How do I make sure that my professors know me (online, non-sync program)
August 20, 2021 11:55 AM   Subscribe

I am starting up a fully-online, non-synchronous course. How do I make sure my professors know who I am, for future letters of recommendation?

I'm usually a self-sufficient student who researches the answer rather than asking questions, so I really need all the tips.

How often should I make contact with my professors?
What kinds of things should I communicate with them about?
Does anything else help, like calling them?
Or some little quirk, like having a distinctive signature line in my email?
Should I use the school email address, or use my personal address?
posted by xo to Education (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I teach on a fully online degree. It probably depends exactly how your course is taught. Do you have any opportunity to interact in a live online setting with your professors e.g. webinars, tutorials? This would obviously be a big advantage.

In general: The students I remember are ones who participate both broadly and deeply with tasks (both synchronous and asynchronous), and whose assessments I find impressive.

It is often successful students who get in touch to ask for clarification around assignments, to check in, who respond promptly to any communication I send out that needs a reply, who turn up for scheduled online stuff like webinars, who are engaged with their peers.

I would be extra impressed if a student communicated with me to ask for guidance on further reading and relevant areas of research beyond what is provided in the learning content, or students who want to share their ideas and get help on taking them further.

It would be very weird to me if a student contacted me beyond the appropriate channels, either school email address or through the online learning environment. Having something quirky like an email signature might catch my eye, but it would not incline me towards remembering a student or help in the development of an actual relationship with them.
posted by Balthamos at 12:21 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

I teach online (and in-person) courses. Agreeing with Balthamos that the students who stand out to me are the ones who make an effort to participate, demonstrate engagement, treat peers (even/especially in online forums) with respect and courtesy, and who reach out to me individually to ask questions and seek assistance. As well as those who are good communicators in general.

"Quirks" of the type you suggest would not, for me, mean anything.

In rereading my comments, I see that these criteria are essentially identical for online and in-person classes, at least for me. It's true that online education creates hurdles for getting to know people, but responsible, ethical, respectful, engaged conduct is universal, at least for me.
posted by Dr. Wu at 12:28 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Agreeing with Balthamos. I am a professor. I don't like to be contacted about questions that are answered in the syllabus, but I enjoy talking with students about questions they have about assignments . For instance: "Here's my planned topic /argument/outline/ for the final paper. Am I on the right track? Use opportunities to talk to professors during office hours if available. This can also be a chance to chat more informally. Personally, I like to talk about the old days, so questions like "how did you get in to this field of study?" can be a good way to engage some professors in conversation. I rarely forget students if I have interacted with them during office hours.

Use the school email address and use professional, respectful language. Not doing so would be like using your personal address or informal language at work. More importantly, problems with spam and phishing means that on my campus, email from non-school email addresses is most likely to wind up in the spam folder.
posted by frau_grubach at 12:38 PM on August 20, 2021 [5 favorites]

Oh yeah, to add to frau_grubach's good advice: communicating in a timely, sensible manner. Last minute or late night/weekend emails really make me feel the student is not respectful or engaging conscientiously in their studies.
posted by Balthamos at 1:03 PM on August 20, 2021

Response by poster: communicating in a timely, sensible manner. Last minute or late night/weekend emails really make me feel the student is not respectful or engaging conscientiously in their studies.

Is this a widely-held opinion among professors? (Not the last-minute emails, but emails sent at night or on weekends?) I work, and I am a parent, and I get a lot accomplished at nights and on weekends. I believe that an online, non-synch program is designed for people like me. If professors will judge my respectfulness on the basis of email time stamps, would you advise using an email scheduler to send messages during business hours?
posted by xo at 1:18 PM on August 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

For me, it's the combination of late-night/weekend with last-minute that's problematic. I don't mind a late-Monday-night email on an assignment due Friday; I answer it on Tuesday and all is well. On an assignment due Tuesday, however... it reads as poor time management combined with lack of awareness that instructors are human beings with human needs like sleep.

Outside that, though, I don't look at email timestamps. When folks do their homework is up to them, and conditioned by lots of things that are way none of my business (despite the opinions to the contrary of learning analytics proponents).

