The way you communicate with your professors is critical: if you come off as harsh, clueless, or irresponsible, it will affect how your professor responds!
In emails, a professor or lecturer should be called “Professor.” You can use this to address assistant professors, associate professors, research professors, or full professors. However, there are special cases such as teaching assistants, lab assistants, and other faculty members.
In this article, we will describe these special cases in detail. We will provide samples on the appropriate email etiquette when writing to your professors, that is:
- How to address your professors correctly.
- How to format your email.
- How to write professional emails not waste your professors’ time.
Let’s dive in!
Address Your Professors Correctly
As mentioned in the introduction, it is better to call your professors and lecturers with the title “professor.” However, there are some special cases to take into account.
In a formal letter, the general rule is to use the most prestigious title. Here are the academic titles ranked from most prestigious to least prestigious:
If you need to write an email to a teaching assistant, lab assistant, or another faculty member. Here is how you should address them:
- Anyone holding the rank of professor (professor, associate professor, assistant professor, adjunct professor, emeritus professor, etc.) may be addressed as “Professor” or “Professor + Surname”.
- Non-professors who hold a doctorate (teaching assistant, lab assistant, or other faculty members) may be addressed as “Doctor” or “Doctor + Surname”
- Teaching assistants or lab assistants who do not have a Ph.D. may be addressed as Mr., Ms., or Mrs.
- Some professors prefer to be called by their first names, but others do not like this. Never do this unless they explicitly invite you to do so. If you are totally at a loss about what to call a professor, it is better to be overly polite than overly familiar.
Now that you know how to use the appropriate title to writing emails to your professors, let me show you some examples.
How to Email Your Professors for a Research Opportunity: Sample
The first example is a sample of an email to apply for a research opportunity. When asking for a research opportunity, do not forget to mention your interest in the research group, explain why research is important for your goals, and ask to schedule a meeting.
Dear Professor Jones,
I hope this email finds you well. I am a second-year student at university majoring in mathematics. I would appreciate the chance to talk with you about your research in applied statistics and about possible undergraduate opportunities in your lab.
My interest in applied statistics, confirmed my intention to develop my research skills in this field. We could schedule an appointment or I can drop by your office hours on day and time.
I have attached my resume and unofficial transcript. Please let me know if there is any other information I can provide. I look forward to talking to you soon.
Sincerely, << Your name >>
<< Your email address >>
Do not forget to attach your transcript to the email. If you want to learn more about how to craft such emails, I recommend this article: How to Email a Professor About Research Opportunities.
How to Email Your Professor About Missing a Laboratory Session: Sample
Sometimes, laboratory assistants or even professors prepare materials for laboratory sessions. To prevent unnecessary work, it is sometimes required to send an email before attending a laboratory session. Below is an example of an excuse of absence letter sent to a Chemistry professor.
Dear Professor Jones,
I will be unable to attend Chemisitry laboratory session tomorrow (Wednesday, August 30) due to recent illness. The syllabus indicates that your office hours are between 1:00-3:00pm on Friday. Would you be available in your office this Friday so I can receive the lab assignment and ask for clarification on the material presented in class? I appreciate your time and look forward to speaking with you soon.
Sincerely, << Your name >>
<< Contact information >>
Use the Proper Email Etiquette
There are guidelines students should follow to write an excellent email:
- Write a descriptive and clear subject line. Professors receive hundreds of emails a week. It is crucial to write a subject line that contains the course name and a brief explanation of your motives. For example: “Analysis 3: Request for meeting” or “Algebra 2: The homework can’t be solved”.
- Use your university email address. It looks more professional, and you are less likely to end up in the spam folder.
- Check your spelling and grammar before sending your email.
How to Format Your Email
In many ways, writing to a professor is no different from writing a business letter.
As shown in the examples above, here is how you should format your email:
- Address your professor: “Dear Professor + Last name” or “Dear Dr. + Last name.”
- Write your message: make sure it is easy to understand and do not go into unnecessary details.
- End your mail with your signature: “Sincerely + Your name and last name.”
Do Not Waste Your Professors’ Time
Professors are incredibly busy, and they don’t have the time to respond to all their emails. If you don’t waste your professors’ time, you are more likely to get a response!
Here are a few tips to maintain a professional relationship with your professors:
- Make sure it is appropriate to email your professors. If you have problems with your homework, you can usually contact the teaching assistants or ask during office hours.
- Do not send emails to ask questions you can answer for yourself.
- In undergraduate courses, it is sometimes not appropriate to email your professors about missing a class. For those classes, it is better to contact the teaching or lab assistant.
- Do not talk about your personal life.
- Be concise in your email!
- Do not use slang, abbreviations, or emoticons.
The Bottom Line
You should treat electronic communication the same way you would treat a written letter. When writing to your professors, you should not forget to use proper grammar, formal salutation, and use the professor’s title.
To sum up, here is the email style you should adopt:
- Listen well during the introduction class. Your professors will tell you how they want to be addressed.
- Format your email as if it were a business letter.
- Use your university email account.
- Write an informative subject line.
- Do not waste your professors’ time with trivial requests.
If you want to learn more about when it is appropriate to write to your professors, I recommend this article about the different activities of college professors. It will give you an idea of the role of professors within the university. Some requests (such as an email to miss a class, to drop out of a course, etc.) might be better addressed by teaching assistants, laboratory assistants, faculty members, and faculty staff.