Professors are human beings, too, with real human feelings. How your professor feels about you can influence how much time he or she is willing to put in to help you with the course, and even how good a recommendation he or she is willing to write for grad school or a job. Surprisingly enough, only 1 in 100 students thinks about this. Assuming you're one of the other 99, we offer you our baker's dozen of tips on how to ingratiate yourself to your professor:
1. Look interested. Professors like nothing better than to see alert and engaged students seated front and center in their classes. Even if they're usually too polite to mention it, professors do notice students who sit there yawning or looking bummed out—or, worse yet, openly texting or reading E-mail. If you look as if you're following, actively taking notes, and showing an interest in the material, you'll stand out from the huddled masses.
2. Say hi to the professor when he or she enters the room. Seems obvious. But take a look sometime at how few students do it.
3. Ask a question. Most professors regularly interrupt their presentations to give students a chance to ask questions. And when they do, they're hoping for some kind of response, not the apathetic silence that often reigns. Your question will light up your professor's day. Make sure it's a question about the material, not one of these much-hated questions: Will this be on the test? Could you repeat what you just said for the past 15 minutes?
Extra Pointer: Bonus points will be given to you if your question demonstrates an understanding of material presented in an earlier class. (Your professor will think, "Wow—a student who came to class and actually remembers something from last week!") Also good is if your question shows an acquaintance with the reading. (Your professor will think, "Wow—someone is actually poring over that dull-as-nails textbook I assigned!")
4. Put in your two cents' worth. Another way professors break up the class is by asking questions. At times, running a class discussion can be like pulling teeth, especially for those professors who think they should not make a move until the student has moved first (like a game of chess, with the professors playing "black"). So, perk up with a question when the professor comes in asking, "Does anyone have any questions?"
4-Star Tip: Do not take this as a green light to dominate every class or to ask whatever question comes to mind, no matter how trivial or irrelevant. If you do either of these, you'll become a major thorn in your professor's side, as well as incur the wrath of your fellow students.
5. Continue the conversation outside class. You will surely get on your professor's good side if you approach him or her out of class to talk about issues raised in class. Usually the best venue for this discussion is during office hours, but some professors have time to chat before or after class. Keep in mind that the more you can display your interest in the course material for its own sake (rather than for the sake of a good grade on the paper or test), the better. If you are shy, an E-mail to the professor following up on some issue raised in class can also do the trick.
6. Volunteer first. You have a golden opportunity to earn your prof's affections if you are the first to volunteer when your professor is dividing up tasks for later in the semester—for example, seminar presentations, debates, or discussion leaders. Some professors even give special breaks on the grading for those brave enough to step up to bat first.
7. Join the team. Some professors offer students the opportunity to work with them on a joint research project or do an internship with them. This can be one of the best ways to forge a great relationship with your professor and to gain valuable training in your field. If no research or internship opportunities are available, at least see if you can take a small class or seminar with some professor you would like to work with.
8. Ask the profs what they're working on. Most professors have spent many years working on a research project. And there's almost nothing professors like to talk about more than their research. But it's a rare student who thinks to ask the professor about it. This is something that'll surely set you off from the crowd, and hey, you might even learn something about Siberian poetry of the late 1820s.
9. Participate in departmental activities. Professors will take note when they see you at departmental events, such as outside lectures, colloquia, or meetings of the departmental student club. Your participation shows you really care about the field. Professors are suckers for that sort of thing.
10. Alert your professor to current events related to the class. Bringing in a newspaper item or report from the Web that has relevance to the course is a sure-fire way to win approval from your professor. Not only does the prof see that you are engaged enough with the class to recognize its relevance to real-world activities, but it gives the professor some valuable ammunition to prove to the rest of the class that—despite what they've been thinking—someone actually finds the course useful or interesting.
11. Congratulate the professor on an achievement. If you read on your college's website that your professor just published a book, won an award, or got tenure and/or promotion, it's a very nice thing to offer congratulations. We all like our accomplishments to be recognized, even professors.
12. Tell your prof you like the class. Students rarely realize that professors worry about how a class is going and would desperately like to hear that students are enjoying the class. Look for an occasion during which you can slip in, in a casual but sincere way, that you like the class. It would be a special touch if you could come up with some specific thing about the class that you are enjoying, but even a general expression of appreciation would surely be welcome.
Professors' Perspective: It's one thing to compliment a professor and another thing to lay it on too thick. Once you start sucking up, the professor realizes it's more about you trying to get a good grade than about his or her being a good professor.
13. Thank the professor when he or she does you a favor. You might not realize it, but professors aren't obligated to do a lot of the things they do for students, like making special appointments to help with papers, answering E-mails on evenings and weekends, giving extensions and makeup exams, and providing help with picking other courses in the department. Professors remember the students who thank them, in person or at least by E-mail, for any special considerations that the professor might have offered. And that will come in very handy when you need another favor or two.
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