Communicate with your faculty (A message for new and continuing grad students.)

Prepare for a successful Fall semester: Communicate with your faculty (A message for new and continuing grad students.) 

The new semester is starting and we know that first and second year graduate students are generally immersed in classes, while more advanced doctoral students are working on experiments, preparing for exams, writing the dissertation, preparing for the defense, and preparing for a job.  As part of the writing, studying, and preparing, it is important to note that all graduate students (regardless of status, whether in the first year or in the last semester of PhD candidacy) must maintain strong levels of communication with your faculty members. If you attended the 2012 Summer Success Institute, you heard about the importance of working with and connecting to faculty in several of the presentations.  Earlier in the year, we posted 5 things that you should do to be successful BEFORE classes begin.Now that classes are starting, let’s talk about 5 things that you should do DURING the semester as they pertain to faculty/student interactions.

  1. Go to office hours for your faculty members … all of them. The Guaranteed 4.0 Book by Donna O. Johnson and Y.C. Chen describes the POH – Professor’s Office Hours as a must. Talk to your professors about the content that they taught in class. Talk to them about updates in the field (you are graduate students, therefore you should be able to “see” your research and topics in everyday life, in the news, in the latest journal articles, etc.) Discuss your understanding of what they are teaching.  [Faculty pay attention to the people who are coming to their office hours. Ask questions! Discuss the research! If something isn’t going well, and the faculty are asked about the student, if they say “well, _____insert name ___ never came to see me,” then there will be an assumption that the student isn’t serious.]
  2. Always keep your appointments! If you are going to be late, contact the professors in advance. If you need to request a change of appointment date or time, contact them in advance with the request. Once you make a change, do not continue to make changes. Try to maintain your scheduled appointment. [Regularly missed appointments make faculty wary of trying to make future accommodations for students. Don’t fall into the category of having a reputation of missing appointments.]
  3.  Go to the department’s seminars and ask questions. Faculty need to see that you are engaged in scholarly pursuits. [All graduate students need to attend the departments seminars and colloquia, even when it is not “mandated.”  Schedule it like a class. This is an unwritten rule.]
  4. Go to your advisor’s and committee members’ research talks. Whether the talk is within your department, or in other departments, or even at a conference that you’re attending, you should be in the audience. You should also go up to them after the talk and let them know your thoughts, ask additional questions, share some praise, or ask about something that wasn’t clear.  [This is an unwritten expectation.]
  5. Make sure that you talk with all of the faculty in your department regularly. It’s not good enough for you to know your faculty. They need to know you. This is simple. They should know you beyond what your admissions file says, and beyond what  the grade beside your name says on Blackboard or their grade book.  This connection doesn’t need to extend to sharing personal business. The faculty in your department should know about your research interests, your career aspirations, your skills, and your ideas. You, the graduate student, need to open the lines of communication and make plans and time in your schedule to talk with your faculty. Some faculty have open door policies, some will talk with you by appointment, and some will have conversations with you at departmental events.

Don’t view talking with the faculty as a chore. They are people too! Enjoy the character-building exercise of taking time to know people of different academic ranks, and people with a variety of personalities. Strengthen this attribute. It will serve you well, both as a graduate student, and as you progress in your career. Have a great semester!


The text content of this post was compiled and written by the staff of PROMISE: Maryland’s AGEP and may not be copied without referencing the PROMISE organization, as “PROMISE: Maryland’s AGEP”.

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PROMISE AGEP Online Information by PROMISE: Maryland’s AGEP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Published by Renetta Garrison Tull

Dr. Renetta Garrison Tull is the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at the University of California Davis. She previously served as Associate Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives at The Graduate School at UMBC, and was Professor of the Practice in the College of Engineering & IT. She was Special Assistant to the Sr. Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs & Director of Graduate and Professional Pipeline Development for the University System of Maryland (12 institutions). She is the Founding Director of PROMISE: Maryland’s Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) –, and Co-PI for the USM LSAMP. Her research on global diversity in STEM continues, and she is an international speaker, covering nearly all continents, for groups and conferences such as the World Engineering Education Forum, the International Federation of Engineering Education Societies, and the Pacific Sciences Congress. Her personal website is: Connect with her on Twitter: @Renetta_Tull;

26 thoughts on “Communicate with your faculty (A message for new and continuing grad students.)

  1. We will have the “When Faculty say ‘X’ …” seminar at UMBC on Friday, October 12, 2012, 4:30 – 6:30 PM. Our focus will be on WRITING. You may post your *anonymous* questions for the faculty panel here.
    To post anonymously, just leave the email, name, and website fields blank. You may also use a pseudonym for your name, e.g. “Another grad student.”

    We will give the faculty your questions prior to the event, and they will answer your questions during the seminar. A full, hot dinner will be served. If you are from UMBC, please RSVP at: If you are from another school, please RSVP by sending email to with your name, department, university, and number of people in your party.

    FYI: A movie, “Even the Rain,” will be shown after the dinner session as part of the Latin American Film Festival. The film will begin at 7:00PM, and it is free of charge.


  2. I am a second year grad student and I keep hearing professors say that we should be better writers, but they don’t tell us what we’re doing wrong. My papers just come back with a grade, but I don’t know what to correct. I think that I write pretty well, but what are the expectations of the faculty for graduate students? Is there a list that we can refer to?


