How to build relationships with faculty
Staff Columnist
Friday, August 25, 2017

The academic rigor at Wake Forest can be daunting.

As a student who was probably used to making all A’s and B’s in high school, it can be eye-opening when you receive that first test or paper grade with a note reading “come to office hours.” And after you do a quick google search of your professor and find that they have written 14 books, worked for 12 years at the US State Department and speak four languages, that one-on-one meeting can become even more dreadful. But trust me, we’ve all been there and you will be glad you went to office hours after you go. That’s because if there’s one thing that Wake Forest does right, it’s that it selects professors who actually care about their students and want to help them succeed. Bad grades are going to be a part of your college career, but what you do about them is what the professors really care about. If you sit, sulk and never ask for help, your final grade will probably be close to the one you received with the note “come to office hours.”

But if you engage with your professors and utilize them, the personal growth and development you will gain from learning from your mistakes will ultimately help you succeed.  That being said, you don’t have to only go to office hours after a bad test grade. Getting to know your professors and visiting their office hours allows you to get to know them on a more personal level. Professors are required to hold office hours, so they want you to come. If you can’t make the designated time, email them and set up an appointment. You aren’t inconveniencing them and you have the opportunity to ask that extra question you didn’t get to in class or dig more into a reading or lecture. Take advantage of the fact that you have the opportunity to engage with some of the most intelligent academics in the given field in a one-on-one setting. It can be  fun to learn about their research and career path while also getting some help on a problem set from class. Especially when you begin to narrow down your major, it can be inspiring to hear about the benefits and detriments of a certain major from someone in the department.

In addition to office hours, engaging with your professors in the classroom is equally as important. One of the best things about Wake Forest is that your professors actually know who you are. Since the class sizes are small, almost all of your professors will know your name and get to know a bit about you. It helps make the learning experience more personalized and allows the professor to help push you as a student.

On the flip side, however, this also means that professors notice when you’re late or miss class on a regular basis, so arrive on time and don’t skip. Otherwise, you’ll most likely get an email asking where you were. One of the best and easiest ways to show your professors that you are committed and serious about the class is to show up and be on time.

The next thing is to be engaged in class and participate. Participating shows the professor you are paying attention and are attempting to learn the material both inside and outside of class. Show your professors that you care about what you are learning and want to be there. It may not be what you want to study down the road, but those classes can still be interesting and the grade still counts towards your GPA. Speaking of grades, participation grades are real. So speak up and stay off of your phone. However don’t let grades be your only reason for engaging with your professor. Participating in class is also helpful for internalizing the information. When test day rolls around, if you’ve been keeping up with your reading and engaging in class, then it will prevent you from having to cram the night before.

Ultimately, it is important to foster relationships with your professors not just to get a better grade, but for the future. Your professors are the ones you go to for letters of recommendation, advice on graduate school and even for job connections. Keep this in mind when you are communicating with them. While some professors can be casual, this doesn’t mean you should treat them like your BFFL. When emailing professors, don’t write it as a text. Handle it more formally and professionally. Remember these are some of the smartest people in the industry, so it is always better to sound polite than rude. Overall, if you’re respectful of your professors’ time and put in effort, they’ll be respectful of you and help push you academically towards success.