Developing a strong relationship with at least one professor in college is a reliable finding from people who look back on their college experience as being helpful in launching and growing their careers. Often these relationships continued after graduation and continue to be helpful far into careers.
This finding is consistent with our work with new graduates. A good professor can, and does, provide connections, leads about internships, heads up about available work during college, ideas about graduate school, and can be important references for you as you seek those first jobs after college. I was talking with a friend this week who told me that one of her professors, who she has stayed in touch with, has been a mentor for the past decade and recently helped her make an important move in her career.
My Experience Connecting with a Professor
When I was a student I decided I wanted to change my major the summer between my junior and senior year. This is pretty much impossible now, and even back then it was hard. I had to get a professor to go to bat for me – and one did, but only because I had built a relationship with them prior. I also really wanted to do an internship that year and the same professor helped me nail one down at the last minute. This change in majors and internship, changed the course of my career. However, none of it would have happened had I not developed that relationship with my professor.
And of course, developing these relationships can be a lot harder during this pandemic. The thing is, having them will not be any less important. We talked with a number of professors about how students can reach out and make connections. The first important thing they told us is that they too are missing the opportunities to connect, and truly value when students reach out to make a personal connection. Here is what else they told us.
Connecting during Covid-19
The basics are the same. Show up to class (in person and/or virtually), participate in discussions and follow up during office hours to talk more about what was covered in class, because the first reason to reach out to professors is to be certain that you are understanding the material. However, you don’t need to be struggling in class to reach out to a professor. You can just say that you wanted to take a moment and introduce yourself and put a name to the face on zoom. You can and should also ask to come in (virtually) and talk about the field you are thinking of majoring in.
Ask them about the following:
- Their career, about where they have seen other graduates with this major go after college.
- Talk about the courses you are considering next semester and get their input.
- Thoughts on internship opportunities, etc.
A tip: even though you may not be at all certain about what you want to do after graduation – do not go into the conversation saying, “I have no idea”. Most of you actually do have hypotheses in the category of “well maybe I would be interested in ___________. Start there.
Advice from Professors
My friend Emily, a professor in management urges students to not feel like they have to connect with every professor. She suggests that students pick at least one professor in the field you are interested in to connect with. If there is another professor who is not in your specific area of interest, but you really like, find a way to also connect with them.
Another professor, Larry, who is the chair of the psychology department at our local university told me a story of two freshmen students who were asking him for advice about courses. One of them sent him a list of his courses and asked for his feedback. The second asked if Larry would be willing to set up a zoom meeting to go over his courses for the next semester.
As Larry said, “these were very different experiences. Sure it was more work to do the zoom interview, but I got to meet him, and just naturally we got into a conversation of why he was majoring in psychology, what his thoughts were about what part of the field he was most interested in and how the courses he had chosen fit into his thinking about that. I now know this young man a bit. I look forward to seeing him in class and staying in touch.”
A Great Article from Collegiate Parent
We recently found this great article from a professor’s perspective on how to build relationships right now during COVID19. Take a look. https://www.collegiateparent.com/academics/connecting-with-professors-during-covid/
Make a connection before break
This semester is ending for most of you in a few short weeks. We suggest if you have not already done this – reach out and make a connection with a professor that you have this semester. Set up a zoom meeting during their office hours. Building a relationship with a professor should be a goal every semester.
If you need extra support this winter break, we offer a free consultation with students or parents of college students. Contact us at Sue@LaunchingU or at 603-398-7278.