Question #1

Here at Ball State, our semester begins this week, so there’s no better time to post the first question, which I received from a student a couple of days ago (text edited lightly).

#1 Q: You always tell your students to connect with their professors, to open up to them, because that will help them help you with connections and letters of recommendation. But what would you tell a student who has tried to form this connection and hasn’t yet found professors who are interested in knowing him/her?

A: That’s a common problem, but it doesn’t mean you need to stop trying. It usually happens for two reasons: a. you didn’t try hard enough, or came with the wrong approach, or b. you are in the wrong major/department. Many professors have too many students each semester to initiate contact with each one. I, for example, have 237 students this semester alone, and that is in addition to hundreds of students I still help from past semesters and universities. Thus it is up to you to approach your teachers. Some would have regular office hours, some would see you only by appointment, and some would do both. So schedule a meeting, introduce yourself, talk about class (you can always find a relevant question to ask to start the conversation), and then try to navigate the conversation elsewhere to your personal interests or experiences. You’d realize quite quickly if your professor wants to get to know you or wishes to keep your relationship to class matters only. If it’s the latter, respect his/her choice, try to find other people, but still keep in touch with him/her because it is within your interest to ensure your professors know you. If you’ve tried this approach with all your professors and none of them seem to be interested, don’t give up. You will find those people eventually. In some cases, though, you might find yourself in a department where either the culture is such that does not provide for such connections, or that your true interests do not truly align with those of your teachers. It would be much harder for you to maintain long-term connections that way, and it would be wiser to discover this as soon as possible when you can still switch majors. I recommend this solution because in my view having strong connections with professors can completely transform your college and post-college career (positively, that is). From my experience, students who have chosen a major based on what their parents told them to study or on what they believe would lead them to the next step, regardless of what actually interests them, would be less likely to form bonds with their teachers. This often happens to students who choose a “professional” major (one that leads to a very specific occupation) and not a liberal arts one that provides general education with all the skills one needs to launch a successful career.

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