Back to your question, though: do very well on major assignments and be prepared to jog the instructor's memory about them when you ask for a rec. This goes double for groupwork! Do not slack, do not steamroll everybody else, be a good teammate! It's vastly easier for me to rec you for a job if I can honestly say that your groupmates speak well of you -- I have yet to field a reference phone call that didn't involve some version of "how well does this person work with others?"
posted by humbug at 1:53 PM on August 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not at all- email when you have the availability. I more meant students sending urgent emails about assessment at 11pm the day before the deadline, or getting impatient if an email isn't replied to immediately when it was sent at 5pm on a Friday evening.
posted by Balthamos at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a college instructor and I would not negatively judge a student for late-night or weekend timestamped emails (that is, as long as I'm not being requested to answer them during non-working hours, although there are emergencies where this would be fine). I agree with what's been said already. The one thing that has made students that I've taught but never met face-to-face stand out in my memory, for things like letters of recommendation, is genuinely thoughtful responses on writing assignments. A lot of one's personality can come through in writing. It's easy for instructors to tell a rote response from one that shows genuine intellectual curiosity / engagement / creativity. Of course, this depends to some degree on the kinds of tasks your instructor assigns.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a professor; here are my opinions. :)

- Make contact with your professors when you need to ask them something or discuss something with them. Follow their instructions for the best way to contact them; this should be specified in the course outline, syllabus, etc. In terms of actual frequency, it really depends on the nature of the course.

- Your first priority for communicating should be substantive questions related to the assignments, followed by questions to aid your understanding of the course material, followed maybe by questions related to your career or the program or about their research (that you actually want to know the answers to). Don't ask questions that you know you could find the answers to yourself; that just gives your professors the impression that you don't know how to find the answers yourself. Don't contact your profs just to chat; that is weird and boundary-crossing unless you have already developed that kind of relationship. Your professor may want to communicate only by email, but if it's an option, some questions may be more efficiently addressed in a video- or audio-chat (your prof may already be planning to hold on-line office hours -- in which case, show up with your questions!).

- Whether phoning a professor is appropriate or not is going to depend a lot on the professor. Check the course outline for instructions on how the prof wants you to contact them. Don't phone unless you have a substantive reason and do phone only during the hours specified (or business hours in the prof's timezone, if none are specified).

- Create an email signature with at least your full name. You could also include your program and year level if it's possible that this would not be the same for all students in your course. Since this is all-online, it might be interesting to include your general geographic location. Depending on the nature of the course (e.g. if it's a professional-development thing), including your current occupation or other status notation related to the field relevant to the course could also give your professors a "tag" to remember you by. (E.g., if you already work as a basket production engineer second class at Baskets Inc in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and the course is Advanced Underwater Basketweaving Techniques, including your job title, employer, and city in your sig would be relevant and would give your professor some context for what they can expect you to know already [which can be useful when answering questions] and whom you might know in common. Similarly if you already have another degree from another school, that could be nice to include.)

- Please use your school email address.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:50 PM on August 20, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Lots of good advice above.

Save a sample of your best work for this class, like a paper or written reflection. (Something you get a good grade on, obviously!)

Later, when you ask for a letter of recommendation, send your resume/CV and attach the work to help jog the prof's memory.
posted by BrashTech at 3:08 PM on August 20, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I've taught asynchronous online classes, the only memorable (in a good way) students were the ones who wrote interesting essays. That's not necessarily the same thing as A essays. You can support an argument well and write competent English and get a good grade, but if your argument is boring and obvious and your writing has no personality to it, it's going to blend together with all the other essays I have to read that week.

That doesn't mean it's worth being gimmicky or advancing silly arguments just for the sake of being interesting, of course, but - bring a fresh perspective to your topics, bring your personality, bring some passion, spend more than 30 seconds thinking about your papers' titles.
posted by Jeanne at 10:01 PM on August 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

Speaking as a college teacher, none of the "quirky" things would matter in the slightest. If your teachers hold synchronous office hours, go to them and push yourself to ask meaningful questions rather than just try to research everything yourself. Do solid work & don't focus on figuring out & trying to do what the teacher wants out of you - because what they want is for you to do your best & get something valuable to you out of your time in their class.
posted by augustimagination at 11:51 PM on August 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am not a professor, but I am a graduate student who met all of my professors online due to COVID (we're now in person again but it's my thesis period, so there's not much occasion to interact physically!). I received a small 'studentship' departmental award recently, which I'm taking as a sign that multiple members of the course staff (as they convene to decide who gets awarded) remember me positively. (This sounds so obnoxious—I'm sorry! Just trying to accurately represent my perspective and any limitations my advice might have.)

