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I recently finished taking an undergraduate class and I enjoyed it. I was thinking of emailing the prof and saying this, but I don't know if it's appropriate or not, for a few reasons:

  1. I would have already said this in the class evaluations, which the prof will read.

  2. More importantly, I recently received my final grade and it was good. If I email now, it might come off as an implied "thank you" for giving me a good mark, even though I mean nothing of the sort.

My question is whether or not such an email would be appropriate.

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    I would just add, to all the answers telling you to definitely do it. Honestly, if you did so well in class, and especially if the professor managed to pique your interest in the subject like it seems, it could also be a great opportunity to mention that and ask the prof if he could suggest more extra materials / a follow-up course / opportunities for projects where you could further your knowledge of the topic even more - especially if you are worried about sending an e-mail without a "good reason" (tho thanking your prof is good enough, like everybody says). – penelope Apr 20 '18 at 11:27
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    Tangentially related: Should I send an email to authors of a paper I enjoyed reading? i.e., the answer to "May I show appreciation to person X for their effort Y?" is almost certainly yes. – zahbaz Apr 20 '18 at 17:21
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    Moderator’s notice: Only post an answer or comment if you have something to add to the existing answers. Also, please refrain from posting an answer as a comment. New answers in comments and redundant answers will be deleted without warning. – Wrzlprmft Apr 22 '18 at 8:24
  • If your institution has an undergraduate thesis, this professor might be a good place to start. Incidentally, having left academia, I always ask about an undergraduate honors thesis or special project in job interviews (Exception: tag team interview where other questioner asks it). One answer gets you a lot closer to a job offer than the other. – Andrew Lazarus Apr 23 '18 at 20:08

13 Answers 13

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As my experience of being a TA for multiple courses with various profs, such personal gestures of appreciation are welcomed by the professors. I have actually heard professors refer to the email as something that "made their day". As long as you don't refer to your grades, I don't see a reason why someone would misjudge your intentions, especially after the course has finished.

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    To add, you could even include what your favorite segment was, whether there was a specific piece that you particularly enjoyed, or what concepts you found interesting. – Anoplexian Apr 20 '18 at 16:27
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    Teaching can sometimes seem like yelling into the void. Gestures that show you appreciated the material, and how you actually use what you learned outside the classroom, are definitely uplifting. They provide validation for effort that we typically do not otherwise receive. – Andy W Apr 20 '18 at 17:42
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    Once a classmate told me he had enjoyed a lecture and I suggested he tell the professor. He later told me she responded by asking him to meet with her to hear what he had liked so she could get some ideas on what was effective about it. – xdhmoore Apr 21 '18 at 0:59
  • I'll add a small anecdote to what @AndyW said: a professor of mine, who is a frequent guest speaker at other universities, gave a small talk to early-career professors in which he made the comment that teaching can often seem to be a thankless profession. Students will readily tell you if you do a bad job (ratemyprofessor and the like) but will much less often tell you you've done a good job. – Strikegently Apr 23 '18 at 14:42
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Email the professor, they are human too, they like hearing that you enjoyed their class.

1) I...said this in the class evaluations, which the prof will read.

Class evaluations are presumably anonymous, an email from you is more personal.

2) More importantly, I recently received my final grade and it was good...If I email now, it might come off as an implied "thank you" for giving me a good mark...

You've done well because of your hard work, the professor hasn't done you any favours. (Regardless, if the class is sufficiently large, then the professor won't remember your grade and is surely unlikely to go to the trouble of looking it up.)

58

I will just throw in my personal experience about this subject. Three years ago I was taking an undergraduate course with a great professor. I was at a point where I didn't want to continue studying (I won't go deep in this subject), and he changed my mind just by the way he was teaching. He always gave more than he needed to, always pushed us forward and had a great way of teaching.

Half way through the semester, I asked for a meeting with him during the office hours to ask about a subject in his course. He answered all my questions and gave me more than he had to.

