Countless students leave behind years of college without the connection they so strongly wish they had made. The constant visits to their professors’ office hours proved fruitless in establishing a lifelong relationship.
Left without a mentor, these students venture into the real world without the guidance of someone they may have looked up to in the classroom.
I thought I would be one of those students — until I sent my former journalism professor an email, which led to further emails, phone calls, coffee dates and a position to assist her with research for her next book.
This professor serves as a role model, a friend, a mentor and someone I continue to learn from post-graduation — as well as someone who gives me relationship advice.
Developing a connection with a professor that lasts beyond ones undergraduate years requires a genuine interest to get to know and learn from that individual — without crossing the boundaries.
Approximately 50% of college grads claim to have had a mentor in college, whether it’s an older student, a professor or a boss from an internship.
Here are four crucial steps students can take to prove worthy of those post-graduate lunch dates:
• Go the extra mile
Falling asleep in class, ignoring assignments and asking for a recommendation letter from a professor you never introduced yourself to is a surefire way to kill the relationship.
Demonstrating an interest in the subject matter and discussing it in office hours is the first step to getting to know your professor. Don’t view a mentorship as the end goal — make learning your priority, and the rest will fall into place.
“I found [my professor’s] views really fascinating and he was always willing to listen as I developed my philosophies on education,” said Nicole Augustine, a graduate of West Chester University. “After I was no longer his student, I sometimes attended special classes he would hold where we discussed different philosophies of education and current events. I gave 110% in his class and involved other students.”
• Know the individual
After putting significant effort into a professor’s coursework, the instructor will be more inclined to get to know you, as well as give professional advice or help you in your own endeavors. Professors are individuals with their own stories, emotions and ideas. Few students get to know the individual that stands behind the lecture booth, but in many cases, doing so is well worth the effort.
“Professors are there to help you, but they really appreciate when you come to them without needing to ask for help,” advised Megan Lilly, an American University alumna. The December 2010 graduate has remained in contact with a former associate professor, who she occasionally meets for lunch or coffee and whose class she helps teach once each semester. After working on an independent study project under her professor’s supervision, Lilly’s professor became a personal mentor, which proved valuable when she was searching for jobs.
It wasn’t long before she had a more personal relationship with the man whose class she once sat anonymously in.
“He always encouraged me to chat about little things happening in my life and would relate them to something he experienced or some story he knew about,” she said. “He made himself really easy to relate to and made our relationship a two-way street. It wasn’t just me coming to him for help. He involved me in his projects, as well.”
• Let your colors shine
Make sure your professors know that you’re more than just a walking notebook — but don’t overstep your boundaries by discussing the drinking you did at last Saturday’s party. Professors enjoy getting to know their students, which is why some may require you to submit a short bio at the start of the semester. If you’re overwhelmed during class one day, it might be best to discuss your concerns, rather than bottling them up and appearing apathetic.
Vanessa Jade, an American University alumna, was struggling with personal troubles that affected her academic performance during her senior year. After the pressures caused her to have a nervous breakdown, she chose to communicate with her instructor to relay her concerns. The professor was known to be a tough grader, and it was because Jade confided in her that she was able to get through the rough time she was having, as well as find a role model, friend and mentor.
“After she sat and listened intently to my story, she told me that it was OK to feel these emotions because we are human,” Jade said. “She shared some of her own personal experiences and how she battled them and encouraged me to stay positive and think highly of myself. Ever since then, she has always checked in on me, asked me how I was doing and always told me she was proud of me.”
• Don’t neglect your contacts
Even if you have already graduated, it’s not too late to find a mentor in a former professor. From sending a holiday card to keeping in touch via email, professors always enjoy hearing from a former student.
“[My professor] relayed how easy it is to forget a name and a face in a sea of thousands,” said Andy Pomidor, a graduate at the University of California – Santa Cruz. “He told me that I should email him every few months and check in. That way he won’t forget who I am out of the context of the class.”
If you don’t get a reply, remember that many professors are prominent individuals with outside careers that keep them busy. If you succeed in establishing a lifelong connection, be grateful for the advice provided by your elders and remember them 20 years down the line when you look back at those who helped you succeed.
“He appeared to care about every student,” Pomidor said. “I admired him a lot.”
Powered by Facebook Comments