One of the benefits of attending a small college is the opportunity for faculty members and students to get to know each other well. This professional relationship can enrich the overall academic experience for students, but it takes both parties to make this happen. Faculty members make themselves available in class, via appointment, during set office hours, and over e-mail. Although some students will take advantage of these opportunities, there are others who do not reach out. Some may find it is difficult to start up a conversation unless they have a topic in mind; for instance a question about an assignment or what courses to take for the next term. Students shouldn’t let a lack of questions stop them from connecting with an instructor. Make the “getting to know you” agenda item number one!
Students are encouraged to schedule appointments with faculty members to just talk about their career interests and academic goals. The first meeting may last for only 10-15 minutes. It can be easier to start small and build from there. For example, a student might begin by requesting to meet with the professor to share some of their professional goals and see what opportunities may exist on or off campus to help accomplish them. This appointment is a great time for pre-health students to explain why they are pursuing a particular career, how they selected their major, and what other things they do outside of class that may enhance or influence their school performance. From here, the instructor may have some insights to offer and specific suggestions on what to do next. Follow through and follow-up are crucial at this stage! Students should look into the recommendations and keep the professor apprised of the progress; whether it is in passing in hallway, via e-mail, or otherwise. Not only will this keep the lines of communication open, but it is also a sign of respect to show you listened to what they shared. Students may receive additional advice in follow-up conversations that allow for future interactions.
These small steps help to create a strong connection over time. When new opportunities arise for internships, scholarships, leadership roles, etc., students who have made the effort to reach out are more likely to be included on the list of candidates. In addition, when the time comes for students to apply for jobs or professional/graduate school, letters of recommendation are often needed. If the faculty member knows a student well, they are more willing and better able to provide a strong letter of support.
Relationships rarely develop overnight so a conscientious student will begin cultivating a few with various professors early on in their undergraduate career. Just remember, faculty members are people too—this shouldn’t be about using them for their connections or recommendations. You may come to find you value their opinions, wisdom, and company so much more!