In a class of 500, walking up to a professor and just starting a conversation may seem like the most daunting experience until you gather the courage to take that first step.
Like most introductory science classes here at Texas A&M University, my second semester biology class was composed of several hundred students, many of whom were like-minded with ambitious career goals. These were students who, as soon as the first class ended, piled into lines trailing out of the classroom just to introduce themselves to the professor. Each successive class, I debated whether or not I should join them and overcome the anxiety-inducing fear of speaking to an individual who’d essentially taken years to master their area of expertise, someone who teaches thousands of students every year.
It took me around several weeks after the spring semester began to realize how taking this step would not only nurture valuable communication skills but would help me adapt to new circumstances and step out of my comfort zone to achieve other goals. For those of you struggling to make this move and reach out to a professor, here are five things I did to prepare myself for this first interaction.
1. Go with an open mind
What’s the worst thing that can happen? The professor seems busy or annoyed or simply watches as you stutter out an awkward introduction. They’ve seen all kinds of people, so, even if you think you’ve embarrassed yourself for good, you haven’t, and you’ll make it out alive- I promise.
2. Be polite
Being courteous is an important rule of thumb when conversing with professors and really needs no further explanation. Address them with respect and don’t be upset if they are unable to meet with you. Life happens, and we find ways to work around it. Maybe show up another day- be persistent (within bounds).
3. Come prepared
Before introducing yourself, have these thoughts in mind. What first impression do you want to make? What is your motive and reason for approaching this professor? Feel free to express your goals and interests, but make sure not to overshare so soon and remember to be genuine.
4. give importance to your professor
When first conversing with a professor, keep in mind that these are people who’ve experienced their fair share of higher education, and of life in general, and many have very intriguing stories and lessons that they adore sharing. Take time to get to know your professor as well; maybe ask how they got involved in their field of work or find other ways to make them feel important in the conversation.
5. keep in touch
One way to really develop a strong relationship with a professor and leave a strong impression is by maintaining contact throughout the semester and perhaps even later on in college. The simple act of sending an email to check in or dropping by their office (after touching base) shows that you care.
Whether you’re seeking to build a strong mentor-mentee relationship in a more professional sense, hoping to improve your grade in the class, or simply making casual conversation, realize that talking to professors may not be as terrifying as you originally thought. They, too, were students at one point, so you can rest assured that even if you stumble a bit in that first introduction, they’ve been there, and they get it.