Postgraduate study can mean a different kind of relationship with academics. You may well find yourself in smaller teaching groups; find that you need more advice on your assignments and certainly when it comes to your dissertation or final project you will be looking to your supervisor for advice, feedback and guidance.
Without a doubt, talking to academics is vital to your studies but it can be intimidating. So, we’ve asked some academics from across the University for their advice on making contact with them and getting the most out of meetings.
Make use of office hours
Academics and lecturers usually hold weekly office hours where students can drop by to talk to them about anything, from asking about things you don’t understand to getting help with your assignments. The hours are usually listed on your course handbook, on their staff page or you can just ask at the end of class.
“In the School of Maths, every academic has an office hour when students can turn up without an appointment to talk to the academic. If the student wants to book an appointment outside an office hour we ask the students to contact the academic by email. Academic staff are expected to reply to all such emails within two working days.”
Prof. Louise Walker, Professor in Mathematics
Book an appointment
Academics are often really busy, what with giving lectures, marking papers and doing their own research, so if you can’t make their office hour, drop them an email to book an appointment.
If you reach out to them, most are more than happy to accommodate you, and it can mean you get to have a much more in-depth chat.
“Academics are busy people: we do many things besides just giving lectures! Most of us are normally more than happy to talk to students whenever they drop by our offices (particularly if it’s something that is urgent), but – if we’re really busy – we might ask you to arrange a mutually convenient time or during our office hour. The best way of contacting me is via email – I am (sadly!) addicted to checking my email and will usually reply fairly quickly.”
Dr Charles Walkden, Senior Lecturer in Pure Mathematics
Know what you want… and what to expect
Make sure you know what you want to discuss before you show up. Knowing exactly what you want to find out can help you get the most out of the meeting. If you are looking for feedback on a piece of work you should expect to be challenged. Try not to look at it as criticism and learn how to respond in a positive way – by questioning further or accepting you may have missed something.
Visit other academics
If you are writing your working on an assignment or planning your research you are allowed to go and chat to academics other than your course leader for advice and guidance. They can be a useful point of contact for reading suggestions so if there is someone with relevant expertise then why not go and see them? But remember to drop them an email first.
“I think students really must just be brave and knock on the door and, overwhelmingly in my experience, will receive a positive welcome. If they want to discuss a particular academic issue or question, I always find it very useful for them to think carefully about the issue, do some reading around it, so they might be in a position to discuss in detail rather than simply come in and say please help me with this.”
Dr David Brown, Senior Lecturer in American Studies
Ask the right people
Academics are busy people so make sure they are the right person to contact. For admin questions, it is often better to contact your department’s student support staff