Academic Etiquette

some tips on how to keep the professor-student relationship smooth

Professor M

"You're absolutely right, but I'm going to need you to repeat it with a lot less 'tude."

“Yo Teach!” That is how a student addressed me in an email once early in my teaching career. He added that his attached homework was “off the chizain.” I discovered the Urban Dictionary that day. His message has since become a funny example illustrating the serious topic of student-to-professor communication. Students should learn to play it safe in their interactions with professors. You can never go wrong by showing respect and being polite, even when it’s not required. Based on what I considered students’ faux pas, I compiled a list of recommendations. Those are especially important, in my opinion, if the student isn’t very familiar with the professor. Here are some events that actually happened and my recommendations for improvement.

Starting an email with “Yo Teach!”, “Hey!” or “Hi there!” is not OK. Address a professor formally, preferably with “Dear Professor,” or at least a simple “Hello.”

Don’t use a personal email address such as “” or “” Use your university email address for your professional communications. If you don’t like it, you can redirect it to your “”

If you see an open door, don’t just go in. Assume that your professors are busy. Sometimes we open our doors because that’s the closest to the outside air that we will get during the day, but it is not an invitation to come in unless you’ve made an appointment. If you need to see your teachers, find out their office hours and come then or make an appointment at a different time.

If you see a closed office door, don’t go in without knocking. When office doors are closed, professors are either gone or so busy that any disturbance will make them turn into the Hulk if they are interrupted. Don’t knock unless there’s a life-threatening emergency. One time a student that I didn’t know simply opened my door and started talking to me. I now lock my door when I need to work without interruption.

Don’t ask “Did I miss anything?” Don’t ask for any information that you can find elsewhere such as what was covered in class the day you were absent (excused or not), email address, office hours, office number, and so forth. Usually classmates, the syllabus, or information posted on office doors will suffice. Your professors will truly appreciated the time you are saving them. Think of 100 students asking those questions each semester. We will find you smart and resourceful. That, I assure you, will go a long way towards that recommendation letter you will need before graduating.

Don’t ask a professor to work during a weekend. Don’t email your professors on a Friday afternoon asking to write a recommendation letter that is due Monday. Give them at least two weeks to write a proper letter. If you are not organized enough to provide that much notice, it will be difficult to recommend you for a job anyway.