Debunking 7 Myths About Approaching Professors

As a seasoned college student, I have heard plenty of stories about professors. This professor talks too fast during lectures. That professor gives a lot of reading assignments. These professors write tough exams. Those professors don't know who I am and don't care. Most of the time, these statements are myths. But, first-year college students come to class nervous due to these expectations.

Today, I want to debunk rumors about professors. I am currently finishing my degree at Weber State University, but as a new student, I heard many comments and opinions about which professors to take courses from, such as: "I am nervous to talk to Dr. A because they make students feel like they’re not smart enough.", "Professor B makes nerdy comments during the lecture.", and "Dr. C is more engrossed in their research than lecture." However, as I worked through courses and talked with these professors, I found that most of my professors didn't match the student opinions I had once heard. In fact, some of the “unapproachable” professors became my favorite professors and who I would call my mentors.

Don't believe me? Then listen to our outstanding WSU professors! Over the past few weeks, I have reached out to WSU professors to directly debunk 7 student myths about approaching professors. Each of the 7 myths is listed below and followed up by the debunking comments of the professors.

 Myth #1: Professors Avoid Office Hours

Professors Respond:

  • "No. My experience is the opposite. In general, no one comes to my office hours :( ... I am there and available. Please come. If you do not have a question, but just need advice or someone to talk to, that is ok, too."

  • "I thought students avoided them. I rarely have a student come to office hours. They email instead... Come and ask me anything. That's time I've set aside for [students]!"

  • "It's time that I dedicate each week specifically to help students. It's so disheartening when no one shows up. Students who come to office hours tend to do better in my courses." 

Myth #1 is officially debunked.

In fact, it may be the students who avoid going to the professor's office hours. For those who may not know, office hours are times professors set aside outside of class time for students.  Professors will have these hours listed on their syllabus, and most will post their hours in the department or on their office door. Office hours are a chance for you to meet with your professors to discuss a variety of things. You can use this time to get help on course assignments, clarify a course concept, or better get to know their field of study.

But how do you prepare for attending office hours? Come ready to ask specific questions, and don't be afraid to write them down if needed. If you’re confused about a concept, be prepared with your assignment or project either printed out or on your laptop. Seeing your work and the steps you've taken on your own will help the professor understand where you are stuck on the assignment. If you are entirely lost, it's ok. Can’t make it to campus? That’s ok too. Professors will still be happy to help answer your questions virtually or via email.

 Myth #2: Professors Give Busy Work Just For Fun

Professors Respond:

  • "Haha. No. Remember! We have to grade ‘busy’ work, too. No one will sign up for grading unnecessary work."

  • "Definitely not. We have to grade all the work we assign, so it would just make more work for us."

  • “I hate grading busy work. I assign what is essential and nothing else.”

Myth #2 is officially debunked.

True, not all assignments will be enjoyable or easy to complete, but they serve a purpose. Professors' intention behind assigning coursework is to provide opportunities for students to apply what is being taught. The next time you groan about “busy work” assignments, I challenge you to change your perspective, put yourself in the professor's shoes, and ask yourself why the professor created the assignment. Discover how these assignments can be used to help you prepare for exams or see how to apply course concepts to real-world situations. And remember, every assignment you complete is an assignment a professor needs to grade.

 Myth #3: Professors Always Know When Students Need Help

Professors Respond:

  • "Sometimes, I will reach out if I see an assignment missing or a grade plummeting. But other than that, I would not know if you need help or you simply need more time."

  • "Nope. We can sometimes guess, but often it's the students whom we least expect that need help."

  • “I can observe when students are struggling in a lab but I don't always know if students need help.”

Myth #3 is partially debunked.

Professors are not mind readers. Who knew?! All professors see is your performance in the course. Viewing grades, professors can make predictions about which students might be struggling, but they won't know that you need help if you don't speak up. If you are struggling in the course, use those office hours from Myth #1 and take that opportunity to talk with your professor.

 Myth #4: Professors want students to do poorly on exams.

Professors Respond:

  • "No. I personally take great pride in your success, as your success reflects my success."

  • "I hope this isn't true. Nothing makes me happier than giving a student an A!”

  • "I love when students do great on my exams because it means they're learning in my class."

Myth #4 is officially debunked.

Exams are often pathways to higher-level courses and competitive programs at the university, so they're supposed to be challenging. But they aren't in place to fail you. Professors use exams to test your application skills and give you a chance to demonstrate your understanding of the course material. When you feel like you did poorly on an exam, use it as a learning experience. First, take a moment on your own to rework the missed questions. If you are still unsure how to answer or solve the question, reach out to your professor to better understand why you missed questions or made miscalculations. Professors root for students to succeed in class, not weed them out.

