How To Interact With Your Professor In Public

Perhaps one of the weirdest experiences a college student can have is eventually running into his or her professor out in public, in some social context beyond the classroom. For many, such an experience can be terrifying. But once you get over the initial awkwardness, assuming your professor recognized you in the first place, you should take steps to make sure the interaction is as pleasant and efficient as possible. Follow these Dos and Don’ts and you and your professor will most likely come away from the meeting feeling better about each other.

Do say, "Hi Professor ______, I’m [your name] in your [specific course]."

Sure, your professor might be one of those people who can remember the names of every person he meets, but most likely, that’s not the case. He’s probably teaching four full sections of students. He’ll appreciate the gentle reminder.

Don’t ignore him.

If you and your professor have passed the point at which it would have been feasible to pretend you didn’t see each other, then you can’t suddenly turn back the clock and walk past him as though he wasn’t there. Even a quick hello here isn’t enough. You have to at least pause and check in.

Do ask how he’s doing.

Nothing fancy here. Just a simple, "How’s it going?" will suffice. From there, it’s up to him how much he wants to put into the conversation. The exception to this rule is if you’re professor is long-winded. You might simply skip ahead to saying something nice about the class, otherwise you might get stuck hearing all about his day.

Don’t blabber about yourself.

Remember, your professor has things to do. That pint of ice cream isn’t going to last very long in his grocery cart if you blabber on about your life. If he asks how you’re doing, be honest, but concise. He’d prefer to hear the abridged version of your day.

Do say something nice about the class.

Before the conversation ends, be sure to say something nice about the class. You’ll want to reconnect this social interaction to the context of the course, so that way your professor can remember who you are next time the class meets.

Don’t bring up your grade.

Standing at the sports bar is not a good opportunity to ask your professor about your academic standing in his class. Enough said.

Do exit gracefully.

Ideally, you’ll have a sixth sense that will let you know when the conversation is over. If you don’t have that sixth sense, try to gauge your professor’s level of interest. If he seems antsy, he probably is. Be the first to bow out of the conversation with a "See you tomorrow," and quickly leave the building. You definitely don’t want to see him again and face an even more awkward situation.

Don’t overstay your welcome.

Inviting yourself to hang out at your professor’s table once the appetizers arrive is probably poor form. In public, you both may represent the university, but your professor is off the clock. Let him have some quality time away from the pressures of the academy.

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