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Making Connections With Professors (Undergrad)

  1. Jul 3, 2010 #1
    I'm going to university this Fall (freshman) and, having been repeatedly encouraged to make connections with professors/find a mentor/network, am wondering...how? In high-school, the kids who had good relationships with teachers usually just hung around their offices and chatted. I have trouble seeing that fly with professors.

    Should one just think of interesting questions to ask about material in class, and use that as a "foot in the door"? I want professors to see when I'm interested, but at the same time I don't want to bother them with questions they may find banal and uninteresting.

    So, I mean, short of asking "will you mentor me?" how does one do this?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2010 #2
    I don't think the approach you outlined in the second paragraph generally works. Obviously it depends on the question you are asking, but I think professors in general can clearly see through BS. Interesting to the point where it's a topic that's actually slightly outside your reach that you've devoted considerable thought to is probably ok, but if you're just going to ask "interesting questions" (which is not well-defined), you can easily destroy your standing with the professor.

    Also what exactly do you plan on looking for? A question like "will you mentor me" sounds like a research assistantship in practice, but perhaps you mean something different. Note that in any case, regardless of what you do in office hours or outside of class, rising to the top of your class will likely guarantee good standing with your professor. I feel this last point is somewhat debatable, but demonstrating ability I think is more important than possibly demonstrating potential in this situation. Obviously if you can do both that's great, but what you do outside of class is much more risky no matter what your intentions are.
  4. Jul 3, 2010 #3


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    Some professors really enjoy talking to students. You'll likely be able to tell which ones pretty quickly.

    I think it's fine to approach a professor during office hours and simply tell him or her that you're aiming to go to graduate school one day and that you're interested in any research opportunities that he or she might have or know about. It's also fair game to ask about the projects he or she is working on, or what projects are available for students.

    The proff might tell you that they generally look for someone a little older, but that's fine. If you don't ask, you don't know. They might know about others who are looking for someone they can train.
  5. Jul 3, 2010 #4
    Stand out in your class. This may seem ridiculous as some freshman classes have 300+ students (depends where you go), but trust me. My professors all knew me by name and it wasn't because I went and saw them everyday. The only time I found it right to go see a professor is when I actually had a legitimate course related question. Don't abuse their time, lots of professors have lots of questions to answer, courses to plan, and research to complete. I actually ended up being on extremely good terms with many of my professors and I am sure they would be willing to write me reference letters or refer me to positions ( I am currently a second year mathematical physics student at the University of Alberta).
  6. Jul 3, 2010 #5
    So it seems like making connections does not necessarily depend on fostering a personal relationship, just a professional (in other words, academic) relationship?
  7. Jul 3, 2010 #6
    Do your best, work your hardest and you will stand out. One of my former professors once told me that there are two kinds of students that stand out to him, the top 10% of the class and the bottom 10%. If you end up having a casual friendly relationship with a professor it couldn't hurt, but don't go into their office with that expectation. Show that you are dedicated and motivated, and stop by when you have a legitimate question.
  8. Jul 3, 2010 #7
    So were the professors willing to do favours for you if you asked them?
  9. Jul 3, 2010 #8

    Andy Resnick

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    Speaking personally, it does work. Go to seminars. Ask questions- the ones who treat you like a fool are not the ones you want to work with.

    The college (or even the Department) may have some sort of "career guidance" office- go to them and ask questions, they may be able to help guide you to appropriate professors.
  10. Jul 4, 2010 #9
    This is definitely something I recommend. What I am trying to advice against is simply wasting a professor's office hours.
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