I’ll admit, I was never good at getting to know most of my professors in school. There were some with whom I clicked and built a solid professional relationship with, but most of them I only ever saw in class.
As I grew as a student and especially as a professional, I realized how important those relationships were. Not only are those connections valuable for letters of recommendations to jobs, clerkships, or other similar professional opportunities, but also because your professors are a wealth of knowledge.
There’s only so much material that can be covered in class, especially in a large class setting. Having taught a few small sections at the higher education level, I can attest to this fact. There’s so much more that professors have to offer, about the material, about the subject, about life experiences that can be missed if you never take the time to get to know them.
Here are a few easy ways to break the ice and start getting to know your professors.
It really ought to be a no-brainer. Your professors are generally required to establish designated hours during which they are available to talk with you – yes, you! Take advantage of this time and go see them!
I have a few friends who are professors who complain that they often spend their office hours bored and alone. Students never show up. This is an absolutely perfect opportunity to meet with your professors.
Though, to be fair, I often didn’t visit office hours either, because I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t necessarily struggling with class material, at least nothing that I couldn’t figure out on my own or from peers. So, I missed out.
Now, having been a professional for several years, I can tell you that you don’t need a complicated reason to participate in office hours. Simply stop by to say hello. Ask your professor how their week is going. Ask how they got into teaching. Why their subject matter? What advice would they give their younger self?
You will be surprised what can start from a small act like stopping by your professor’s office to say hello.
You could always invite your professor to coffee. Again, you don’t need to have a complicated agenda or burning existential questions to ask your professors. Simply ask if they’d like to join you for a cup of coffee so you can learn more about them, their career, and their work.
One thing I didn’t fully understand when I was a student is how much work professors do outside of the classroom. Especially in this day and age, professors do far more than teach a course. They are often hustling to do research and get published in very specialized fields of study. Ask about their work outside of the classroom, and you may be surprised to learn the often incredible projects your professor is working on.
With Covid, of course, going out to coffee may be slightly more complicated than it used to be. I’ve asked colleagues and referral sources to virtual coffee where we meet on Zoom for thirty minutes while sometimes drinking a cup of coffee or tea. It’s not a perfect substitute for meeting in person, but for those who are in virtual programs or who are not comfortable going into cafes for a cup of coffee, don’t be afraid to suggest a virtual meeting.
If you couldn’t tell by now, one of the best ways to get to know your professor is to ask questions. If you only stay after class for a few moments to talk to your professor and ask how their day is going or you go to office hours or meet for coffee, be curious about your professor and their work.
This strategy works, by the way, for any networking setting. The ultimate goal is to get to know someone and the best way to get to know them is to be interested in them.
Your professors have a great deal more to offer than reciting lessons in text books. Much of their work outside of the classroom (as previously discussed) is not public knowledge yet. Getting published can take a very long time, meanwhile your professor is working behind-the-scenes researching interesting and sometimes controversial subjects.
Besides asking about your professor, you can ask why they chose the law school they attended, what drew them to the school where they’re teaching, what are the three main keys to success in their class, and so on.
Relationships are a two-way street, even professional relationships. Your professors are teaching sometimes hundreds of students. They may not have the opportunity to get to know each of the students in their classes.
Sometimes you have to speak up to be heard. Take the initiative to reach out to your professors, visit their office hours, invite them to a meeting, and be interested in their work, and you never know what wonderful connections (let alone opportunities) may result.
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