Staying In Touch With Professors

Another semester is through, and whether you’re depressed or relieved, you’re probably headed into a term with all-new professors. Figuring out what they want and need will be a challenge (but I might be able to help – stay tuned!), but if there’s one thing you should know by the end of a term, it’s your professors. Whether they were awesome, hilarious grad students or terrifying, knowledgeable tenured staff, your instructors are some of the most important contacts you have – so you shouldn’t stop talking to them the moment the semester ends. Here are some of your best bets to stay in touch with professors

How to Stay In Touch With Professors

staying in touch with professorsIf you had some instructors you didn’t particularly like, you might be asking “Why on earth would I want to keep talking to the person who spent a term making my life miserable?” But hear me out. Some professors teach multiple classes, and you’ll want them to remember you later on. Or maybe you’ll need letters of recommendation for grad school, or references for job apps. Or maybe they were just really, really awesome and you don’t want to lose touch. No matter the reason, you should follow up with your instructors at least once after the semester ends.

Thank You Notes

Even if you never want to talk to an instructor again, consider sending one of these. Teaching seems like a pretty thankless job. It demands time, commitment, emotional investment, and a lot of hard thinking, but students are often only motivated by their grades (and who can blame them, with administrative pressure about GPAs?) Make a good impression on your professor by taking the time to thank them for all the work they put into the past semester.

Be honest, sincere, and brief. If you try to suck up or justify a poor performance, your PhD-holding professor will probably see right through you. And no matter how great their class was, they probably don’t want to read six single-spaced pages of you gushing about it. You’ll probably get bonus memory points if you pick up a $2 pack of actual, physical cards, handwrite your “thanks,” and drop it in their mailbox.

Feeling stuck? Try this template.
When thanking a professor, assume they'll keep the note and give them all the relevant info they'll need to remember you when you reach out again - name, course, and when you took their class. When you get back in touch, they can use it as reference.

When thanking a professor, assume they’ll keep the note and give them all the relevant info they’ll need to remember you when you reach out again – name, course, and when you took their class.

Remember Their Interests

Think of the “thank you” note as establishing a connection – your professor now has a reason to remember you after the semester is over. Now, you have to maintain that connection to your professor and their class. Do this by watching for articles, videos, and other semi-academic stuff related to their areas of expertise. Write down what you know about their research or publication history to remember it, if you must. Then stockpile that stuff to send to them later. Not an article a week, mind you, but sending relevant links periodically is a good way to keep yourself fresh in their mind

Case in point – in my Critical Theory class, we read a text where Roland Barthes (who is a very confusing man) talked about Roman hairstyles in old movies. Most of our class seemed to think it was rubbish, but I recently saw the trailer for the Cohen brother’s new movie Hail, Caesar! and there was George Clooney, sporting the exact hairstyle Barthes was talking about. If you have a little flash of recognition like that, hold onto it and send it along to your professor when you feel communication has grown stagnant.

Ask Questions

This one can be tricky, so be very careful. Professors are (mostly) busy people, and they don’t have a whole lot of free time. Most of them are also awesome, and love helping (former) students. You might ask about research they have done or will be doing, past publications, how content from the course you had with them applies elsewhere in your studies, or even for an interview for another class project that requires one.

Asking questions is a great way to keep in touch with professors. If you're asking for a favor, here are a few things to keep in mind.

If you’re asking for a favor, here are a few things to keep in mind.

The number one thing to remember with your requests is time. Don’t ask for anything that would require hours of extra research, and don’t ask anything on a tight deadline. “Would you have time to sit down with me in the next couple of weeks to answer some questions about your research?” leaves a much better impression than “I really need help with [old course concept] for my midterm in three days, when can we meet?” The higher the stakes or time commitment of your question, the more time you should leave to have it answered.

Rinse and Repeat

If you former prof did you a solid and helped you out, make sure you thank them again (if a little less formally this time) and keep lines of communication open. Your instructors shouldn’t feel used and, quite honestly, you shouldn’t be using them. If it seems like you and an instructor really don’t connect or remember each other, let communication go – it’s not worth it to stay in touch with professors you don’t get along with well.

My final bit of wisdom? Take a hint. I know someone who asked their TA out after the class ended, got shot down, came to them for help several months later, and then asked them out again. Unsurprisingly, their second attempt wasn’t very successful. This probably applies more broadly than failed romantic trysts – know the difference between a professor not having the time to help and not having the desire to help, and be honest with yourself about it.

Do you stay in touch with professors? Any hilarious/horror stories to share? I’d love to hear!