At every freshman orientation ever students are given the same spiel, “professors are people too, they are beneficial assets, network with them, and so on.” While this is great in theory, students fail to practice what they’ve been preached and have trouble building a relationship with their professors.
I’m here to reinforce the idea that: Yes, it’s important to network with your professors no matter how scary it is, and to let you know that it actually isn’t that scary so long as you take the proper measures and come prepared.
Why build a relationship with your professor?
There are a number of reasons that you would want to build a relationship with your professor. The first and foremost being that you want your professor to see you as a person, not another name on their class roster. Emergencies happen and most professors are lenient given the right situation, but air headed moments happen, too, and your professor is going to be more likely to help you out if they know you and know that you’re a hard working student.
Beyond them being able to give you wiggle room if you do end up dropping the ball mid-semester, having relationships with professors is absolutely essential if you plan on going to grad school. Most (if not all) grad schools require letters of recommendation from your professors. It’s a lot better if your professor can make claims about your personality, your integrity, and your promise as a student rather than only being able to say, “Well, they got a B+ in my class.”
I won’t go on any longer about why you should befriend your professors because deep down we all already know that it’s a good idea, but let me jump into how you can actually go about doing so.
How to build a relationship with your professor:
I’m going to list a few key things to keep in mind when forging the relationship, but you don’t have to do all of these things – however, keep in mind the more you do the more likely you’ll end up with a new key player in your professional network.
- Introduce yourself – this might seem a bit obvious, but it’s often the scariest part. At the beginning of every semester you should either introduce yourself before or after class, otherwise stop into office hours and do so. A quick, “Hi, my name is Morgan and I’m really excited for your class.” can suffice, but if you can expand on that even better! You can ask how the information will relate to a previous class you took, whether they can recommend any outside reading to help you understand, anything to show that you are an eager and diligent student.
- Go to office hours – Professors are there waiting for students, but most students will never take advantage of this opportunity to get one on one help! If you are struggling (or if you just want to make sure that you’re understanding!) then you can go and have your professor set you on the right path. This is going to show to them that you are willing to put in extra time and effort to understand the material.
- Don’t skip class – I repeat: don’t skip class. On Mondays and Wednesdays I have a class at two that technically has around 70 students enrolled, but we are lucky if fifteen show up. Now the professor knows the few of us who do show up, and beyond the long term benefits of making a good impression on him, he often rewards our attendance with straightforward advice on what to study for upcoming exams, and every now and then (if very few of us show up) he’ll give us a bonus point for being there.
- Get help early – Don’t wait until you’ve bombed three assignments to go in for help – show the initiative to go in after the first so you can figure out what you’re not understanding and get caught up before you fall too far behind. Again, this shows that you’re a passionate student ready to learn even if you have to make an extra effort.
Things to keep in mind:
- Take these steps early in the semester – towards the end professors are swarmed with students making a desperate last ditch effort to get their grade up. If you’re three months in and just now introducing yourself, it’s going to look a bit fishy.
- Be genuine – again, professors have to deal with a lot of people trying to get a boost in their grade without putting in the work, and if you’re shmoozing and brown nosing then chances are the professor will see right through you.
- You don’t have to build a relationship with every professor, every semester. Focus on professors teaching a class that you are passionate about or that is relevant to your future career path.