39

I am a freshman, and over the summer I found out about a professor at my university who has recently published a book. Curious, I bought a copy and ended up falling in LOVE with this man's writing. As an aspiring author myself, I would be honored to receive advice from him.

But would it be too weird for me to go up, introduce myself to him and be like, "Hey, Dr. ___, my name is Jenny. I read your book and loved it. Is there a time we could possibly get together and discuss it? I just have a few questions."

I'm asking because I'm not sure how common it is for students to do this. I know it would be one thing if I was in his class, but I'm not. Unfortunately, I will not be able to take his class for several years, as he only teaches upper level courses.

I just don't want to seem annoying to him, or like too much of a fangirl. But like I said, I was mesmerized (cheesy as that sounds) by his book. I thought it was incredible, and I'm dying to talk to him about it. I definitely wouldn't want to sound demanding or anything; I'd ask him if he would be willing, and at what time.

  • 5
    If they're really a professor, you should consider whether to address them as "Dr. X" or "Prof. X" (based on the local culture). – Reinstate Monica Sep 15 '17 at 9:02
  • 15
    I think most academics would be overjoyed to hear that someone read their book and enjoyed it. The only way I can imagine this attention being annoying is if they're very, very famous outside of academia (so someone who's a major media figure or artist on the level of say, a Nobel winning author). Sadly, academics are rarely celebrities, so many would be honored to have their work connect with someone. And the worst that can happen is that they brush you off or ignore you. – Dorebell Sep 15 '17 at 10:22
  • 9
    I suggest an email message or a visit to the professor during office hours, which are likely posted. Professors who are "out and about" are generally on a schedule. Someone who is quite willing to talk to you may not be able to do so at the moment, and could unintentionally give you a discouraging response. Also, see what the answers say concerning being specific. – Bob Brown Sep 15 '17 at 14:26
  • 1
    I once read a poster outside a professora office. When I was done I noticed he was behind me, kind of blushing. "You took youre time to read my work, no one usually does that." Than we talked a little about it. – Olba12 Sep 15 '17 at 16:55
  • 4
    Well, devil's advocate I guess: the only way I could imagine this appearing inappropriate is if your interest came across as overly flirtatious (which I only mention because I've seen it happen before and it's awkward). Unfortunately a very small number of female students will flirt with male professors in the hopes that they are graded more leniently. However, if you aren't one of this professor's students, your enthusiasm shouldn't be misinterpreted as brown-nosing. Ech, I feel bad for even mentioning this line of thought. – user45623 Sep 15 '17 at 18:41
56

There's nothing wrong with approaching a professor whose work you are interested in and asking for an appointment. The worst that can happen is that the professor will decline to meet with you. However, most professors (like most human beings!) will be appreciative that someone enjoys reading their work, so I'd think you're more likely to find the professor will agree than not.

That said, I would probably change what you'd say. Rather than just say "I have a few questions," I'd say "I'd like to know more about X and Y." This shows that you're serious in your request.

  • 3
    Its also possible that in the time between writing the book and it publication, his or her work has taken a new trajectory or developed new themes. This is not a bad thing - in that it opens up other interesting question/conversations about how the prior work influenced current directions. The only caution is to remember that the faculty may be more excited about the new stuff than rehashing old stuff. – Carol Sep 15 '17 at 21:17
  • The other point here is to set sort of time limit for your request. So ask for 15 minutes or at most a half hour. Then if the first meeting goes well ask for additional time for a second visit to discuss point Z. And be sure to be prompt if the professor agrees to a meeting. – MaxW Sep 16 '17 at 2:03
14

The earlier answers are correct and there is no problem with approaching the professor, but there's something you may not know about: OFFICE HOURS. Most universities require professors to have "open office hours" so students can ask them questions - literally the professor sits in their office with the door open, and tries to do something productive while waiting for any students who want to stop by. Those students are usually from their classes, but I don't think any professor would turn away a younger student. They are genuinely surprised whenever any student shows up. And it would be a lot more comfortable for them than meeting somewhere else.

You can probably find his office location and hours on the department website or on his personal page. That will also include his email, and you can send him a quick request along the lines of "Hello professor (professor's last name) I read your book (title) over the summer and found it very interesting. Are you available during your office hours on (whichever day)? It inspired a few questions, and would appreciate if you could set aside some time to help me understand more. Thank you, (your name)"

  • 4
    +1, I think this is really the right approach, with an emphasis on it would be a lot more comfortable for them than meeting somewhere else. This can later lead to whatever but as a first venue, the office during office hours is the best. – WoJ Sep 16 '17 at 14:31
8

I would encourage you to do exactly as you wish and approach said Professor.

There are two main things to consider here: Motivation and being specific. If you think about it, the reason he became Professor was most likely to aquire and share knowledge. Writing a book which is understandable by undergrads seems to confirm that. Since he is per se motivated to share knowledge, he might be willing to do so also in person.
On the other hand, he might probably not want to spend his time sitting there with a girl admiring him as a person. So in order for him to agree talking to you, you would need to make your motivation very clear.

Here comes the point of being specific into play. In order for him to know that he wouldn't be wasting his time, you need to be specific. Let him know what you liked about the book and the subject and give him something to judge on whether it's worth discussing with you.

Instead of "I read your book and loved it. Is there a time we could possibly get together and discuss it?" you'd probably want to tell him what exactly you loved and more importantly, what you want to discuss.

Possibly, "I read your book and loved it, especially the chapter about ____. It made me realize that ____. In that chapter you say that ____ , to which I have a question: How can we know that ___?" (Or, "why is it that ____?") "Could we meet at some point to discuss this?"

1

This is perfectly acceptable, few people would object to being admired. You may want to take care about when you do it though- don't impose yourself on them by taking up their free time. You may want to send an email asking if they would be willing to discuss their work some time, or find their office hours and stop by their office when they arent busy (dont get in a line, or interrupt their students though.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.