Academic Relationships

Last reviewed: 11/17/2022

Academic relationships developed between students and professors or teaching assistants play a large role in a student's professional and intellectual development. Research has shown multiple positive effects of academic relationships such as increases in achievement, motivation, and learning.

Here are some tips from Columbia students about interacting with professors and developing a solid academic relationship:

How do I address my professor in an email or in person?

  • Be formal. Avoid text message abbreviations and chat language used with friends. A good gauge is to ask, “Would I use this language in a graded paper?”
  • Though not all professors care about propriety, it’s best to be safe for those who do. You might address them as “Professor,” instead of Dr., Mr., Ms., etc.
  • Remember to say “please” and “thank you.”
  • When beginning an email, “Hey!” is not an appropriate opening. Instead, try “Dear Professor [last name].”
  • Get to the point. Be concise and clear about the purpose of the email.
  • Re-read and edit an email before hitting “Send.”

How should I schedule an appointment?

  • Read the syllabus! The process to schedule appointments is usually explained there.
  • Check out their office door. Professors often have a sign on their office door explaining how to make an appointment or when office hours are held.
  • If not currently in a course with that professor, go to the department office; information about their office hours or how to contact them might be posted on a bulletin board.
  • Comfortable approaching a professor in person? Review their class schedule and stop in at the end of class.

Additional tips:

  • When emailing a professor to schedule appointments, give options of availability; this will make it easier for the professor to find a time to meet with you.
  • Remember that professors are busy, too. Give them at least a week to respond.

How can I develop an academic relationship with my professor?

  • Go to office hours to talk about a topic in which your professor has expertise.
  • Ask about their career path, research, or experiences. Ask for advice on careers and programs of study.
  • You might want to try emailing more than one professor. The reality is that some professors may not respond, so reaching out to more than one will improve the odds of establishing an academic relationship with someone whose work you find interesting.
  • Consider inviting a faculty member to lunch on campus, alone, or with friends.

How should I prepare for a meeting with my professor?

  • Do as much research on your own as possible. Do not ask questions that can be answered by looking at the syllabus or reading the assigned chapter.
  • Write down all of your questions so you will not be struggling to remember what you wanted to discuss.
  • Dress appropriately. Business casual wear shows that you are professional.

How can I ask my professor for a letter of recommendation?

  • Be mindful of giving your professor enough time to write the recommendation, at least one month.
  • Be prepared to explain what the letter is for, and provide all pertinent information, including your resume, personal statement, appropriate forms and deadlines.
  • Remember: It is more important to have a strong letter than WHO writes the letter. Approach professors whom you have developed a rapport with so they can really speak to your character.
  • The Center for Student Advising has a mechanism for putting a letter “on ice” called a dossier file. You can use this to store letters from past professors.
  • Anticipate the questions the professor might have for you. Your goal is to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes!

What’s an appropriate way of talking to a professor about my grade in the class?

  • Talk to your professor before the final grade is assigned.
  • Try to approach the topic by letting the professor know that you are concerned about your grade. For example: “Can you give me advice going forward?”