Professional Relationships

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Whilst professional relationships can be friendly, on the whole they are considered to be a service transaction.

You have professional relationships with people like your doctor, lecturers, tutors, school staff, landlord or employer - that is, the relationship exists because one of you is providing a service for the other.

Professional relationships are not necessarily formal. However, it's a good idea to consider this type of relationship to be both formal and professional until you've got to know them and understand how they prefer to interact with you.


Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that can prevent us from assessing our relationships constructively.

  • My gift did not get the response I wanted

    If you are giving a gift to thank someone then that is generally OK, however, if you are giving someone a gift with the intention that you want them to provide you with something then that is not acceptable. 

    In some cultures, it is considered appropriate (and is even expected) that students will give gifts to academic or administrative staff members who have helped them. However, in the Australian university context, gift giving is best avoided, because it can be misconstrued as bribery or seeking special treatment. Cash, in particular, should never be given as a gift to a lecturer or tutor. If you do wish to say thank you to someone, the best method is just to send a thank you email, or give a thank you card, or a small token of appreciation.

  • I'm uncomfortable with this professional relationship

    A professional relationship is not the same as a close friendship. There is a difference between being friendly and being a close friend. For example, in a professional relationship such as a supervisory relationship, you would not be spending one on one time together on the weekend, but you might go out for a quick drink after work.  

    As a student at university it is best to avoid having close or romantic relationships with university staff members, particularly those who may be in a position of direct authority over you. However, sometimes relationships do occur and there is a specific university policy on this. 

    If you are experiencing discomfort with a professional relationship then it is important to speak to someone about getting support.

  • I don't know how to speak to some professional people

    To start with, let respect and politeness be your guide. At Australian universities, many lecturers and tutors tend to feel more comfortable being less formal with students. For example, they may encourage students to address them by their first name rather than their title (Professor, Doctor, etc). However, as a sign of respect, begin any communication with your lecturer or tutor by using their title. They will then usually let you know if they prefer you just use their first name. 


Below are three things you can do to boost success.

  • Respect their time

    This means respecting when their contactable hours are (check their email signatures, websites, physical information on offices). It is also useful to keep in mind that there could be some delays in receiving a response to your email - it is probably one of dozens, even hundreds, in their inbox.

  • Prepare for meetings

    Do your prep work for contact with a professional:

    1. Pre-book a meeting time.
    2. Come prepared with an agenda.
    3. Have specific questions. For example instead of ‘How do I fix this?' try something like 'I have tried this statistic but I think it is failing because of ...., so I wanted to get some advice about a more appropriate test for these data'.
    4. Show that you are independent and have done some work around this, show them the research you’ve done and the analysis you have done as part of the research.
  • Know the rules

    In the university, deadlines are set for fairness and to allow the necessary time for processing. These are not flexible just for you. However, there are exceptions and these are outlined generally in university policy. For example, if your grandparent's funeral clashes with an examination, then there are processes within the university to accommodate such circumstances. You can start by looking at the various policies here.