For the first three years of my undergraduate experience, I was terrified of talking to professors. Thankfully, I was at a small school, so most of my professors knew who their students were, but I avoided ever going into office hours to talk to a prof unless I had a really urgent question.
Here at the Universities at Shady Grove, I’ve been so impressed with how helpful the staff are and what great professors we have to teach us. But I’ve also learned that it’s not just enough to take notes and pay attention in class – it’s also so important to form relationships with professors outside the classroom. Here’s just a few reasons why:
- You will need letters of recommendation from them for jobs, internships, and grad school applications. If a professor knows you, he/she is usually a lot more willing to serve as a reference and will write a much more positive letter. I’ve been told by professors that if they don’t know a student much, they will make that clear in their recommendation.
- They can give you advice and guidance. Professors have a lot of life experience and knowledge of the field you’re studying, so if you’re looking for career advice or tips on how to improve your performance in classes, ask a prof. They’re there to help and are usually more than happy to point students in the right direction.
- They will be more understanding. Unfortunately, many of us will encounter some rough spots along the road of our college experience: illness, family troubles, relationship issues, or having five papers due in one day. If a professor knows you, she/he is much more likely to cut you some slack should thing arise that prevent you from meeting deadlines or doing as well in class. (Of course, it’s best to communicate with professors about these things so they know you’re struggling.)
- It will enrich your college experience. Knowing professors can help you feel more comfortable participating in class and more connected to school. It can also be personally enriching to have longer discussions about class material outside of lectures.
I’ve found it helpful to ask about my professor’s career path to get some guidance about my own future. I’ve also gotten advice from them on revising cover letters and finding places to apply for grad school. If you want to get more in touch with these great resources, here are some steps you can take to start to get to know your professors better:
- Talk more in class. This can put you on a professor’s radar as someone who is engaged in class and interested in the subject. It also helps them to get to know more about you and your interests, and it can help you get more comfortable interacting with the professor.
- Stay after class. If a professor mentions something in the lecture that you find intriguing, consider asking them a couple questions after class about that to break the ice.
- Go into office hours. Come up with a few questions – whether it be about class material, career choices, grad school, your course selections for the coming semester, or whatever – to ask your professor and see where the conversation goes.
Professors can be great mentors. Of course, you won’t like every one you have, but if you enjoy a certain professor’s class or find them very approachable, it’s definitely worth it to forge a relationship with him or her.