProfs. That is ultimately up to you, but just keep in mind that they are humans too. During midterm and final seasons, they often get inundated with student emails and assignments waiting to be marked while still teaching a large class. Be kind and cut them some slack!
Stand up for yourself: That being said, some frustrated instructors may cross a line and it’s important that you speak up for yourself. Don’t be afraid to challenge their ideas in class or reach out to your prof if you feel like your TA’s grading has been unfair. If you can’t find any support there, talk to your academic advisor about this.
Reach out to them: Lastly, and the most important thing to remember: always, always reach out to your instructors! Most times, they are just the loveliest and most knowledgeable human beings you’ll meet. Visit them in office hours if you are feeling stuck — even if you don’t know how to ask for help. Heck, visit them if you just want to chat about anything! Oftentimes, they love to have you there to chat with and you might learn something about how to navigate your academic career or how this one research project led them to the most bizarre places on earth.