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Tips for students asking professors for help

One of the ways you could get better at writing emails to your professors during the coronavirus pandemic is by summarizing some of your issues and problems with the class and timing.  – Photo by Ameena Qobrtay

Alright ... so one question remains: Why might students be asking for extensions during this time, if we’re all under social distancing and quarantine? 

That’s a loaded question, because every student’s scenario may only be the same on the surface, in terms of needing to stay in their room and doing work. Underneath that, there are many differences in our classes and learning environments. These differences can include, but aren’t limited to, some people majoring in something that’s picked up more easily in person, to other aspects such as international students who are now inconvenienced by the timing of their classes, to people who are facing health issues because of COVID-19.

While it’s a complex issue, it seems like more and more of us are looking to ask our professors for some assistance. Here are some simple tips for students for asking professors for help in the time of the coronavirus disease. 

Summarize your grievances

When writing to professors, it’s important to get straight to the point as they may be flooded by many other emails by students, among faculty and other Rutgers staff. Don’t type out an essay, but just highlight the main points you may have, for example, the pandemic and your living situation, and how it’s impacted your productivity and ability to keep up with classes. 

Don’t frame it as complaining

It’s important to recognize that while it’s easy to complain about the inconveniences of this new transition to remote learning, you should refrain from doing so. Put yourself in the professor’s shoes: They're on the other side dealing with tens to hundreds of students amid this crisis. While it’s normal to still complain about issues, look about it from other perspectives if possible and just type an email as you would otherwise. 

Be personable still

Yes, it’s important to care about classes, but I find that it’s still important to be friendly and connect with other students and professors still. While it’s important to be straightforward in emails, ask about how life has been in downtime (in-office hours) maybe, as professors are human too, at the end of the day. 

Don’t use this as a way to kiss up to professors by any means, but to be able to let your hair down and connect with others at this time of quarantine and possible isolation. 

Search and ask about other resources

While it’s clear that we can’t go in-person to Rutgers Learning Centers at the moment, they still offer remote instruction for students who may need help. The Learning Center has provided a page for resources related to tutoring, academic coaching and study groups. 

While that’s the case, it’s still important to look through the professor’s resources directly. It’s in your best interest to look at the syllabus again before asking the professor. If not addressed, ask the professor directly about any resources that may be helpful at the moment as they are the person creating exams and teaching material. 

Find a community to help you

It’s important to tap into a community to help you at large. Working with a group of people may prove to be easier than tackling a class by yourself. Look into your professor's office hours. If office hours aren’t available, another alternative is to ask people who have previously taken the course for advice, peer review or help out other students currently taking the class with you. 

Possible email draft

Hi (Professor Name),

I’m a student in your (class or section.)

I hope this finds you well. While I have been trying my best to keep on top of your classes, I have been facing difficulty as I have to deal with (insert personal issue or problem at hand), while undergoing the pandemic, juggling classes and maintaining friendships. It is new ground for all of us, as this pandemic is so unprecedented. 

I’m wondering if it may be possible to get an extension on the latest assignment, as maintaining the balance of new pandemic has inconvenienced my way of life, or whether you can refer me to some resources to help me.



Best of luck in classes and to adjusting to life in quarantine! 

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