I'd first say to be as professional and timely in written communications as possible. This seems ordinary and obvious. But I actually suspect the behaviors below are relatively rare, or at least notable enough that professors will take note. By the way, I use my school email address only.
  • I err on the slightly formal, courteous side of things when sending emails, e.g. 'Dear Dr. X, I hope you're well. I'm writing to ask if…' and thanking them for their help with 'I really appreciate the guidance!'. (A note: for women academics, IME it's especially appreciated if you use their title initially. I'll drop the title if they respond and sign off with 'Best, Sarah'.)
  • I clarify if a request is time-sensitive or not. In my experience, professors and administrators are extremely willing to help when given a generous timeline, e.g. 'In advance of the presentation I'm giving next week, I wanted to ask for tips on…'
  • If the professor has office hours, I show up to clarify course material, assignments, etc. at least once. I get the impression that professors are annoyed if someone never shows up to office hours but requests special one-off meetings.
  • If I'm requesting a meeting, I'll send a small agenda in advance or something that describes what I want to talk about. If it's a question/problem I'm having, I'll say something like: 'I would love your advice on…So far I am planning to/thinking of…and I've consulted/checked/tried out…already.' Showing that I've done some thinking/work already, and I don't expect them to hand me the answer, seems to be very effective. One of my professors commented positively on this.
  • If I am reaching out for a meeting, I will also volunteer to send a calendar invite and Zoom link (which is what my university uses) to make the process easier for them. If we're in different timezones, I'll do the timezone confirmation in the email and be explicit if I mean 11am PST or EST.
The second thing: I do reach out just to build a rapport (not always because I need help), but I try to be as substantiative as possible. I think it is helpful to kind of play the game and reach out a bit more than feels natural in order to build a relationship, but it has to feel genuine and not fake. I've sent an email to a professor after a pre-recorded lecture, essentially saying: 'I was really interested when you brought up…and it's relevant to what I might want to do for my thesis. I read two of the papers you suggested and I'm wondering if you can recommend more reading focused on…?'.

I did want more reading recommendations, but to be honest: I also wanted to communicate that I pay attention to details, I'm a self-starter and will follow up on recommendations, and I am eager to learn more.

I don't know how relevant this is to you, but my third tip would be: Be generous and detailed in giving feedback to other students. We were occasionally asked to give asynchronous feedback on each other's work (e.g. adding comments to someone's writing). My program also had a number of synchronous sessions to discuss course material, or presentation sessions where every student would share work and others would add commentary. In those situations I tried to give substantiative, helpful, affirming comments. I set a goal to say something about everyone's work, especially if no one else was jumping in or I could see someone's work had very few comments on it.

Professors often seem disappointed when no one is talking, contributing, asking questions, etc—they'll notice if you step in to fill the silence, consistently and helpfully. Obviously there's a balance here of being present/visible and not talking over others, and I tried to be very mindful of taking up too much space.

Lastly, I do think that professors remember work output and the quality of what you submit. I really tried to deliver great written work and great presentations that showed I was absorbing the advice they gave and the norms of my field. I assume that great work and especially consistently great work is memorable even if someone is more quiet/introverted. In a lot of assignments I tried to push things a little further—e.g. advancing an ambitious argument even if I wasn't sure I could fully support it (although I did ask for help with making my argument as rigorous as possible). For one of my papers, my professor acknowledged and appreciated the ambition and it led to a really great discussion of how I could extend that into my thesis research.
posted by w-w-w at 4:51 AM on August 24, 2021

« Older Getting a vaccination in the USA   |   Hit me with your best info/resources on Covid... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments