Meeting with your professor can be an intimidating experience.
Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, knocking on that door is always a bit daunting. After all, professors are important, distinguished members of society, and they are in control of your grades. However, it’s also important to keep in mind that they are there to help you, and to pass along their wisdom & knowledge. So here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re feeling anxious about speaking with them.
1. (Most Often) They Love Talking to Students
The truth of the matter is, very few students actually go speak to their professors in person. Whether they are enticed by the convenience of email or simply fear social interaction, I have had numerous professors tell me that no one ever comes to see them when they hold office hours – and guess what? They wish this wasn’t the case. Professors set up these office hours because they want to speak with their students. Not only do they want to answer any questions you have from class or help you with an essay, but they want to get to know you a little bit. Teaching at the university level can be a very impersonal experience, especially when they are teaching introductory courses with as many as 1,000 students. They want to meet with you, really. So keep this in mind as you’re walking into their office.
2. Connections Are Important
Not only does it improve your experience in university if you take the time to get to know your professors, but it will likely be advantageous in the long run in terms of the opportunities that such a connection offers you. You never know when you might need a reference letter. Exchanges programs, scholarships, job applications, and graduate school applications often require at least one letter of reference. A professor is a great option for a letter of reference as they can attest to your work ethic, and your skills/level of knowledge in a particular area. In addition, professors often hire students as teaching assistants or researchers and forming a good relationship with a professor could give you a leg up.
3. Be Prepared
If it’s the beginning of the semester, and you just want to drop into your professor’s office hours to say hello, then this doesn’t really apply (and also, good on you!). But if you’re planning on seeing your professor to ask them questions about an upcoming test or essay, I would suggest doing a little bit of preparation. Brainstorm some possible essay ideas, do some light reading, and/or think of some specific questions you would like to ask them ahead of time. Not only will this help put you at ease, but it will immediately show your professor that you are organized and hardworking.
4. They Have Hundreds of Students
If you’re worried that you will say something embarrassing or that you won’t sound smart, keep in mind that professors teach hundreds of students at one time, and thousands of students in their careers. As much as they try to get to know their students (and as much as seeing them in their office hours will help), they likely will not remember if you make a mistake or say something embarrassing.
5. Start Small
If you’re nervous about meeting with your professor, start small. Ask them about one of the readings, ask them for book recommendations on a particular topic you’re interested in, or ask them a question you had about their most recent lecture. If you are able to get comfortable talking to them at the beginning, it will be much easier to ask them for help or favors (such as a reference letter) in future.
6. They Are Normal People
Now I know you already know this, but I just want to remind you: professors are normal people. You should have no reason to feel nervous or intimidated. At the end of the day, they are there to help. They have chosen a profession where it is their job to interact with students on a daily basis and so they most likely enjoy these types of interactions.
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