Advice on how to talk to a professor?

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Jeanna
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11 Sep 2012, 7:16 am

Hi everyone, I posted this in the general discussions page before I realised there was actually a separate page for college so I decided to post it here instead and see if anyone else has had this problem before.

I'm majoring in psychology and taking a class on sensory processes and perception now, and it's really interesting. Particularly because I've had a lifelong obsession with eyeballs and vision since I was around 6. The thing is, there are lots of questions I want to ask my professor now, but they aren't in the textbook or talked about in class, so I don't know how to bring them up. Is it okay to just talk about them during consultation? I don't want to annoy my professor or anything, but sometimes I can't tell if I am.

I get really anxious when I think about talking to people I don't really know, and by the time it's my turn during consultation, I usually lose my nerve completely and forget how to phrase my questions and not know where to look. It's getting ridiculous. I have questions from two lessons ago that I still want to ask, but I just don't have the nerve to ask them now. Besides all that, I also really want to do a masters program on cognitive psychology or something pertaining to vision and psychology so I think I should ask my professor for advice, but I don't know how to go about doing that. I think I'll probably just get really anxious and shut up and flee.

Does anyone know any good way to get over this/any good advice as to how to talk to a professor?

Thanks in advance


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Last edited by Jeanna on 11 Sep 2012, 12:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

DannyRaede
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11 Sep 2012, 9:41 am

Go up to them after class, and ask your question. Simple as that. As long as you don't ask 20 questions, or keep them from leaving, then you should be good. If they start to pack up their stuff and begin to walk out, times up. Thank them and leave.

They are paid to educate after all, so you shouldn't worry about asking questions. You could also just email them your question.



Jeanna
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11 Sep 2012, 10:09 am

Okay, consultation hours are after class so I don't think I'll be keeping him back.

I still don't really know how to start off a question I want to ask, so I'm assuming it's alright to just get straight to the point without any preliminaries? The 20 questions bit might be a bit problematic eventually because I have a rapidly growing list of things I want to ask. I'm on 14 questions now, but I don't think I should email him because the last time I did, I forgot to reply, and I don't really want to risk doing that again.


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Nonperson
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11 Sep 2012, 11:34 am

In my experience profs seem to like it when students want more in-depth info on a topic (except if you're challenging their cherished beliefs, like the guy in my thread just now). You just need to be careful about collaring them when they're busy and talking too long when they need to leave - be ready to have to cut the conversation short and have it when it fits into their schedule. I've done this plenty of times, though, and almost always the prof reacted positively and seemed to enjoy the chance to geek out about his/her subject a bit. Most of them seem annoyed at most students' lack of interest, so it sets you apart positively.

Just watch for signs like short answers, getting ready to go/fidgeting around/not seeming to pay attention (annoyed or busy prof) vs. looking at you consistently, smiling, giving long, detailed explanations, going off on tangents, relaxed posture (probably a happy prof). Just start out with a general statement ("I'm really interested in [subtopic]" or "I was just wondering about [general question]") and if he seems encouraging, go into more detail.



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11 Sep 2012, 11:46 am

For asking in-depth information on a special interest topic, I suggest talking with your professor during their office hours rather than after class. Questions to pose after class should be shorter ones, mostly clarifications, in my opinion. Obviously, a professor has to go somewhere else after a class has ended, whether that may be to their office or to another class, so you probably will tend to get more rushed, cut-off answers if you ask after class.

Office hours are a great thing, though. Choose some day when there aren't any other students going to office hours. Clearly, if students are there for actual coursework questions, they have first priority. But if there aren't any questions from other students (going on a Friday afternoon or right after a test or right at the beginning of the year before the coursework becomes overwhelming are ideal), you should have your professor's time all to yourself to ask your questions. If you go during office hours, don't feel that you are "bugging" the professor by making them talk to you rather than do something else. So long as there aren't any other students, your professor should be dedicating their time to your questions. This is not only because, as Nonperson said, most professors tend to genuinely appreciate and enjoy talking about their research area with students, but professors are mandated to have a set number of office hours each week. They can be doing other work if no students show up, but they MUST stay in their office and they MUST attend to any student should one visit.

