How to interact with your professors (including Sheldon Cooper)

Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) is a Caltech theoretical physicist on the popular CBS television series, The Big Bang Theory

When professors are portrayed on television, the result is usually an awkward depiction of a true college instructor. Sure, sometimes Hollywood inspires us, but we’re kept laughing with portrayals such as Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), Ted Mosby (How I Met Your Mother) and Ross Geller (Friends).

Through these depictions, we learn that the students probably aren’t the only ones in the classroom who might be nervous. These characters have done everything from speaking in a fake British accent, to poking fun of names and introducing themselves in the wrong classroom.

These professors remind us that — hey — teachers are humans too. Ross worries that he is boring, Ted shows up in the wrong class and Sheldon—well, he’s just Sheldon.

If you happen to be a bit apprehensive regarding your interactions with professors, the suggestions below will demystify their expectations and ease your next conversation.

1. Go to class. It really is that simple. If you are absent, they will probably notice, especially in smaller classes.

2. Don’t make excuses. If you miss a class or deadline, don’t explain that you ate bad pizza or that your goldfish died. Professors distribute course outlines in advance for a reason. Plus, they weren’t born yesterday and will probably know if you are lying.

3. Respect their passion for their discipline. Professors often complain when absent students ask if they “missed anything important.” Instructors go to great lengths to develop their curriculum. In their minds, everything is important.

Your best bet is to apologize and outline the action you’ve already taken to catch up, such as reviewing the PowerPoint slides, speaking with classmates or reading the textbook. Then ask if they have any other recommendations.

4. Write well. Craft professional emails and formally address them. Avoid plagiarism. There’s some nifty software out there that makes it really easy to spot — and nothing jeopardizes your rapport faster.

5. Ask questions. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to clarify a fuzzy concept. Instead, participate during class or stop by their office. Specific questions (e.g., “I do not understand the last step of the problem.”) will help them craft a better response compared to vague inquiries (e.g., “I don’t get it.”). Ask about effective study strategies and mention if you are meeting with a tutor. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Professors (with the exception of Sheldon Cooper) are eager to help, and all you have to do is ask.

Billie Streufert is the director of Student Success at Augustana College in South Dakota. With more than 10 years of experience in career and academic advising, she is passionate about helping individuals discover and achieve their goals. She is eager to connect with you via Twitter, LinkedIn, and her blog.

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