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Talk to whom?
Those learned men and women dedicated to preparing, organizing, setting up, presenting, sharing, evaluating, mentoring, and carrying out a host of other roles to support your academic journey.
“But I don’t like this one professor . . .
She’s got such an attitude.”
He’s got a horrible personality.”
I can’t understand his accent.”
She can be a real bitch in class if you don’t agree with her views.”
He’s got a chip on his shoulder, an axe to grind.”
She doesn’t really care about students.”
He’s SO boring.”
She assigns too much work and grades too hard.”
He loves to give us busy work; I hate his class”!
I love the topic, but she gets on my nerves.”
________________________ (fill in the blank).”
I get it. Did I love ALL of my professors in college? NO.
Here’s the thing, though, professors are people too. And, if you interact with them as though they are, some really magical stuff can happen, well, maybe not magical, but something great could happen.
You could actually make a connection.
You see, we all just want to be seen, we want to be heard and we want to matter. Professors are no different.
When you take the time to introduce yourself to your professor and have a conversation, not just once, but often, they get to know you, you get to know them, and BAM, you’ve developed a relationship that could last a lifetime.
If you’re not interested in a lifetime relationship, that’s OK, but perhaps it can last until you’re in need of that great reference or recommendation. I’m not encouraging you to simply use your professor just to satisfy your needs, but that is one of the roles they can play as you navigate your academic journey into the position of your dreams.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a random email from a past student that started with, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I was in your ______ class in _____. I was wondering if you could write a reference letter for me”? Then, they send me a link.
I get it, we all need letters of reference at some point in time; whether it’s to snag that coveted internship, reserve our seat on that study abroad, get into that school of choice, land that perfect position we’ve been working our butts off to secure or some other great reason.
However, asking for a reference letter from a professor you barely spoke to or didn’t give the time of day to is not cool! It’s just not cool, period!
Again, professors are people too! As such, they’re eager to write letters of reference and recommendation for those students who made/make the effort to connect with them.
Whether it’s staying after class to continue the discussion, ask a question, ask about their research and interests in their discipline of choice, ask for help with an upcoming assignment or exam or to just give a compliment now and then, the point is to connect with ’em.
When I first started teaching, I was eager to provide a reference letter for any student who asked for one; because I wanted to be liked. But, I soon learned and was mentored to understand that being a professor isn’t about being liked, it’s about serving students along their path to help them maximize the opportunities along their journey to their just right work, whatever that is. Some students will like you, some won’t. Some may even hate you. A reality that I simply had to accept.
From that point forward, I reserved the reference/recommendation letter for those students who took the time to connect with me. Then, the letter could be written from the heart with some details about the student, his or her approach to learning, how they handled a situation, solved a problem or grew over the course of a semester. That is what the folks on these various committees and who serve as recruiters want to know.
They want to know something about you, not simply that you attended a class and received a grade. When you ask a professor for a letter of reference or recommendation and you haven’t connected with him or her, all they can honestly provide is a basic “Yes, they were in my class and they received a grade of ___.”
What does that reveal? NOTHING!
If you took sometime to connect and get to know them, your letter would look quite different. How about…
“Ashley is one of those unforgettable students you just love having in your class. From the first day to the end of the semester, she was on time, prepared, focused, curious, and always eager to participate. Her comments were always thoughtful and supported with evidence. I remember one situation where she stepped up to the plate to mediate a conflict in her assigned group. Not only did she take the lead, she helped the students who were at odds negotiate a solution that was a win/win for both of them. I watched her patiently and skillfully listen to each side and propose a wise solution…I would be more than confident to ask Ashley to manage any project or task in my class or in my company, for that matter. I know she won’t simply take on a task and meet expectations, be a YES girl; she will commit to it, ask questions, do the research and confidently share her proposal with enthusiasm. If you hire Ashley, you’re hiring an invaluable team member who understands the importance of collaboration, and is a problem solver who isn’t afraid to do the work and make the tough decisions.”
The above summary is a world apart from that standard letter that includes, ‘Yup, they were in my class, and got a grade of ___.’
I’ve always loved writing letters of reference/recommendation for students. I’ll still get a request from students from time to time even though I’m no longer teaching within the academic establishment. I consider it an honor and a privilege to do so. And, I know I’m not alone.
Most, if not all of your professors love to help and support students. They decided to teach because they love leading students to the table of wonder in their given discipline. They love to mentor, support and help students broaden their purview and become well-rounded, along with a host of other admirable reasons, not because of that stupid and insulting saying, “Those who can’t, teach.”
Many of your professors do both – teach and do, they also hold positions outside of academia just like I did.
There may be a few who are in it because they thought it was an easier road, or for some other random reason, but I think you can tell whose there because they love that path and those who are just loitering.
Whether you find them boring, with a thick accent, or they seem to have a chip on their shoulder, I’ve found that empathy and insight slows down anger and ushers in understanding.
Maybe it’s the sociologist in me – my love for people and deep desire to understand the human journey, but I believe we all have a story and when someone is willing to listen, see us, hear us, and treat us like we matter, even the biggest, widest and most fortified of walls can fall.
Talk to ’em. My guess is most of the time the experience will be a good one, maybe even a great one. If it’s not, you have the satisfaction of knowing you tried and sometimes that’s enough.
And, don’t give up after only a few tries. It’s the one who persists who sees the fruits of their labor.
Talk to ’em, talk to all of ’em.
Even if they don’t talk back, challenge yourself to see their humanity and allow them to see yours.
Robbi Crawford, The Student’s Mentor, Author and Speaker is the founder of BrijBrand.co. Subscribe below and join the BrijBrand community; we’ll keep you in the loop about the progress on what we’re building for YOU, a safe place to land when you’re feeling stuck, need a plan, and want some targeted help and genuine support!