Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to investigate ways in which university students are introduced to disciplines and thence to the professions based on those disciplines. Design/methodology/approach – E-mail interviews with a broad sample of university teachers in a variety of professional disciplines formed the basis of a grounded theory approach to identification of analytically distinct themes. Findings – Four different approaches were identified from the interview data, labelled as academic, apprenticeship, affective, and experiential. While these themes represent distinct approaches to introductory classes in professional fields, and have been described independently in the paper, in practice most teachers would use combinations of them. Research limitations/implications – The research represents a first stage in investigating approaches to introducing students to a discipline and profession. No claim is made to randomness, completeness or representativeness of the sample, which indeed was heavily based on colleagues in the broad area of pedagogy and teacher preparation. Practical implications – Teachers of introductory classes in professional disciplines can recognise their own approaches in the themes identified, and can consider a broader range of approaches based on the complete results. Workplace supervisors can consider diverse approaches utilised in academic settings. Social implications – Findings can contribute towards an awareness of the effect of introductory approaches to disciplines and professions in university classes, with potential implications for the way that university-trained professionals are accepted into the workplace. Originality/value – The research, unusually, shifts the focus from the end stage of professional education at university to the initial level. The investigation may form the basis of further research.