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Student Academic FAQs

Have questions about the syllabus, office hours or how to communicate with an instructor? Find answers to some common student questions below.    

What is a syllabus good for?

A good syllabus will serve as your "roadmap" for the course that you are taking. It should outline the topics that will be examined and the learning outcomes/skills that should result from engaging with those topics. It should present what assessments (or measurements) the instructor will use to gauge your progress in those learning outcomes (for example, if there will be tests, quizzes, papers, etc.) as well as how much each of those assessments will count toward your ultimate grade. Similarly, it should discuss the details of the grading process to be used by the instructor (note that not all classes assume that a 90+ is an "A"). Lastly, a good syllabus will outline classroom policies and University resources that will be relevant to the course.

What do I call my instructor?

Most of the instructors at Pitt have "terminal degrees" in their field (that is, they completed the highest degree that is awarded in their field of study). So, in most cases you can refer to your instructor as "Dr." + then their last name; however, some disciplines do not award a PhD or doctoral degree, and some of your classes will employ advanced graduate students as instructors, so perhaps a "safer" path would be to call your instructor "Professor" + then their last name. When in doubt, feel free to simply ask your instructor (or look on the syllabus to see) how they would like to be addressed!

What are office hours?

All instructors of Pitt courses are required to designate some time as "office hours." Office hours are specific times when your instructor (and often also any teaching assistants) will be available for students within a course to come visit to discuss the subject matter of the course. This is a great time for a student to get expert help with questions regarding assignments or how to prepare for tests/quizzes or just to stop in and discuss the subject matter in general (and perhaps find additional resources for learning more about the field). Students should never be intimidated about coming to ask for help during office hours as that is the express purpose of that time. The timing of office hours should be posted on the syllabus (see above).

What if I have to go to the bathroom during class?

There are no "hall passes" required at Pitt. So, when you have to go, you can simply get up and go. If you are in a small class or seated in a conspicuous place within a larger class, it is polite to try to minimize disruption when you depart (or return). So, if possible, waiting until someone finishes speaking or when the instructor is changing from one topic to another is best; however, if that is not possible, simply being as quiet about your movements as possible is sufficient.

When and how should I communicate with my instructor?

For most instructors, email is the best method of contact. Your instructor (and likely teaching assistant(s)) will list their contact information on the syllabus. Another option, in most classes, will be to use one of the communication methods embedded within Canvas (the options available may vary by course). Find more tips on Communicating with Instructors.

What does an appropriate email look like?

Remember that an email to an instructor is not the same as a tweet or a text. The message should start with a greeting (like "Dear Professor So-and-so") and should end with a signature of some kind that includes your name (like "Thank you in advance, A.P. Student"). In between, you should concisely outline your message in complete sentences and with proper punctuation.