In this age of informal social media, it can be unclear about how to address your professors et al. The “Hey there” salutation doesn’t go over very well and use of first names comes by invitation. Check out the following piece written by former peer advisor, Faisal Kirdar ’14, which remains current to this day.
“Emailing Your Professor”
Of the many essential skills in college, knowing how to write your professor is one that should not be overlooked. Whether for claiming the last seat in a class, getting answers to course questions, or generally making a positive impression, a strong email can go a long way. The following is a simple framework from which you can base your own emails.
Starting out: can’t go wrong with “Dear”
Some say “Dear” sounds overly formal. It’s not! Using “Dear” is the most direct way of showing your professor an essential level of respect. While “Hi” can be appropriate in causal settings with your friends, never use it when emailing your profs for the first time.
Dear Professor Taylor,
If you have never written to or met the professor in question, the best way to start the email is with a quick self-introduction. Keep it basic to things like your name, class year, and major (when applicable).
My name is Faisal Kirdar and I am a Senior majoring in Neuroscience.
Why are you writing?
A good second sentence will get right to the point: why are you writing? This is where you state your purpose. This should also be stated in the subject of the email in no more than 4 words.
I am writing to inquire if it is possible to go over a few course topics; in particular I am having trouble understanding molecular orbital diagrams.
If you have a question, be sure to ask it
Often the reason you’ll write your professors is to ask a question or several questions. It’s important not just to say I am writing to ask you about molecular orbital diagrams; you must also give something specific to which your professor can respond. If the question is very specific and can be answered quickly via email, ask it. If it requires more interaction, then the question should be geared toward scheduling an appointment to do so.
Is there a convenient time for us to meet this week?
Arm your professor with relevant info
Provide as much relevant information as you can. If you are requesting a time to meet, let them know your availability. This will make it easier for your professor to respond promptly.
I’m available Mondays and Wednesdays from 12-4 PM.
Tell them what you want them to do
Make it even easier for your professor to respond to you by finishing the note with a clear, polite instruction.
Please let me know what time is most convenient for your schedule.
End with a friendly and polite send off
It is important to end the email on a positive note and further demonstrate your respect for the professor. This ensures a strong impression and in some cases encourages the professor to respond more quickly.
**Additional advice from Dean Brown:
- If you haven’t received a response within a few days, don’t hesitate to resend your email with a note recognizing that they have may missed yours in the deluge of email they receive. Because this does happen, most people appreciate it–I certainly do–when a student kindly brings it to their attention.
- Don’t let an email stop you from contacting a professor, faculty advisor, dean or other source of support. You can always follow up immediately after class with a professor or go to office hours, which will be posted in course syllabi, on office doors, in their emails, or on department/office websites. If you can’t make office hours or would like a little more time than those allow (usually they are short visits), let them know that.