Professors hold a lot of weight. They grade your work and are the source of recommendation letters for graduate school and for jobs. It is well worth putting in the effort to ensure that they get to know you. Most professors first come into contact with you in class. Here’s how to ensure that you are off to a good start.
Don't be Late
While you can't control traffic, parking, or other mishaps, try your best to avoid tardiness. Being late is disruptive. Everyone in class stops and looks at the person who comes in late, including the professor. Some professors view lateness as a sign of disrespect and/or a lack of interest.
Where You Sit Matters
Sit toward the front of the room. It signals interest and engagement. Sitting toward the front will help you focus on the lecture and discussion and will help you avoid most distractions as they will likely occur behind you and out of sight. Professors notice students who set in the front third of the room. If you want to be noticed and remembered (and you should), sit here.
What You Do in Class MattersStay focused on classwork when you're in class. Seems obvious, but students often engage in unrelated activity in class. Non-content activities such as checking Facebook, e-mail, texting, and “resting your eyes” signal that you are disengaged from the material and simply don't care. Moreover, there is a vast literature in cognitive psychology that shows that people cannot multitask. So if you're texting in class it means that you're not attending to the course material. Then why attend? How professors interpret and manage students they perceived as disengaged depends on their own personality and comfort level, but most notice and many are offended by it.
Speaking Up MattersShow your engagement in the course by speaking up, when relevant. Prepare by reading beforehand. When the professor asks a question and you feel like you can contribute, raise your hand. If you have a question about the material or something the professor has just said, raise your hand. Remember to wait to be called and observed any specific class protocol that your professor has outlined, but faculty welcome interaction from students. Some students remain quiet because they don't want to stand out, but your current and future success hinge on standing out. This is particularly true when it comes to asking professors for recommendation letters that will allow you to get the job that you desire or to get into graduate school.
Make Contact When You Miss Class
If you miss class it's a good idea to check in with the professor has to what was covered. Try to remember to never ask if you missed or will need to make up “anything important.” The fact is that professors usually work hard to prepare for every class and so they view material they cover as important. A better approach would be to say that you missed class and according to the syllabus class was to cover X. Is that accurate? Were other topics covered?
Introduce Yourself and Talk to Professors
Simply say, “Hi,” before or after class. A quick follow up question after class, if the professor looks like he or she is not busy, can make him or her remember you (and can help you learn something new). For example, ask about a point in class, mention that you find a particular point interesting and ask how you can learn more, or simply say that you enjoyed class and found X interesting. Make yourself something other than a body in the room. Just a friendly hello can open the door to positive future interactions. Try not to stop at hello. Get into the habit of talking to professors by engaging in small talk at the beginning or end of class or visiting them in their offices. Lots of professors encourage students to come by just to say hello and most enjoy these opportunities. Of course pay attention to office hours and if you're stopping by the time other than office hours, check to see if it's okay to visit.