A fourth-year trustee advises students to approach professors and TAs with questions, academic or not
People are the University’s greatest resource.
You don’t need me to tell you that. It’s intuitive; you arrive to college imagining all the best friends you’ll make, roommates you’ll live with and possible romantic interests you’ll meet. At the beginning of first year, I remember being overwhelmed by just how many people I didn’t know, but the reality is that the number of faces I eventually recognized grew exponentially, almost immediately. Within the first month, I knew who the RAs in my dorm were. I recognized hall-mates, suite-mates, friends-of-friends and classmates.
As your time progresses at the University, your social network of friends and acquaintances will keep expanding. Even without trying, you find yourself meeting even more students. It is inevitable, and wonderful. However, your peers are not whom I want to encourage you to meet. You already know you will develop friendships with your classmates. Instead, I want to encourage you to actively meet and develop relationships with your professors and TA’s.
I say actively because it takes an effort on your part, a worthwhile effort.
As a fourth year, here is the best advice I can give you: Take advantage of the spectacular teachers around you. The largest untapped resource available to students at the University is our faculty. Think of the things you’ve learned in the past month, year, or years at the University. How much more do you know now versus when you first stepped foot on Grounds? Now imagine all the tips, guidance and advice someone more experienced can share. Today, this resource will be at the head of your classroom waiting for you to approach.
So, why don’t you? Are you intimidated? Do you not know what to say?
I was intimidated first year by the thought of approaching my professors. I couldn’t help but think, “Why would they want to talk to me?” I considered myself too inexperienced to know what to say and felt like I couldn’t go to office hours unless I had a specific question. What I realize now is that it doesn’t matter if you have a question about that week’s lecture. Professors are there to answer life and academic questions too. The most valuable advice about deciding to major in architecture came from a TA I had as a first-year, and the most helpful assistance I’ve received about what I want to do after graduation came from my professor this fall. Without speaking to them, I wouldn’t have that knowledge.
As far as I can see, our professors are experts who choose to teach. They have an interest in students and the future of their field. Why else would they be here? Even better than that, every professor I consulted with writing this article wishes more students initiated conversations with them. They’re waiting for you.
Last semester, I stepped out of my comfort zone and specifically asked a professor to meet with me about getting an internship. She suggested we talk over lunch. I was nervous, changing three times and printing ten extra copies of my résumé. I brought a notebook with me outlining how I imagined our conversation going, complete with specific bullet points I wanted to mention, and ideal phrasing written down beside it.
I never opened the notebook. The first ten minutes we spent chatting about how my semester had been, and how her son’s college search was going. She asked my opinion on how the changes to our department had been received by students, and eventually I broached the topic of applying for internships. She was helpful, and I left the meeting feeling as though I had answered some questions she had, as well.
When you speak to a professor, treat him or her like a friend of your parents. It is important to be the most polite and charming version of yourself; but, be yourself. Be honest, if you are unsure about what major to choose, ask your professors what they think. If you want to know good classes to take, ask their opinions of their colleagues. If you enjoy their classes, ask what else you can do to keep learning more. Ask for suggestions if you don’t know what to do this summer. I have yet to meet anyone who isn’t flattered by genuine interest in his or her opinion. And you won’t get it unless you take the initiative.
Jessica Hays is a fourth-year trustee.