By Susana Acosta
In college, when your professor is rattling off syllabus stuff at the beginning of the semester, and you’re nervously scribbling all the information down-mentally planning the study parties and late night readings-you probably think the most important thing he or she is relaying is the exam dates. But it’s not. If not, then what is?
Anything relating to your professor’s contact information.
Often, students (including myself) will focus so much on grades, that they forget that, in life, it is unrealistic to define yourself solely by a number. Yes, you need good grades for graduate school applications and to impress employers after you have completed your studies, but the college experience includes a range of other factors. Aside from frat parties, boyfriends, clubs, and sharing clothes with your roommate, you need to make your professor a priority. In fact, make your professor one of your best friends.
Attend office hours whenever possible and ask questions pertaining to your homework or relating to his research work. Anytime you show interest in someone else’s interests, the conversation tends to go more smoothly, and this is a good trick for breaking the ice with professors since so many students tend to be intimidated by them. Professors are people, too, and flattering them works just as well on them as it does on anyone else. He (or she) has likely treaded a similar path to you in getting to where they are, and the chances are high that they know how to guide you. Not only does this session help you learn more about the career you want to someday enter, but it shows your professor that you are determined, curious, and serious about your academics. Sometimes they could have suggestions for you if you are having a tough time with the material, or they will offer stories of their own about how they faced challenges and overcame them. It will be inspiring to you when you are in a difficult spot.
Even if you are a stellar student and do not need help on your homework and feel completely confident that you have no need to talk to your professor, think twice. Because, you know what, professors don’t just deliver lectures and do research. They had a life before entering academia and have buddies that work for companies and organizations you may one day want to join. Connections are connections, and if you can have one that knows you personally-like your professor-then you are a step ahead of the curve! Remember, you will have more than one professor throughout your college career, and those recommendations, phone calls on your behalf, or introduction emails add up.
As a freshman, I went door to door in our engineering department looking for a professor who might let me be part of their research lab. I attended office hours all the time, in hopes that professors could explain problems to me better than the teaching assistants could. Then, after the four years of my degree were drawing to a close, I asked around for recommendations and was greeted by smiles; they all recognized me and knew my story. I even babysat my professor’s toddler!
There’s no need to go out of your way to invite your professor out to dinner or even on a date (that would actually be crossing a line!), but just release your inhibitions about the stereotypical fears that surround professors. If you are afraid to approach your professor, you will miss out on many opportunities, benefits, and memorable stories.