I am a big believer in office hours (if you are at a smaller school and have more one-on-one time with a professor). I went to office hours countless times during college, both for actual help and to talk more in depth about neuroscience. I, like you, always worry that I'm "annoying" someone or get nervous if I forget how to phrase the importance of a question I have. But you should quickly get a feel for whether a particular professor makes you feel comfortable or not.


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Jeanna
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11 Sep 2012, 12:25 pm

Nonperson wrote:
Just watch for signs like short answers, getting ready to go/fidgeting around/not seeming to pay attention (annoyed or busy prof) vs. looking at you consistently, smiling, giving long, detailed explanations, going off on tangents, relaxed posture (probably a happy prof). Just start out with a general statement ("I'm really interested in [subtopic]" or "I was just wondering about [general question]") and if he seems encouraging, go into more detail.


Thanks for the how to start off part, I'll try using that the next time I have a class with him. The part about watching out for signs is where it gets a bit problematic though, because I'm pretty sure my prof is an aspie too. So while I can kind of use those to gauge for NT signs of annoyance/lack thereof, I don't think I can use them on him. To be honest, most of the time I'm not really looking straight at him or vice versa. He does wander off onto other related topics and he sometimes starts looking up things I ask though, so I'll take that as a good sign.

OddDuckNash99 wrote:
For asking in-depth information on a special interest topic, I suggest talking with your professor during their office hours rather than after class. Questions to pose after class should be shorter ones, mostly clarifications, in my opinion. Obviously, a professor has to go somewhere else after a class has ended, whether that may be to their office or to another class, so you probably will tend to get more rushed, cut-off answers if you ask after class.


I'll try asking him if I can make an appointment during his office hours. I never actually thought of doing that before, I suppose this way I won't end up making people wait, and I might be able to have more time to organise my thoughts so I can phrase my questions right. I don't think many people in my university actually make appointments with their professors during office hours. I really don't know why.


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0utsideLookingIn
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11 Sep 2012, 3:08 pm

If he agrees to meet during office hours (which is a great suggestion) you might ask if you can send your questions (or the most important ones if you have a ton) by email so he can review them before the meeting.

That way if there are resources he'd like to recommend or something he wants to print out for you as a reference, he can do that head of time. It might also make you more comfortable to have the questions already worded the way you want rather than having to remember what you wanted to say during the meeting.



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11 Sep 2012, 6:50 pm

Jeanna wrote:
I don't think many people in my university actually make appointments with their professors during office hours. I really don't know why.

For whatever reason, this seems to be a common thing. I don't understand why office hours are so underused, either. They are there for a reason! But I think lots of NT students feel more comfortable with a peer tutor, which I do NOT. Why wouldn't you go ask the person with the doctorate? I think it's silly to entrust your grade and understanding of course material to somebody who is your age. I think peer tutors are fine if you have a professor you really can't stand because they don't "get" your special needs, and I also think it's fine to ask friends for help understanding something if your professor just can't show you the way you need to see it. But in general, going for help during office hours is far superior to using a peer tutor. Plus, since so few other kids went to office hours, I usually was there by myself, which is what I preferred. I always felt embarrassed to ask for help on things related to my NVLD in front of other students, whether at office hours or in class.


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izzeme
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12 Sep 2012, 1:43 pm

good professors will enjoy a more in-depth discussion about their topics, but be careful about doing so during class, as they usually have a set program to follow, that allows for only short questions during lecture.
i would indeed go up to the professor during the coffee break or directly after class, and ask him for a more private discussion, perhaps he is willing to schedule some time for the topic or your question in a later class, if you warn him in advance.

if you feel uncomfortable just walking up to the professor, you can always try sending him an email with the request