Getting to Know Your Professors

A smiling person showing a peace sign

I hadn’t interacted much with college professors before I came to Yale, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Would they really not accept any late work? Would the men all wear elbow patches on their tweed blazers? Were they at all interested in building a relationship with me? The answers to those respective questions are “sometimes”, “only about 15%”, and “definitely”.

It also might not seem obvious why you would want to get to know a professor in the first place. I’ll encourage you to do so for a few reasons. First, your professors aren’t here by accident: they’re experts in their field, and they have a ton of knowledge to share that you might not have time to explore one-on-one during class. Second, they’re usually really interesting people who are invested in your learning and growth; I can’t think of a better resource to have in your corner. Finally, on a very pragmatic level, there will likely come a time where some graduate school or prospective employer will ask you to provide one or more recent references. A professor who doesn’t know you can’t exactly sing your praises. So, if I’ve convinced you to build relationships with your professors, but you’re feeling a bit intimidated or unsure where to begin, below are some tips.

1. Get started early!

In my experience, the best time to individually introduce yourself to a professor is early in the semester. Whether you’re in a massive lecture or a more intimate seminar, the beginning of the semester will be a period where everyone (staff included) is easing into the course. Sign up for office hours, make an appointment, and get your foot in the door! If you start early, you have a greater part of the semester to grow the relationship.

A man sitting and waiting, looking sad.
Your professors waiting for you to reach out to them

2. Ask them about their work!

Research institutions do a good job of bringing in faculty who not only teach well, but also produce groundbreaking scholarship in their fields. So at any given time you can speak with your professors about cutting edge research that they or their colleagues are engaged in. Not only will this be extremely interesting, but they might even need a (paid) research assistant…

3. Keep in touch!

If you and a professor really hit it off over the course of a semester, don’t be a stranger. Try to stop by their office hours or grab coffee once a semester/year to catch up and share what the two of you have been up to. I’ve always found these to be really heartwarming and fulfilling experiences (I actually caught up with two former professors this morning), and I’m sure that you will too.

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I’m really glad that I started getting to know my professors starting early in my first year, because they have been wonderful mentors and advisors to me throughout college. I was inspired to write about this because I’ve spent the last few days checking in with professors from as early as my first semester at Yale, and I feel so grateful to have learned from and worked alongside them. So, put yourself out there! I promise it’ll be worth it ten times over.