At the end of the semester, and after getting all my grades I decided to email him because I wanted to thank him for such a nice semester I had with him and for all the push he gave me to continue my studies.

He was so happy that I shared all the information with him because he didn't really know the impact he had on me. He invited me to his office and we had some discussions not regarding the studies. He even asked me to stay in touch (we're still in touch).


A professor might not always know the effect he had on his students, and he would like to get all the feedback possible (Class evaluations are not enough IMO). It's always good to give a push and a "Keep going" sign for a good person.

Bottom line:

Yes, it is appropriate to thank a human being for their effort, being it a professor, a doctor, a stranger you met on the road. It's just a nice and good gesture of you and it will surely make them happy. Believe it or not, it will.

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    A quite moving answer. – scaaahu Apr 20 '18 at 12:18
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    I've gone through something completely similar: I was attending uni at an older age than the average norm, and the lecturing professor was a young lady (younger than me), who was absolutely well versed in her field, I also sought her mentoring on the subject (which I didn't quite excel at), many a times stayed after the lecture to ask about problems relating to the field, also contacted her via email to assess solutions, etc. Hadn't for her support, I'd fail the class. Hoping to not go overboard, sent her a thank you and feedback email - she was grateful and happy to helf, also "made her day". – Gabor Apr 20 '18 at 14:36
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First, yes, I think you should email them. If you enjoyed their class so much, then it is likely that quite an ammount of work, and effort went in preparing them. Learning that it was enjoyed, and that this work and effort did not go to waste is probably going to make them happy.

If you want to avoid any misjudging on your intentions, you should specify a few thing you really enjoyed in his class.

Hello professor X

I'm Emailing you to let you know that I found your classes particularly enjoyable. I especially enjoyed your lessons on X and Y, and I learned quite a bit during the lesson on Z.

Telling them about specifics parts of what you enjoyed will show that you are honest, and, more importantly, that their classes stuck with you.

All in all, definitely email them, everyone likes having their work aknowledged from time to time.

  • I've done similar things to my different professors, where it was accurate ;) – Wayne Werner Apr 20 '18 at 14:57
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    The second part of this answer makes it best one. The professor provided you a service, of which some specific things you particularly enjoyed. Absolutely fine to thank them for it. – abnry Apr 20 '18 at 16:07
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You're overthinking this. It's almost always appropriate to thank somebody if you appreciate the work they've done. In this case, where the professor has made a specific effort to help you personally, thanking them would be absolutely appropriate.

Note: "appropriate" not "mandatory". It would also be appropriate to not thank them, since they were "just doing their job". It's completely up to you, though it sounds like you want to thank them, and if you want to, you should.

18

One of the joys I had when teaching was a student acknowledging the course was "useful". The level above was a course described as "interesting", "great", etc.

I remember two specific cases:

  • one student coming personally to thank for the course. It was the last of their years, and after marking, so the "thank you " was genuine. It was not even a great student (he got something like 14/20 which is a so-so mark)
  • one other student coming to say the the course was interesting, that she learned a lot and that if she was to ask one thing for the future students, it would be for me to speak slower (the course was in English in France). That was a fantastic feedback: a nice one and constructive on top.

So definitely yes - tell him/her you enjoyed the course without overthinking.

12

The only reason to add my answer to the long list of "yes" answers is to note that as a professor I sometimes get that kind of thank you years later. It always makes my day.

8

This is a very interesting question and it has received some very good answers. Therefore, I intend to provide my personal experience and draw a conclusion from it.

Theory of Complex Functions was one of the courses that was dreaded by most of students in our department during my undergraduate studies. It was not because the course was too difficult (though it was not any piece of cake) but because it was taught by one of the most stern professors of the department. The course was one of the most unpopular ones but when I took it, I found that not only I enjoyed the course very much, I found the teaching method of the professor and also his manners and the meticulous attentions that he gave to mathematical concepts of the course very constructive for me. The professor's teaching method was unorthodox in the context of our department but there was nothing inherently wrong or unreasonable about it. For the course I received a very good score and when the semester finished (and I graduated), I went to his office. When I entered, he gave me the same stern and distant look as always. I briefly explained to him why I enjoyed his course and teaching method and then sincerely thanked him for it. The reaction of the professor was very interesting. He smiled genuinely and became warm and friendly, thanked me for my gratitude, asked a few friendly questions about me, my career and future plans and gave a few advice regarding them. At the end of our session, he shook my hand warmly and walked with me to his office door.

