Communicating with Faculty

A sure way to be successful in college is connecting with your faculty. One way of doing that is communicating with them by email or attending their office hours. Read on for tips on sending a great email and making the most of your office hours visit. 

Email and Office Hours

Address the person you are emailing. Find out from your professor how they would like you to call them (they might have this included in the syllabus, so check that first). If you’re not sure, use Dr. Z or Professor Z

  • Start your message with a greeting such as Hello, Hi, or Dear. Don’t use Hey! even if you are close to your professor. They’re not your friend...yet (maybe after you graduate!)

Identify yourself. You don’t need to do this every time you email but if you are emailing a professor for the first time, let them know who you are and what section of the course you are taking. 

  • Be clear as to why you are writing to them, whether it is a question you have about an upcoming assignment or that you are letting them know you can’t attend class. Don’t assume that your professor will know what you are talking about.

Be considerate of their (and your) time. If you have a question about an assignment, ask at least 24 hours ahead of the deadline. Don’t expect your professor to respond immediately to an email that you sent at 1AM. They may not see your message until the next workday.  

  • Check your syllabi to see if faculty have included guidelines on when they will reply to emails. Remember that faculty have other obligations in addition to teaching and so may choose to not respond to emails after certain hours or even over the weekend. 
  • If you are scheduling a meeting, provide your professor with multiple time availabilities so that you are not emailing back and forth. For example, you can say “I am available Monday from 12:30-2:00pm or Tuesday/Thursday after 10:30am.” 

Always include a subject line. A simple description of the message will suffice.

  • Examples: Question about exam in CS 140; Absence from PSYC 101 last Tuesday

When sending attachments, include a message to go along with it. Don’t send a blank email as it may appear to look like a malicious attachment and may be deleted. 

  • You should include a sentence that starts with “Please find attached [name of attachment]” or “I have included [name of attachment] to this email.”
  • Label your attachments with your name so that it is easy for your professor to find them later. 

Below is an email template you can use:

Subject: Class Section – Description (Example: PSYC 101 – Office Hours)

Dear Professor Canaras,

-    I have questions about the next assignment that is due this upcoming Wednesday.
-    I write to inform you that I will be absent from class on Friday. I will get the notes from a classmate and turn in the homework assignment before I leave campus. 
-    I would like to schedule a meeting with you since I have another class during your office hours. I am available on Mondays after 12:00pm and Tuesdays/Thursdays from 11:30am -3:00pm.

Thank you,
Larry Canton
Class of 2020

Create an email signature. This is a quick and easy way to “sign” your email messages and is particularly useful if you forget to “sign” your email before you send it. Include your first and last names and your class year. 

Proofread your email before you send it! Make sure words (especially names) are spelled correctly and that all the information is included. If you are sending an attachment, make sure it is added to your email and that it is labeled in such a way that is identifiable to your recipient.

Use your SLU email to send university-related emails. A good rule is to keep your work/school email separate from your personal accounts. This will not only make your inboxes more manageable, but your professors are more likely to respond to emails that are sent from your “stlawu.edu” address. 

  • If you don’t already have a personal email account, you can set one up for free (try Gmail, Hotmail, or iCloud if you have an Apple account). Use your personal account for things like subscriptions to streaming services, online shopping, banking, etc. You’ll also be able to continue to use this email account once you graduate from SLU since you will lose your SLU email after you leave.

Reply to emails with acknowledgement and/or confirmation. If you write an email to a professor or staff member with questions and they respond with answers, it is good practice to send a reply back to them, acknowledging your receipt of the message and to thank them for their help. If you are setting up an appointment and have been provided with a time to meet, write back with a confirmation message so that the person knows you will be showing up.

  • If you need to cancel an appointment, write to the person you were planning to meet with as soon as you know if you can’t make it. This not only keeps them waiting for you but also can free up their time for other meetings or work.

What are office hours? 

  • Every professor has time set aside for students to drop in and talk. This is a chance for you to ask questions about course material or an upcoming assignment, quiz, or exam; go over and ask for additional feedback on graded and returned work; review assignments that you’re about to turn in; discuss future academic plans (especially if you’re considering a major or minor in their academic discipline); or to talk about what’s going on in your life that you want to share.
  • Office hours are typically listed in your course syllabus (along with the professor’s email address and office location). Some faculty may also have their office hours posted on their doors or in the SLU directory.
    • You can find your professors’ contact info on the SLU directory by going to the SLU website and go to “Resources for: Current Students” link near the top of the page. Then you can click on the red “Faculty/Staff Directory” button on the Resources page. 
  • If you can’t attend their posted office hours due to having another class at that time or another scheduling conflict, email your professor and ask them if you can schedule a meeting. Professors understand if you can’t make their posted office hours and may make arrangements to meet with you outside those times.

Why should I use office hours? 

  • If you have questions about the course materials.
  • If you want to go over a draft of an assignment before the deadline.
  • If you missed class and need help getting caught up. Remember that it is your responsibility to get caught up if you were absent from class. Professors will likely meet with you, but they are not expected to “teach” you all the material that you missed. 
    • Be proactive: get notes from a classmate, check the syllabus ahead of time (if you know you will be absent), submit any assignments that are due and do the assignments that were assigned the day of the absence.
  • If you need a letter of recommendation. It is a good idea to meet with your potential recommender and ask them in-person for their support in your application, as well as letting them know of your interests in applying for the opportunity. 

Attending virtual office hours or a virtual meeting

Turn on your video camera, if possible. It can be hard to speak to a dark screen, so be respectful and turn on your video camera. It will also make it feel more like you are attending the meeting in-person. 

Be mindful of your surroundings.  If you’re meeting in a public area (i.e. Student Center, library), consider using headphones to block out the external noise. If you have headphones with a microphone, it will help the other person hear you better. If you’re meeting in your room, make sure your background is tidy (your professors want to know you but don’t need to know you that well!)

Q.    Where can I find my professor’s email/office hours?
A.    This information is likely to be found in the course syllabus, usually on the first page. 

Q.    Do I need to be this formal when writing an email? 
A.    Absolutely yes! Learning to email is professional development. You’re not likely to get a pleasant response if you send a one-line message to your future boss, so it’s better to get into the practice of writing professional emails now.  

Q.    I don’t have a specific question but I want to drop in my professor’s office hours. Can I still go to them?
A.    Yes! Professors like to know their students and might be interested to learn why you’re taking the course and what you’ve enjoyed about it so far. Even if you don’t have a specific reason to drop in to their office hours, you can introduce yourself and help them get to know you better. Taking the opportunity to speak with your professors may help you in the future when you are applying for off-campus study, internships, or jobs where recommendations are required. Professors who know their students well are able to write stronger letters for those students than the ones who only interact with their professors in class.