Dear Captain & Crew,
I’m a grad student and I want to write thank-you cards to a couple of my undergrad professors whose classes and mentorship were really important to my academic and personal growth. There two profs are my former advisor/PI and another prof who basically inspired what I’m doing for my graduate work – similar topic coming from another field. The problem for me is that when I was graduating and for a while after (aka prime thank-you time) my anxiety was out of control, but as that has become more manageable my feelings of awkwardness about the amount of time that has passed are increasing. I feel like I would be taking advantage of their time and professionalism if I just reestablished contact because it might be useful to me.
I want to avoid turning these thank-yous into a FEELINGSDUMP. One of the things I appreciated was my advisor being supportive and calm about my (at the time undiagnosed) panic attacks and general graduating/life stress, but I don’t think that’s the kind of long-winded screed they really need, ya know? I also ideally would like these notes to maybe be the start of a friendly-professional correspondence. I think they’re cool people, and we’re facebook friends so though we don’t actually talk there I think they are open to being in that sort of contact with their graduated students.
Scripts? General tips on how I should approach the situation from a professor’s point of view?
Grateful Also Awkward
PS I use she/her pronouns.
Keep it short and sweet, but please don’t fear that saying “thank you” to a teacher is an imposition even if some time has gone by. Your teachers all did their work without ever knowing what would take root or how students would receive it, and getting the confirmation that something stuck with you is a gift that you’re giving them, not an imposition on their time. Script:
“Dear Professor, as you may know, I’ve been doing graduate work in (field of study), and I wanted to tell you how wonderfully your class set me up to succeed here, especially the way you covered (specific topic). Thank you again for your class and for the mentorship and advising you gave me. I hope all is well with you. Best wishes, Grateful.”
Since you’re casually in touch on social media, that will do the rest to keep the doors open.
P.S. Thanks for telling us what pronouns to use. It didn’t come into play here, but it’s so helpful to know.
Since we’re in that time in the semester, I want to make a public service announcement to college students whose academic success is being derailed by stress and mental health issues:
Universities aren’t magical places where stigma about mental illness doesn’t exist, but you (yes, you! and you!) are not the first students having genuine difficulty that your professor has seen. Unfortunately, “not giving a fuck” and “having a major crisis” can look exactly the same to your professors, so if you can, communicate. They can often steer you toward advising and on-campus health services to help you pull through. With some notice, they can maybe set up alternate structures for you to complete your work. The sooner you reach out, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to get back on track in some way. The very last week of the semester, “But I need a good grade in this class I never come to or do work for to graduate/keep my scholarship” isn’t really gonna work.
If you’re behind on your work, and you’re overwhelmed about how you’re ever going to catch up, let me help you prioritize that shitpile:
- What’s the assignment that’s due next? Ignore the old stuff for now. Focus on the next thing and hand it in by the deadline.
- Hand in all future things by the deadline, i.e., show that you can respect deadlines and respect the professors’s time and get caught up.
- Once you’ve made a plan for future work, what’s the outstanding assignment that’s worth the most points toward your grade? Try negotiating an extension for that one thing.
- When asking for an extension, your profs don’t need all the details of why. Look at what the syllabus says about late work and/or extensions, and if you have to ask, just do it. “I am having some personal issues and I need an extra week to finish my assignment. Can I turn it in on x date? I understand that this might affect my grade.” Your profs don’t spend all their time thinking about you or your missing work. Tell them what they need to know, ask them for what you need, and do it with the least amount of friction for them.
- Show that you are aware of what you need to do and suggest a realistic plan for getting the additional work in. Asking a professor, “What assignments am I missing?” is kind of insulting (see also: “Did I miss anything in class today?“). If you haven’t been reading the syllabus or the class website, now’s the time to read it or fake that you have. Grading late work is a pain in the ass, so make it easy for busy people to help you.
- Is the missing work from the very beginning of the semester? Maybe let that stuff go. You don’t want to do it and your prof probably doesn’t want to read/grade it.
- Attend all classes, even if you aren’t quite caught up. Students who shame-hide because they haven’t finished their work: We see you! Or, we don’t, because you are skipping a class you paid a lot of money for because you’re worried about what we’ll think of you for missing an assignment, but we’d like to see you! Come back! Show that you’re interested and committed to catching up.
I have had students fail a class or withdraw from a class because they were going through a really bad time and then come back at it a semester later and do beautifully. It makes me so happy when that happens. It’s not embarrassing, it’s awesome!