When we hear the word “networking”, we usually think in terms of employer networking. However, networking with professors is just as important, especially early in your college career, because it is essential to develop professional relationships before you need them. It can be challenging for younger college students to network with their professors, and it can be even more difficult if you are in a lecture hall style class with more than 100 other students. Although it seemed intimidating at first, networking with some of my professors has resulted in the most rewarding and beneficial relationships I have made so far in my college career. Here are some of my tips for establishing and maintaining relationships with your professors.
Choose the Right Professor to Network With
The key aspect of a professor-student relationship is professionalism. You want to establish a genuine and professional relationship with your professor. These types of relationships take time, and you won’t establish a meaningful relationship in a day. Do not feel like you have to network exclusively with professors in your major. Although you do want to establish some kind of relationship with your major-related professors, you can network with any of your professors. You want to choose someone who you feel you would easily be able to talk to and establish a genuine relationship with. It helps to look for things in common between the two of you that goes beyond the material you discuss in class.
Make Initial Contact
Start by introducing yourself to your professor after class one day. It does not need to be during the first week of classes, because professors usually get swamped with students after the first few classes, but you also do not want to wait until the semester is almost over to introduce yourself. The key is that you want your professor to put a name to a face, and be able to know who you are out of all the students that they teach. Make sure you are prepared before you go introduce yourself. First impressions are very important, so you want to be ready. This will differ from person to person – some are good at winging it, while others need to prepare exactly what they want to say. Do whatever it takes so that you feel comfortable and can make a good first impression.
Ideally, you want to set up a meeting with your professor. Maybe you have a question about course material, or you have questions about your professor’s department. Relevant questions show that you are serious and that you are prepared, even if your questions seem basic. You do not have to schedule a meeting the first time you introduce yourself, but be sure to know your schedule in case your professor asks. Make sure that you will actually meet with your professor if you schedule a meeting, as you do not want to miss a commitment.
Typically email is the best way to contact professors, and it has a certain etiquette attached to it, as you want your relationship to be professional. Address them as “Dr. Johnson” or “Professor Smith”, and take time to write your email. A simple and concise email is best. Mention that you have introduced yourself in class, and make sure you do not come across as overbearing or overconfident. Ask your professor when he or she is available to meet with you, and make sure to say thank you.
Hopefully your professor will reply with a date and time that fits your schedule. If their time does not fit your schedule, thank them, reply respectfully, and provide your availability to them. Keep it simple, respectful, and professional. You will eventually settle on a meeting date, and you are all set for the next step.
Meet With Them
When you meet with your professor, you want to have something relevant to discuss. It is acceptable to discuss personal things, like hobbies, interests, or involvements, just be sure to keep it general, professional, light hearted, and positive. Do not commit to anything you do not want to commit to. For example, just because a professor asks you if you would be interested in helping them with research does not mean that you have to commit right away, just tell them that you appreciate their offer and will think about it. Building a meaningful relationship takes time, and will not happen during your first meeting. Make sure to dress appropriately, to make eye contact, and to shake your professor’s hand at the beginning and end of the meeting. Before you leave, make sure you mention that you appreciate them taking the time to meet with you, and for providing you with some helpful information.
Send a thank you email. It means a lot. It seems simple, but it is critical. You can send a follow up whenever you feel comfortable, but you would not want to send it from your phone as you are leaving the meeting, or three weeks after the meeting. Ideally you want to send it within a few days after the meeting. The email itself is simple, just say thank you and that you look forward to future contact. The follow up email helps distinguish you from other students who your professor met with, but who did not send follow up emails. Make sure you actually make future contact if you say that you will. After you have sent a thank you email, you can wait for your professor to reply, and move on to the next step.
Check in periodically with your professor – you don’t want it to be a one-time thing. You don’t need to talk to your professor after every class, but you definitely want to maintain contact throughout the semester, and even after you are done with the class.
Continue to develop and nurture your relationship with your professor. Keep it going throughout college, and even after you graduate college. Professors are people too. Just as you would check in with friends from time to time, check in with your professors. They like to hear what you are up to, especially if you have a good relationship with them. Just asking them how things are going goes a long way. Thank them if they help you by writing a letter of recommendation, and send another thank you if you land the job or position the recommendation was for. It’s all a process, but it is not too different from any normal friendship.
Hopefully these tips will help alleviate some of the stress of networking with your professors. Remember, it is all a process, and building a meaningful relationship with your professor will take time. You do not have to network only with professors related to your major, although you still need to have some relationship with your major-related professors. Be confident and prepared, dress appropriately, and make sure to follow up after you meet with your professor. Keep these tips in mind, but also do not forget to be genuine. Being genuine will help you relax, and will reduce any tension associated with meeting with a professor. Soon you will have established a few meaningful and beneficial relationships with your professors here at UGA.
– Jeff Sidlovsky
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