Plenty of career buzzwords are used around college campuses, but few are as widespread as “networking.” Networking is an incredibly valuable skill. It can help you connect with like-minded, successful people and get your name out in your industry.
You can network with a variety of people, but few are as important as the connections you can make with your professors. Building a smart, respectful rapport with your professor can do wonders, and not just for one semester.
Your professors can and will help you find internships or fellowships, pass along information about your major or career path, write letters of recommendation for graduate school, or even take you on as an assistant.
So how do you overcome intimidation and make positive, steady connections with your professors?
Show Up and Participate
The most straightforward rule actually ends up being the downfall of a lot of students. It’s tempting to skip class simply because you can, or because you’ve just found that perfect comfy position in bed. Still, force yourself to faithfully get to class every single day despite rain, snow, or serious sleep deprivation.
Good attendance is a big factor for every professor, and they’ll be more likely to take notice if they see your face every class. If you have to miss a class, send a quick email beforehand explaining why.
Sitting in class half-asleep won’t do the trick, though! Participate in discussions and ask questions. Even if it’s a large class, you’ll have an easier time establishing your own voice and standing out to the professor. (However, make sure you actually have something relevant to say; don’t just talk for the sake of talking. That will get annoying fast.)
Professors have office hours specifically to talk to and help their students, but plenty of people are too intimidated (or can’t be bothered) to go. Take advantage of office hours! You can talk about the class, any confusion about assignments, or general advice for your major or career.
It’s a great way to show your professor that you’re interested in the class and in what he or she has to say. Plus, the one-on-one interaction is a gold mine for students who feel overwhelmed by their large classes.
Of course, one of the biggest problems in college is that schedules constantly conflict. Office hours are often only an hour or two, held on certain days of the week. If you can’t make them, you can try to schedule a special appointment. Otherwise, most professors are involved with activities within their own departments.
Attend club meetings, lectures or seminars, or even career fairs which they’re likely to attend. The atmosphere will be more informal than a classroom, and you will have a better shot of engaging him or her in a real conversation.
Communication through the Years
This is the trickiest part for most students: staying connected with a professor after the semester ends. The easiest way is to take another class of theirs, but if this isn’t possible, don’t be discouraged.
Continue to attend department lectures or meetings. The occasional email is an easy way to keep contact without feeling awkward. The important thing is to never fall out of touch completely—if you pop up and ask for a favor out of nowhere, your professor won’t exactly feel obligated to help you out.
You can also still visit them during their office hours to catch up, tell them about your new classes, or ask for advice. As you move toward graduation, you can count on them as a voice of reason as you approach new milestones, such as serious (paid!) internships or graduate school worries.
Keep in mind that your conversation shouldn’t be all about you, though! Ask your professors about their own lives and ambitions.
Connecting with professors is so much more than staying on their good sides. Work hard and build great rapports with them, and your experience will be worthwhile, both in the classroom and in the work force.