5 Things to Never Say When E-mailing a Professor

By: Susan Parker

Communicating with faculty is an integral part of your learning experience at college. Apart from interacting with them to get a better understanding of course material, you’re also supposed to get familiar with connecting with senior figures in a formal setting, which would definitely help you in the outside world.

As with any other form of social interaction, your approach to issues and general attitude when communicating are very crucial determinants of how willing people will be to help you. And one thing that’s certain is that you’ll need your professors’ help at various points in time. Whether it’s with course material or with other academic pursuits like being your references, you really want to be on their good sides.

Email is likely the most common way you’ll be communicating with them, so it’s also the way you’ll make or break your relationship. Here are 5 tips on what to avoid when emailing your professors to be sure you’ll not leave a negative impression:

  1. “I didn’t do well on your test/exam. Can I retake it?”

One of the fundamental ethical points of being a professor is the obligation to give all members of the class an equal chance to do well. If the professor agrees to give you another test, then she would be duty bound to do the same for everyone in the class or everyone who asks for the same thing. The answer will always be ‘no’ so instead of asking that, it’s better to explain the reasons why you didn’t do well and ask them for help in rectifying those issues in any other tests or exams if it has to do with your understanding of the course material or something else that they can assist with.

  1. “I was too busy to meet the deadline. Can I have an extension?”

This is similar to the first one in that it involves the professor giving you an unfair advantage over other students.

“Telling a superior – whether that’s your boss at work or your college professor – that you were too busy to do your duty is offensive,” said Michael Corkery, President of Pool Guard USA. “It reflects poorly on you as a student to fail to do assignments for a professor’s class and then claim it’s because you were ‘busy’. They are busy themselves, and the other students like you who submitted on time were certainly also busy. If they can keep up with their duties, so should you.”

Unless there is a genuine emergency like sickness, this request is likely to be denied every time, and even when you have a genuine reason, it’s best to get in touch with them as early as possible before the deadline.

  1. “Get back to me soon.”

When asking for anything from your professor, you must keep it at the back of your mind that apart from what you say, how you say it is also very important, and can determine what kind of response you get and if you’ll get one at all. It’s okay to indicate that there’s a time element in your request, but it’s definitely not fine to sound demanding and pushy. Instead, take the approach of being polite and thankful. For instance, instead of the sentence above, you could say “Please advise me at your convenience,” after letting them know if there’s a time factor.

  1. “Professor X taught this course this other way”

Every professor has their own style of teaching, and they probably only settled into it after many years of trying different approaches. If you have a piece of advice you’d like to offer regarding their approach, then you should do it politely, but merely saying that someone else does things another way would mean nothing and probably just annoy them. Ultimately, it’s a matter of tack, and if you feel you have to reference another professor, do it by referring to particular stats or elements in their classes, like how more people participated in the lectures.

  1. “I didn’t know we had anything due in this course.”

There is no better way to acquire the title of “unserious student” than saying this to your professor. As a college student, you’re expected to be able to keep track of your courses and know when an assignment is due. Most professors make verbal announcements in class and even send emails, so saying this only makes it loud and clear to the professor that you have not been following the course or that you’ve been skipping classes.

Susan Parker is a writer and tech geek. She volunteers for local environmental conservation programs and writes stories online about things that inspire her.

One comment on “5 Things to Never Say When E-mailing a Professor”

  1. Oh, I wish someone like you, Susan, had written this kind of a blog post when I was in my first semester. I am still embarrassed by all these horrible emails, that I’ve sent to my profs when I was a freshman… Anyway, thanks for sharing!

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