With the start of classes being a few weeks away now, it’s a good time to share some etiquette on how students can put the best foot forward with faculty. A few years ago, a faculty friend of mine emailed me this article, U Can’t Talk to Ur Professor Like This. This might be especially worth sharing with your ’23 students, who might not know the rules. I have adapted some of the main ideas for the Wake setting:
ALWAYS call your faculty member Dr. [Last Name] or Professor [Last Name] – never use Mr./Mrs./Ms. [Last Name]. Dr. or Professor are the proper titles. If they tell you it’s OK to call them by their first name, that is fine. But unless/until they do, they are Dr. to you, always and forever.
If emailing, you need to introduce yourself, use polite language, and close warmly. This means opening with a “Dear Dr. Jones,” and closing with a polite send off (“Thank you,” “Sincerely” etc.) and signing with your first and last name so your faculty member knows who you are (a faculty member could have five Scotts among all the classes she teaches, and the way our Wake email addresses are constructed does not always make it obvious what one’s last name is.) Goes without saying, your grammar and punctuation need to be correct. Do not use a casual or cutesy tone, and no use of shortcuts like UR for “your” etc.
Before you email a professor with a question, do your homework. The course syllabus is essentially the contract for the class – it tells students what the assignments are and when they are due, when tests/papers/quizzes are due, whether there is an attendance or class participation policy, what the grading system is, etc. When a student emails a professor to say “what happens if I miss class today?” and there is a clearly-stated attendance policy on the syllabus, that student is revealing that they have not done their homework in knowing their obligations for the class. That can form a bad impression.
You (or your students) may be wondering Why does all this stuff matter? or Why have what seems like nit-picky rules and formality? The article explains:
“Insisting on traditional etiquette is also simply good pedagogy. It’s a teacher’s job to correct sloppy prose, whether in an essay or an email. And I suspect that most of the time, students who call faculty members by their first names and send slangy messages are not seeking a more casual rapport. They just don’t know they should do otherwise – no one has bothered to explain it to them. Explaining the rules of professional interaction is not an act of condescension: it’s the first step in treating students like adults. [emphasis mine]“
There is a very comprehensive site from one faculty member from the University of Houston, who explains academic etiquette guidelines for his students. Also very much worth a read, as it goes into many more details and situations your students might encounter.
by Betsy Chapman ’92, MA ’94