This is the post your professors and TAs don’t want you to read. Only they do. Let me sum it up in one sentence.

Bother your professors.

And your TAs. When you get an assignment back, whether you like the grade or not, go and bother them. Ask about their feedback, get more feedback, and try and ask how you can do better next time. Today’s post is a guide on how to bother your professors without making them want to leap out the window upon seeing you at their office hours, and the immense rewards you will reap from doing so. Let us begin. 

1. Start With an Email

I know office hours is open to everyone, but it’d helpful to send your professor or TA an email to let them know that you’d like to stop by and ask some questions about your assignment. If you have some specific questions you’re concerned about, you can ask them there, and it’ll give them time to prepare an answer, rather than being put on the spot. Academics are a skittish lot, so it’s best not to surprise them. Also, if you’re inquiring about changing the grade of an assignment, avoid using the word “Mistake” unless there’s a clearly demonstrable error. It’s better to ask questions, like “Why did I get this question wrong?” or “What were you looking for in an essay question?” than to make claims. Simply put, you wrote one assignment, they graded forty. Odds are good that the grade you got is the grade you earned (though not always, everyone makes mistakes).

2. Arrive

Robin Williams, Dead Poets SocietyThis is the second essential step to bothering a professor. Actually go and bother them. I know that in the digital age, it’s tempting to do everything over email. Believe me when I say you’ll get better results by actually interacting with them in meatspace. Let them see you and recognize you as a human, ask your questions, ask follow up questions, and write down some of the answers that are useful. If there’s a line of people there also waiting to bother the prof (which there inevitably will be, because you, like the thousands of readers who hang on my every word here at Labyrinth will carry out my missions fervently), be respectful of their time. Odds are the professor has somewhere they have to be after their office hours, and they want a chance to be bothered by everyone.

3. Profit

You will learn things about the course material and how you can do better. If you apply these things, it’s likely that you will actually begin to do better. That’s the point of office hours, but it’s just scratching the surface. Sure, we can all stand to improve, and the help they can give you will improve your grades indirectly, but it also helps you build a relationship with them. that relationship is going to count for a lot when the time comes for them to write letters of reference, if you’re applying for a job in their department, or doing anything else that’s under their purview. they’ll go “I know that person, they’re a really dedicated student who worked hard in my class.” That relationship makes you a face, rather than a collection of grades and assignments. Finally, it can improve your grades directly. One of the best things you can have is your TA or professor look over your assignment again. Having them see it with fresh eyes, rather than when they’ve been grading a stack of papers can result in them focusing more intently on it, and bumping your grade (this is a double edged sword, though. They’re more likely to notice any mistakes as well. The best way to deal is to simply be okay with that).

Seriously, feedback is gold. Quality feedback is platinum. Quality feedback from people who understand the material and the assignment better than you is flat out ambrosia. Take advantage of it while you can, and enjoy the fact that your professors, pretty much all of whom are brilliant, are not just willing but excited to take your questions and comment on your work. This is not a luxury enjoyed by many people not in your position.

5 Constructive Questions to Ask Your TA

  1. How can I do better on the next assignment? 
  2. What kinds of things are you looking for in this question?
  3. How can I improve my efficiency in studying the material?
  4. Where is my assignment the weakest?
  5. What questions should I be asking that I’m not?

Jim Tigwell is notorious for bothering professors, so much so that it is now his job. Return the favour by bothering him on Twitter.

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