In general, I believe professors are humans and like any human being, they enjoy and appreciate any form of sincere gratitude. This is something that good professors need and deserve so that they can know that their efforts are noticed and valued by their students.

7

As TA myself and as someone who has done that. I would say yes, it is certainly welcomed. As an aside, whenever I come across an academic article that I really liked - I would email the author(s) to let her know I really enjoyed it.

6

Of course, this will probably make your teacher's day :) However, if you're going to do this, don't go overboard and bombard them with cheesy compliments. If you're going to do this, ensure you make yourself come across as genuine.

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Also consider including your future plans in brief so that he knows where you're heading , he might shed some light into what you can do to enhance your career path. Its always good to know professors right from the start , he might be a source of LOR's in the future !

5

If you feel like sending such a note — then definitely send it! There's absolutely nothing inappropriate about doing that.

So I agree with all the answers above, which made a number of great points. But let me add my five cents anyway. As a college teacher myself, I've received a number of such emails (and even postcards) from my students — and I enjoyed every one of them, and each one made my day! Each such message made me feel happy and appreciated, and as humans we all need that.

Look, ours is not an easy job. It has its perks and its moments, as well as a fair share of its challenges. Whatever we do, we can't predict the outcomes of our work and our efforts — because we're working with people, our students, not with inanimate objects. So feedback is extremely important to us. Maybe it's just me, but I feel that we get more than enough negative feedback, sometimes deserved, sometimes not. We certainly need your positive feedback too!

I would have already said this in the class evaluations, which the prof will read.

That's not the same thing. Your feedback, because of being unsolicited, but rather something that you felt compelled to do as a sign of appreciation, is much more valuable than the officially requested student evaluations. Besides, the tone in evaluations is typically different — students tell the school about the instructor, as opposed to your writing directly to the instructor. Not to mention that evaluations are anonymous (which can be a good thing and a bad thing), and that your comment there is just one in a pile of all the other comments, which often paint a mixed picture.

More importantly, I recently received my final grade and it was good (A to A+). If I email now, it might come off as an implied "thank you" for giving me a good mark, even though I mean nothing of the sort.

It sounds like your professor is a good one, so I bet he knows that your success belongs to you and your own hard work. So don't worry, he won't misinterpret your message. But he will be happy to know that he assisted you in it, and that you know that too.

One more thing. In fact, by sending such a message, you will be doing a tangible favor to him — which, judging by what you said, the professor deserved, so nothing's wrong with that. When we're evaluated by the school's administration for the purposes of promotions, contract renewal, tenure, and such, for a teaching faculty his/her teaching portfolio must include students' perception of his/her work. I save all these emails, and I always include them in my portfolio. And I know from informal conversations with administrators that, while not decisive, they do play a tangible positive role.

  • "save all these emails, and I always include them in my portfolio" So your students feedback may not only become tangible benefits (career-wise), you're actually making them part of your history! Kudos to you! – CPHPython Apr 23 '18 at 13:40
  • @CPHPython: Thank you! To be honest, I exaggerated a little: I don't save absolutely all of them, but I do save many of them. The rest of my post is true, I swear! :-) – zipirovich Apr 23 '18 at 22:33
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Do it! It's useful as more specific feedback (I've known very few lecturers/professors who actually read all the feedback). Also, it allows the professor to know that you are interested in the subject area - and coupled with your good grades - may lead to further work/study in that field.

You could always ask for extra reading since the course is now over. That's sometimes a nice way to email.

protected by eykanal Apr 20 '18 at 17:21

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