Relationships with Professors

By Amanda Harbrecht, Social Media Intern

Colleges offer students innumerable resources to help them succeed on whatever path they choose. There are academic counselors, career centers, workshops, tutors, workout facilities, coaches and many others there to guide and assist students. But one of the most beneficial resources is often times one of the most underappreciated: professors. Establishing relationships with professors can help you in so many ways inside and outside the classroom. Here’s what to know.

1. Why you want them.

Relationships with professors are free, but invaluable. It is no secret how smart and experienced these educators are, and yet too often students forget that learning from their faculty doesn’t have to stop with the classroom. If you work to build a relationship with your professor, you might find yourself with more than just a faculty member; you might find a mentor. When your professor gets to know you personally and professionally, they are able to help you in a much more personalized way. This could mean anything from assisting you with class materials to helping you network with past students of theirs. Professors can open all kinds of doors for students; they can connect you to research opportunities, extracurriculars, and other professors. Your faculty understands your field of interest better than anybody, and they can help you get where you want to be. Relationships with professors also come in handy when you need a reference or a letter of recommendation. Taking the time to get to know (and hopefully impress) your superior not only stands out to recruiters, but is also a skill you can use throughout your life.

2. How to get them.

There are many ways to start building a great relationship with your professor. The first (and most obvious) is also the simplest: go to class and participate. It is a lot harder to build a relationship with a professor if you never even attend their class. Going to class is really something you should be doing anyway, but by participating you can create a great first impression. If participating in class is outside your comfort zone, find another time to introduce yourself whether before class or after class. Office hours are another great option. Professors design these times as an opportunity not only for students to ask questions about class, but also for students and faculty to get to know one another. A third option is to invite your professor to coffee. Making such an effort emphasizes your sincere desire to get to know your professor.  Choosing a casual environment, such as a coffee shop, can also create a more friendly and relaxed mindset for you and your teacher. Outside the classroom, where the pressures of making the grade and prepping for the exam fade, you can get to know your professor in a more friendly way.

3. When to start building.

The semester goes faster than you think, and while it's never too late to get to know your professor, it is definitely better to start early. If you want to build a genuine and lasting relationship with your professors you need to start at the beginning of the semester. Making an effort early on will help you stay on top of the class as well. Once you introduce yourself initially, you will feel more comfortable coming back and asking both homework and career related questions. Consider it from an investment standpoint: if you want to continue a friendly relationship with your professor for the rest of your undergraduate career, and even beyond, you need to invest your time into that mentor relationship early on.

Your relationship with a professor can be a powerful resource, but it should never just be seen simply as some sort of “strategic move”. Professors are people just like their students. If you want to learn from them, they are more than willing to teach you. Your professor might be passionate about many of the things you are, they might have struggled with decisions about their future when they were your age, or they might just have fantastic stories from their careers. Professors have so much to offer, but you will never know if you don’t make the effort to find out.