  3. Does/could this seminar discuss strategies for better dealing with faculty who are not open to communicating with graduate students in a respectful and professional way?


  4. I was wondering if the faculty would happen to have advice on how to begin writing a paper-is there a particular way that they would advise students to organize their ideas and information before writing that would facilitate the actual writing process?

    I would appreciate any help!


  5. What can students do if they have to read papers and participate in class on a topic that is of NO interest at all to them?


  6. I have a class with a professor that I would like to sit with and discuss some of my issues in class with, but I have written emails to this professor without any response and s/he doesn’t have posted office hours. What do you think is the best way to approach this issue or should I just give up and try to work my issues on my own?


  7. There are times when my advisor does not express his/her expectations clearly. What would be the best way to express this concern?


  8. How early is it to share a draft of a publication with your advisor? Would the advisor be displeased if you shared the draft with other members in the research group first?


  9. Suppose your advisor strongly supports an edit that he/she has made on your thesis/dissertation but you and other qualified editors (such as other professors in the department) oppose it. Would it be bad to simply go with your belief on the best way to write it, or should you wait until you and your advisor come to an agreement on how to write it before you finalize your document?


  10. I thought this seminar was very useful as always. In particular, I found the advice about getting started with writing from a blank screen to be very useful. I have often heard and given advice on how to get through intense reading by treating it more like a conversation between you and the author. In the case of writing it is sometimes easier to get thoughts out in conversation. Having a conversation with someone about what you are writing has been helpful for me in the past but I had never thought of it as a strategy to deal with writer’s block.

    Also the general comments about getting feedback from professors and advisors were helpful as I sometimes find myself wanting feedback and guidance but not knowing what is appropriate to ask for.


  11. I loved that human-centered computing was well-represented at this seminar (both in the audience and on the panel). I learned a lot about professors’ expectations of students and that I can expect certain things from my professors. The panel gave many helpful tips for writing and I learned of ways I could practice my writing. Overall, great panel and I hope to see it again in the future.


  12. I was very pleased to see Dr. Morris from the CSEE department at the panel. As an engineer, I feel that being able to communicate well is stressed enough in our courses. I enjoyed listening to Dr. Morris’s remarks because I was able to better understand the expectations of engineering professors. I thought that the panel did an exceptional job in answering questions about publishing in graduate school. The most useful piece of advice for me was recording conversations and e-mails that pertained to your research. I did not realize that little things such as these can help the writing process tremendously.


  13. Thank you for holding this event again this year. Although we focused primarily on similar topics as previous years, our new panel provided us all with new insight about what professors expect from their students and how students should handle certain situations. I will definitely use the advice given about using computer software to overcome the difficulties of writer’s block once I start writing my thesis. I want to give another thank you to the entire panel for sharing their thoughts and experiences with us to make us better students.


  14. This was a very helpful seminar! Personally, I have some trouble with writing, particularly with the pre-writing and planning process. It was nice to hear advice from people outside my particular discipline, and I also enjoyed the different points of view that the speakers on the panel provided. One particular discussion that particularly resonated with me was the talk about “blank-screen phobia,” which refers to the difficulty of getting started a paper, and how it’s made even harder when staring back at you is a blank page on Word. The advice offered to overcome it, things like saving online chat conversations and emails, was absolutely brilliant, and they are tips I will definitely consider and put to use should these moments of difficulty arise. This was a great seminar; many thanks to PROMISE for organizing a great event!


  15. This seminar was outstanding. One of my favorite ideas from the seminar was to not waste time stressing or agonizing over the work in front of you, just do it. There have been times where my work load seemed insurmountable and caused anxiety. Now, instead of allowing myself to dread the work in front of me, I start one assignment without giving thought to the others behind it. This allows for the completion of the assignment to be treated as a small victory and motivates me to start the next. I have also utilized some of the writing tips given out by the panel. Though I haven’t started a blog, I have found other ways to make myself write; this includes instant messages with friends. These techniques have made transferring my thoughts onto the screen considerably easier.

    I want to thank the panel for their advice and participation in the seminar. I would also like to thank the PROMISE program for holding such an event.


  16. This seminar was great. First, would like to thank PROMISE for the food. Second, I appreciate the panel lending their time to speak about these important issues. I have learned a lot about how to present your drafts to a professor as well as several techniques to conquer “writer’s block.” I also liked the advice of writing regularly. Writing everyday is an important discipline, one that I do not practice at all. Doing this would definitely make it easier to get my ideas on paper. Overall, it was a good seminar and I would definitely recommend having it in the future.


  17. This seminar was very helpful and provided general tips for every student in every discipline. One tip I found to be very helpful was the interaction with students from other disciplines, provides critiques and/or insight for my research and writing. Also, Dr. Young gave many helpful resources to contribute to the quality of a paper. Dr. Lewis brought handouts to help with technical writing skills, data analysis, and overall tips to get started. The three panelist together explained the importance of writing as a skill and to hopefully increase the impact factor for publications. Overall, I learned information from this seminar that will help improve my writing skills and how to approach my faculty advisor for ideas and critiques directly related to writing my research.


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