As classes begin to get rolling, you start to “feel out” your professors and you begin to get a sense of the individual that you are  going to be dealing with for the semester. It is crucial during the first few weeks to begin to establish a connection with your  professor. All too often students fall into the trap of not talking to their professor because they are afraid of the person who stands in front of them lecturing about a subject he/she basically lives for. But sooner or later, if you know what is good for you, you are going to have to muster up the courage to talk to him/her.

While at times it may be hard to phantom, professors are people too! They are more than lecturers and researchers and yes they are human. So don’t be intimidated by them. If your professor comes across as “intimidating”, chances are that it is just their teaching  style. And if a professor appears annoyed when you approach him or her, don’t take it personal. Chances are it has nothing to do with you. Believe it or not, they do have lives off campus. They are raising families, writing books, and might be even struggling to make due financially. They won’t bite. Say hello when you pass them walking on campus. They have a life outside of the classroom. They like spending time doing things that they find fun. Like students, professors have a diverse range of personalities; some are  welcoming from the minute they enter the classroom, while others will at first seem reserved. Many are unaware that their students might feel uncomfortable approaching them, but none of them wish to make their students feel unwelcome.

You may discover that you have common interests that can be the basis for a good relationship long after you have finished the course. If you think about it, what is the worse that could happen if you take the initiative to go to your professor. It can’t hurt your grade. Take the time to get to know them as people and not just a professor. Show your interest in their field – didn’t you know people like talking about themselves. Ask what research projects they’re working on or what books they’re writing, and you might be surprised at how accomplished some of your professors are and you may even learn that they are actually really interesting people with a personality. However, don’t come off like you’re trying to become their best friend. You’ll really want to actively pursue forming relationships with your professor because they can help you succeed academically and prepare you for your future. Studies have shown that students who make an effort to get to know their professor outside of the classroom setting are more likely to succeed in college.

SETTING YOURSELF UP

When the time comes to apply for internships, jobs, and most importantly medical school, you’ll need professors to write you a letter of recommendation. They’ll be able to write a much better letter if they know you more than just a face in the crowd. The  relationship that you’ve been working on since the beginning of the semester will be developed and your professor’s ability to write a truthful and thorough letter will clearly show in his or her writing. It will have a little more “umph” in it and admissions committee members will be able to tell whether or not the professor’s letter is truly genuine and if he or she really knows you well
as both a student and a person.

WORKING YOUR NETWORK

Your professors may be able to help you get your foot into the professional community or even give you the inside scoop on a job or internship that you might be interested in. Many professors have expansive recourses for you to connect with many other  distinguished people in the subject area that you’re interested in. Professors can serve as mentors, or help you locate someone else who could be. Professors can serve as a source for an on-campus job, summer internship or co-op, or research opportunity. After talking to your professor, you may discover that a particular field is much more interesting to you than you previously thought.

Granted, some professors may be more approachable than others. If you are worried about making the first trip to an office hour,  you can start by just going up after class and introducing yourself. As stated before, professors are not scary people and you should not be intimidated by them, even if you’re studying from a book that they penned themselves. Getting to know your professor is  something that happens over time. Since you are planning to go to medical school, it is a very good idea to start working more  closely with the professors who are in the field in which you are interested. This will mean taking multiple courses with the same professors, visiting them during office hours, and perhaps doing a research project under their guidance. A single office visit won’t change your life, but it could eventually lead to many “periphery” benefits that wouldn’t have come your way if you hadn’t gotten to
know your professors. The relationship you form with your professors can play a significant role in your success.

PREPARING FOR THE APPROACH

When you finally gather up the courage to approach your professor, it’s always important to be polite and respectful. Although you don’t want the initial conversation with your professor to seem unnatural and awkward, try to be as relaxed as possible. Pull your thoughts together beforehand so that you don’t make a fool of yourself. And if you are feeling a little nervous about meeting with your professor, it might be a good idea to prepare a list of questions. Just remember that when you’re ready talk to your professor make sure you are fully prepared.

This article was published in the Spetember/October 2010 issue of PreMedLife Magazine.