Professors are untapped boxes of treasure

By Brenna Ramirez
“Be sure to talk to your professors,” they’d say, “let them know your face.” As soon as I got accepted into college, this was practically all I heard. And every time, I’d emphatically agree… with absolutely no intention of following through. Not sure why I found the idea of talking to professors so laughably impossible, but I did. Maybe it’s because I thought the idea was too…shmoozy? I guess.
The thing is, professors are both researchers and teachers. Some are there only because they need funding from the school. Others because they like to teach. Either way, they want to meet you: a student that has genuine interest in their research. Most professors need more research assistants to do the tedious work of their labs, such as data entry and file organization. Not the most glamorous of life, sure, but it opens the door to more. For example, I worked in a research lab for two years. I wasn’t particularly passionate about what the lab examined, but it was my first lab. Working there allowed me to apply to labs that were more aligned to my interests, the professor was willing to become my thesis advisor and mentored me through the process, I received the opportunity to present at conferences, and he became a great reference for future endeavors. Win/win, right?
For some, the idea of approaching a professor at their office is a little daunting. That’s totally fine. At first, it was for me. In my freshman year, the easiest way for me to approach professors was through my classes. I’m a person who hates ambiguity. If I’m not sure about anything, I ask everyone around me until I find an answer. So I had no issue asking questions in class. And I got a lot of cool opportunities from talking to those professors. Hell, my advisor was a professor, too. Because I hounded my advisor with questions about registration, I ended up talking to him, and he told me about a lab that worked with the FBI. It wasn’t open for student research assistants, but he got me an in, and he helped me craft my cover letter, personal statement, and to present myself as attractively as possible. I worked in that lab until I graduated.
There’s definitely a degree of uniform to how you should first approach someone of authority, like your professor, when asking something. A little flattery, know their research, blah blah blah. But listen, if you present yourself as competent, sincere, and genuinely interested in what they do, chances are, that professor is going to give you a chance. And if you work your ass off during, they’ll help you get to where you want to be.

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