My College:
Dear Adina

How Do I Encourage My Student to Reach Out to Professors?

Adina Glickman


Dear Adina,

How do you get your college student to go out of their comfort zone and reach out to their professors and foster relationships with them?


Dear Parent,

So many professors I’ve talked to over the years feel very sad that more students don’t come to office hours.

Students don’t realize how refreshing and enlivening their “student energy” can be, and what a pleasure it is for teachers to converse with the curious, uninitiated and possibly future members of their scholarly brethren! And yet students are over there hiding in the shadows, cultivating many myths that deter them from reaching out and connecting on a human level with the humans who are teaching them.

Here are some myths many students have about what their professors are thinking.

1. When class is over, the teaching is complete.

Actually, many faculty like teaching because they like talking about what they love. Show up for office hours and give them a reason to wax poetic on the things that matter to them. Let them shine their light of enthusiasm on you!

2. We’ve seen and heard every idea already.

Professors count on students to bring their unique viewpoints and ideas into the academic dialogue. Discussion around these ideas yields tomorrow’s new sociological applications, scientific discoveries, political solutions, etc. Your “silly idea” might be the crisp clear question that opens a new line of inquiry and gets your professor (and the whole class) thinking about the subject in a fresh way.

3. When a student asks a question, we know it means they haven’t been listening to our lectures.

Au contraire! Student questions mean you’re thinking beyond the lecture. They like that. And it means you’re awake.

4. After class, all we want to do is get back to our lives or our own projects.

Being a teacher usually means you have a basic appreciation and need for human contact. If all teachers get to do is look out at a sea of faces (or Zoom screens) all day and never get to actually connect with any of you, their lives are much less interesting.

5. My friendly demeanor grants you permission to put your feet on my desk without asking.

Professors deserve and expect your respect. Sign up for appointments ahead of time if possible. Come with specific questions and be thinking about what you want to talk about. If you’re just coming to make contact, think about what it is you want to get from your time together. They know you might some day want a letter of recommendation from them for grad school (or an internship, fellowship or scholarship application), but don’t assume they'll want to do that for you if you haven't put an effort into forming a real connection.

So I suggest your student prepare for a conversation with a professor in one of several ways:

  • Look at their faculty page and see what they’re into, either in their research or in their lives or hobbies. If something looks interesting, ask about that. It’s fine to say, “I saw you like taking your dogs for hikes on your faculty page. What kind of dog do you have? I really miss ours, she’s a black lab.”
  • Review your class notes or your reading, and even if you don’t have a question about something you didn't understand, pick something else that seemed new or interesting to you and talk about that. You can say something like, “When you were talking about the aerodynamics of modern airplanes, it got me thinking about whether we’ll ever be able to get humans to fly as gracefully as birds.”
  • It’s totally fine to be transparent and say, “I’m kinda awkward talking to people, so please bear with me. But I really want to connect with all my teachers, so thanks for taking the time to let me talk with you."

And finally, about getting out of the comfort zone. It might be a good time to recall some other uncomfortable things your student has experienced and have them remember the whole picture, not just the time of discomfort.

You can help them see that, for example, when they were twelve years old and you had them go up to the deli counter to get change for a $10 they didn’t collapse into tears. They tolerated the discomfort and then it went away and they felt all big and bad after fulfilling their mission!

If they’ve never had the opportunity to do something uncomfortable at such a small scale, practice. All manner of tolerable discomforts and successful missions await!

Yours,

Adina Signature

Have a question? Ask Adina

Adina Glickman is the founder of Affinity Coaching Group, which offers academic, life, parenting and career coaching. She is the former director of learning strategies at Stanford University and is the co-founder and director of the Academic Resilience Consortium, an association of faculty, staff and students dedicated to understanding and promoting student resilience. Learn more at affinitycoachinggroup.com.
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    2 days ago
    CollegiateParent

    Summer is the perfect time for college kids to catch up on medical and dental appointments.

    And it’s also an opportunity to launch a discussion about their sexual health.

    Is this a topic that your student is open about with you?

    Some of our kids tell us everything, some of them edit out things that make them – or us - uncomfortable, and some of them rarely talk about anything more personal than what they’re laughing at on Tik Tok.

    Here’s a tip if you have a kid who never talks about anything related to relationships or sex. Use any number of current events to broach the subject. Rising monkeypox cases, reproductive rights, and Pride month have all been in the news and are “tip of the iceberg” topics that can get your college student to open up and start talking.

    Whether you know they are or are not sexually active, it’s always a good idea to let our college kids know that we are continuously there to answer any questions, provide resources, and support them in making healthy decisions about things like intimate relationships, consent, contraception, and STD testing.

    Coming at these issues with a judgment free attitude is key, because let’s face it – when our kids are away at school, we have no way of knowing what they are doing, and they are legal adults who don’t need our permission to engage in any type of relationship. If we want to be able to have honest discussions about all aspects of health with them, we need them to know we love and care for them above all else, even if what they are doing has not been our lived experience or we don’t endorse some of their decisions.

    If you or your college student are looking for information on any health-related topic, a great place to start is the Resource page at the American College Health Association site, www.acha.org

    For a Situation Summary of the current monkeypox outbreak, you can consult the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

    And consider passing along this excellent resource from www.healthline.com on “Where to Get Free or
    Lower-Cost STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) Testing in Each State.”

    - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH
    ... See MoreSee Less

    Summer is the perfect time for college kids to catch up on medical and dental appointments.  And it’s also an opportunity to launch a discussion about their sexual health.  Is this a topic that your student is open about with you?  Some of our kids tell us everything, some of them edit out things that make them – or us - uncomfortable, and some of them rarely talk about anything more personal than what they’re laughing at on Tik Tok.  Here’s a tip if you have a kid who never talks about anything related to relationships or sex. Use any number of current events to broach the subject. Rising monkeypox cases, reproductive rights, and Pride month have all been in the news and are “tip of the iceberg” topics that can get your college student to open up and start talking.  Whether you know they are or are not sexually active, it’s always a good idea to let our college kids know that we are continuously there to answer any questions, provide resources, and support them in making healthy decisions about things like intimate relationships, consent, contraception, and STD testing.  Coming at these issues with a judgment free attitude is key, because let’s face it – when our kids are away at school, we have no way of knowing what they are doing, and they are legal adults who don’t need our permission to engage in any type of relationship. If we want to be able to have honest discussions about all aspects of health with them, we need them to know we love and care for them above all else, even if what they are doing has not been our lived experience or we don’t endorse some of their decisions.  If you or your college student are looking for information on any health-related topic, a great place to start is the Resource page at the American College Health Association site, www.acha.org  For a Situation Summary of the current monkeypox outbreak, you can consult the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)  And consider passing along this excellent resource from www.healthline.com on “Where to Get Free or
Lower-Cost STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection) Testing in Each State.”  - Marybeth Loyd Bock, MPH
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