 Myth #5: Professors Are Too Busy To Help Students

Professors Respond:

  • "No. I am never too busy for students. Students are my priority."

  • "I believe this [perception] happens because students sometimes show up unannounced … Professors are busy and have many other responsibilities outside of teaching that students may not realize. That is why office hours and appointments are in place."

Myth #5 is officially debunked.

It is true that professors are busy people. Professors may teach various courses and even multiple sections of the same course. They also have many non-teaching responsibilities, such as departmental or university meetings, not to mention their personal lives. Professors do and will make time for their students, but they may not always be available to meet at your convenience. 

Professors set aside dedicated times for students. Showing up unannounced may put you at a disadvantage for time. The professor might need to leave for another lecture, a department meeting, or an appointment with another student. If you can't attend office hours in-person or virtually, that's ok! Email or Canvas message your professor to see if there is a time you can meet outside of their scheduled office hours. In the meantime, go to class prepared with clarifying questions to ask your professors during lectures.

 Myth #6: Professors Don’t Email Students Back

Professors Respond:

  • "I can only speak for myself and I do my best to reply ASAP."

  • "No, professors may not use email but use Canvas messaging so be sure to read the syllabus or inquire how to interact."

  • “I always answer within 24 hours except on weekends. That is sometimes not fast enough for students. Sometimes students email professors [multiple times] in a 2-3 hour span of time hoping for a quicker answer."

Myth #6 is partially debunked.

But instead of a myth, it might come down to preparation and patience. As discovered in Myth #5, professors are busy, just as students are. So, it might take a little longer than desired for a professor to reply. As a general rule of thumb, give your professors 24 hrs to respond during the weekdays and at least 48 hrs on the weekend. Start your assignment early, so you can ask your professor before the due date if you have questions.

To successfully contact your professor, use the following steps. First, look at the syllabus. Sometimes the answer you are looking for can already be found in the syllabus or assignment description. Second, double-check the syllabus to see whether the professor prefers you to email or send a message through Canvas. One reason professors aren't responding may be due to your using the wrong messaging platform. Third, include the course you are taking in the subject line of the email or Canvas message. Professors may teach various courses and even multiple sections of the same course. 

 Myth #7: Professors Don’t Want To Talk To Their Students

Professors Respond:

  • "No, professors welcome interactions and engagement with students during mutually appropriate times and means. ... The more students engage with professors, the more professors will engage with them!"

  • "Not true for me. It's what I enjoy most about my job!"

  • "No, most professors love talking with students."

Myth #7 is officially debunked.

Yes, professors really want to talk to you! Professors at times may feel isolated just as students sometimes do, especially during this last year when we’ve all been away from campus. Most professors welcome interaction with students. Take the time to engage with your professor either inside or outside of class time. Lectures are a great time to speak up and ask questions. Don't feel worried about not being smart enough to ask questions. Asking questions shows that you are trying to understand the course material.

Furthermore, talking with a professor can be more than just academics. Professors are genuinely amazing people and resources. Take the time to get to know them. If you are interested in the major, talk with professors about their field of study and the opportunities you can get involved in, such as local research or internships. Professors can also be there if you need someone to talk to, someone to gain advice from during your college journey, or someone who writes you letters of recommendation for a future graduate school program.

 Final Thoughts From WSU Professors

  • “I love all of the conversations and different perspectives that come from robust in-class discussions. I teach topics I'm passionate about, so I love talking about them! One-on-one, I enjoy mentoring students regarding their current and future plans.”

  • “First, I love my job. Second, I have had my fair share of struggles in life - there is not much that I cannot understand or help with.”

  • “I'm a human being who has good and bad days just like everyone else. For example, I know quite a few professors who struggle with anxiety just like our students. Also, I want students to succeed in my courses according to their personal learning goals.”

  • “I love being a teacher! Teaching is my favorite part of my job. … I love seeing [students] graduate and succeed!” 

You heard it here first, folks! Professors love to talk to and watch their students succeed. WSU prides itself on having a low professor-to-student ratio of 21:1. As the semester progresses, make an appointment with your professor. Ask them about your upcoming coursework and exams, their research and student opportunities, or simply for advice. It might take a bit of effort to get to know some professors, but they might become your favorite professors or even your mentors.

Are you still nervous about approaching your professors? Make an appointment with an Academic Coach today for tips on how to prepare for talking to your professors! We would be happy to help you! If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to us at We would love to hear from you!

For quick tips, check out our additional resource on approaching professors.

Meet Dr. Michele Culumber, Professor Of Microbiology & Real Person:

About The Author

Academic Peer Coach

Alexis (she/her/s) is an Academic Peer Coach and a recent WSU alumnus with Bachelor's Degrees in Microbiology and Zoology.

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