Engaging with Faculty
The day-to-day interactions that you will have with your professors, teaching and course assistants, university staff, and fellow students are an integral part of your ongoing education outside of the classroom. Practicing good communication skills is important for a lot of reasons, and also helps you connect better with the people you’ll meet along the way. Engaging with faculty, both in- and outside the classroom, is not just beneficial—it’s an imperative.
Interacting with faculty will help you better understand course material, and will allow your instructors to get to know you both as a student and as a person. You should speak with your instructors not only about course work and class materials, but about your aspirations, goals, challenges, curiosities, hesitations and doubts, and accomplishments. This lays the groundwork for developing your intellectual self, as well as soliciting strong letters of recommendation when needed. Be open and honest with your instructors. Most often you will find they are very receptive.
In addition to the faculty you already know, or in whose courses you are already enrolled, here are some ways that you can find and connect with other faculty who share your academic interests:
- Browse faculty profiles via departmental websites and pages for research centers on campus.
- Search ExploreCourses and look at instructors for courses you’re interested in.
- Subscribe to departmental mailing lists, which will send announcements about talks and lectures, and attend the talks and lectures, after which you can come up to the speaker to start a conversation.
- Read up on news about Stanford faculty, including in The Stanford Report, The Dish, and the Stanford Alumni Magazine.
- Attend faculty office hours (or reach out to them by email if office hours are not posted).
Written communications (such as emails) should be addressed appropriately at the beginning, signed at the end, and use language that is befitting a professional environment. Language used in text messaging, greetings beginning with simply “Hey,” or emails containing only attachments and no accompanying text should be avoided. When first reaching out to someone, use “Dr.” or “Professor” for those with PhDs, or otherwise “Mr.” or “Ms.” at the outset of the email greeting. Afterwards, you may adjust accordingly, following the recipient’s lead (some will inform you outright how they prefer to be addressed; some will write their preference in their signature or sign-off). Good written communications also include following up and responding in a timely manner (timely usually means within 48 working hours).
For in-person communications, it is equally important to develop good verbal and interpersonal communication skills. This includes active listening, responding to questions (even if the answer is “I am not sure” or “I do not know”), and coming into conversations prepared, on time, and with intentionality. Preparing in advance of in-person meetings allows those meetings to be the most productive for everyone involved. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Academic Advising is a planning process that helps students to approach their education in an organized and meaningful way…
—National Academic Advising Association