How to Build Relationships with Your Professors


How to Build Relationships with Your Professors

On a factual basis, professors are useful people. They write you recommendations for years after graduation. They can offer advice and mentorship and be a valuable sounding board as you advance through your career. Learning how to build relationships with your professors will enrich your life.

On an emotional level, it is almost always the case that professors are interesting people.  Even the grumpy, gruff professors, and even the beaten-down-by-adjunct-status professors. Something— some academic subject— engaged them enough to make them want a PhD. They know things. And they are in the business of sharing their knowledge. If you seek their insight and advice, you can learn so much. If you bond with them, your mutual friendship can be a gift for decades.

In this blog I’ve provided you with a guide on how to build relationships with your professors so that they can mentor and support you beyond just college.

Be mature

A successful way to start your quest on how to build relationships with your professors is to make sure you’re a capable and mature individual. College professors meet you when you are a (young) adult. This is an opportunity for you to make a fresh start and form a favorable impression. Professors want you to appreciate the opportunities that university life offers, and the top of the list is a good education. So meet every deadline, stay alert in class, never make excuses, and show a genuine effort and eagerness to learn.  

Accept invitations

Most professors offer office hours; if you want to learn how to build relationships with your professors, you should use them. Stop by with questions and enthusiasm. Ask if you can discuss your career goals with them or if they would talk with you about their own career path. Their door is open and you are welcome.

At many schools – especially at small liberal arts colleges – faculty host student gatherings in their homes. You should eagerly attend these dinners. First, it means free, delicious food. Second, it’s a chance to see where, how, and with whom your professors lived. (In my experience, professor’s partners are extremely interesting people too.) And any time you visit someone in their home, your relationship expands. You learn things about them and their personalities and that brings you closer.

Some colleges also sponsor “take a prof to lunch” programs. You can do this every term. It will likely be fun (and again, free, delicious food)! Professors are usually pleased to be asked. You can do this with a small group of friends from class so that it feels more comfortable or less stressful.

Take an interest in their subject

This one sort of goes without saying. If you’re not interested in math at all, and you’re struggling in class, perhaps your math professor isn’t the best person to get to know. As you contemplate how to build relationships with your professors, it’s important to remember that you’ll have an easier time communicating with mentors whose classes you have a genuine interest towards, whom you can work with on various projects, and who can offer you guidance in your field in return. 

Be patient and respectful

As you navigate how to build relationships with your professors, remember that you’re not their only student. Professors are busy people with deadlines to meet and classes to teach. As a result you cannot expect them to reply to all your emails within 5-10 minutes, or always be readily available to help you any time you have a question. If you want them to respect you, remember that you have to show them respect first! Don’t email them at 3 am and demand an instant response. Neither should you constantly nag them about returning an assignment. Remember, they’ve got a lot going on!

Stay in touch

I have always thought it must be a bit heartbreaking to be a teacher. They invest so much care and effort into each student and then most students head out into the world and rarely look back.  If you have developed a good relationship, you should maintain it as you would any adult friendship.

Professors want to hear about your successes and can offer advice during your struggles. And like any genuine relationship, the support should be mutual. You may be asked to write recommendations for professors seeking tenure. You should reach out to professors who endure losses in their lives. 

You may find that you become genuine friends, people who come to each other’s weddings. 

It might initially seem like the most intimidating act on earth, but learning how to build relationships with your professors can be fun and ultimately rewarding. The four years you spend in college are stressful ones. Having mentors who support you and are there for you is reassuring – they can answer the questions on your mind and serve as living examples that things turn out okay for people who pursue the same interests as you. Make sure you take advantage of office hours and act with maturity and respect as you figure out how to cultivate these possibly lifelong connections. Good luck!

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