Dana Watson
UCLA Electrical Engineering Department
Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science

Visit office hours early in the quarter. Professors are less crazily busy earlier in the term, just like students, and so it’s easier to find open office hours: less waiting, a less hurried chat.

Meeting your professors helps you in more than one way. You won’t just get a chance to clarify the material and make a personal connection. I teach a better class if I know my audience. If I’m aware of your interests and previous knowledge, I’m likely to speak to you directly in class.

And learning doesn’t happen overnight (well, long-lasting learning!). If you are confused about something early in the quarter, ask for help right then. If you put it off, more confusion builds up. It also may take a few weeks for the explanations to sink in, so give your mind time to settle all the information—before you are hurried by midterms and final exams.

Most professors are happy to talk to you, but if you have a bad experience, brush it off as an exception. If you have two or three bad experiences, you might be very unlucky, but you might also take some time for introspection. How are you approaching those professors? Are you doing something that is off-putting?

What might that be? Well, I’m sensitive to too much familiarity AND too much obsequious flattery. I went to UCLA myself, and I am completely sympathetic with your experiences here, but I’m not 18 years old, and I wasn’t born yesterday. So don’t act like we’re best buddies. And don’t try to get on my good side by being too effusive about how much you love me or the class (Even if you do, it’s just awkward. I mean, who’s good at getting praise? Especially if they are not sure it’s sincere!).

There’s a middle ground. Be somewhat formal without dressing up and speaking in pre-written sentences. Show interest in the material by asking questions about it. These questions can certainly ask for clarification, but they might also raise questions about the relationship between something that came up in class and something else you’ve read or been interested in. Important skills in college and beyond are the ability to become interested and the ability to see connections among various ideas and fields of study.

And whatever you do, don’t say, “I couldn’t make it to class on Thursday; did I miss anything important?” Imagine all the different negative messages that sends to your instructor!