How To Ask Your Professor For Something

Do you need to ask your professor for an extension on a due date or to reschedule a quiz? A little thought before you click send on that email can make a big difference. Here is some advice.

Refer to them using the appropriate title.

If professor Jacobson has a doctorate, it is appropriate to call them “Dr. Jacobson.” Using “Professor Jacobson” may also be appropriate if you know this to be the position in which your teacher is employed, though some teachers are not employed under the title “professor.” (At Roger Williams University, “professor” is usually the safest term if you don’t know if your teacher is a doctor.) Your relationship to your teacher is a professional one, and you are obliged to abide by the courtesies that professional relationship demands. It’s true that some professors don’t care much what you call them. However, many professors earned their titles through significant personal hardship, and many had to overcome and continue to face gender or other discrimination in their profession.

If your professor has told you to refer to them differently than how I’ve described above, always respect their wishes. “Call me Robert,” means that you should call them Robert.

###Use correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This may seem trivial, but it’s not. If your email is riddled with errors, you are communicating to your professor that you really don’t care and that they are not important enough for you to spend the minimal effort required to write a grammatically correct email.

###Take responsibility for your circumstances. There is nothing more annoying than reading an email from a student explaining how they had no choice but to skip the quiz because they had a project due and then lacrosse tryouts and…. Unless you are giving birth or involved in a car accident or some other emergent event, you have a choice. Take responsibility for that choice. Just because you didn’t know your parents were going to come early to pick you up for the weekend doesn’t mean your professor has to cut you a break. When you make an argument that your hands were tied, you come across as manipulative and self-entitled. This is a great way to turn off a professor who might otherwise be willing to cut you some slack.

###Do not indicate how unimportant the class is to you. Telling your professor that you are going to skip their class or explaining that you can’t study for the exam because you have volleyball practice communicates to your professor that your responsibilities to the class are not a priority to you. Asking a professor to go above and beyond for you when you do not meet your minimum obligations in the class is not likely to work out well for you.

###Do not take the professor for granted. A student once skipped my exam and then sent me an email saying nothing but, “When can I make up the exam?” Uh… you can’t.

If you are asking your professor for something, recognize that they are not obligated to do it. Don’t take them for granted.

Professors and teachers, did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments.


Robert Jacobson

R&D-oriented computer scientist, mathematician, and software engineer with broad experience. I have particular interests in compilers, programming languages, and virtual machines; computer vision and machine learning; and algorithm design and mathematical programming.

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