Developing Professor Relationships
Not only are your instructors helpful as recommenders for scholarships, schools, and even jobs, but they also hold a wealth of knowledge that may not be found in a textbook. Furthermore, you want to make sure that your face and name “pop up” in the instructor’s/professor’s mind when they are asked (for instance by a dean, department head, or another professor) to recommend a student for an awesome opportunity or program. Building positive relationships with your professors is not about being a “teacher’s pet,” “goody two shoes,” “sucking up,” or “kissing their [behind],” but it is about putting your best foot forward, getting the help you need, and making sure your name is in the mix. This, my friend, is what I call “educational networking.” Here are four practical habits you can incorporate into your student life that will help you develop positive relationships with your instructors.
Be engaged and attentive during class by answering and asking questions. You can also engage by sending the professor a follow-up email about the lecture. Doing so shows the professors that you come to class well-prepared, ready to learn, and that you take your education seriously.
2) Sit strategically.
Strategic seating is important because you want to make sure the professor knows your face. I’m not saying you have to sit in the front row of every class (although that may or may not have been my reality in many of my undergraduate classes, lol). However, I suggest sitting within the first 1-5 rows, especially in large, auditorium-sized classes.
Alternatively, no matter where you sit, sitting in the same seat each day, or at least in the same area, along with consistently engaging the professor in class is just as effective as sitting in the front. Practically speaking, the professor will probably remember, for instance, the young lady who sat on the far right corner in the back and always answered/asked questions. In this example, the fact that you were consistently engaged in class and consistently sat in the same area will help the professor remember you.
3) Go to office hours.
This is another opportunity to make sure the instructor knows your face. Office hours also subliminally communicate that you are serious about the class and your education. Go to office hours to get clarity about something from the lecture or reading you are having trouble understanding, to get help with homework, or simply to discuss a current event you think the professor may be interested in.
In law school I learned that you can also use office hours to discuss some of the professor’s work – such as their articles, a book they’ve written, their research, cases they have worked on, etc. During the discussion you can ask questions about their work, give your opinion, personal experience, etc. (Note, even if you don’t have time to read an entire book they’ve written, even a chapter or two will do.) Save this level of research/office hour bonding for those professors you are really, really interested in developing a relationship with.
4) Be involved. Volunteer.
If the professor, dean, or department head asks for volunteers for a new initiative or campus event, volunteer your time. You may just be planting a seed that will bring forth much fruit at a later date. For instance, one of the deans of my college once sent an email asking for students to write, photograph, and otherwise volunteer for a new campus magazine the college wanted to launch. I volunteered, and after two years I eventually became a Features Editor. Then, one day, the same dean emailed an opportunity to travel to Germany for the summer…for free! I applied and won the fellowship, and to add icing to the cake, the dean personally emailed me to offer me funds (from the college’s funding) to cover some additional costs of the trip. Yay! Then, on top of that, this is the same dean who wrote one of my recommendation letters to Harvard Law School. See how that little seed of involvement blossomed into so many different benefits: editor of the Honors College magazine (of course I incorporated this on my law school resume), extra money during my free trip to Germany, and a letter of recommendation to the school of my dreams. However, please don’t stress yourself out and jump at every opportunity that is announced, but be involved on campus, namely within your specific department or program of study.
Remember: You are not just a teacher’s pet, or kissing the professor’s behind. You are, however, a student who wants the best for yourself, your education, and your opportunities.
Cheers to great relationships with your instructors and professors!
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Angel Everett, Esq.
Founder/CEO, Harvard and Hardship LLC