A part of being a college student is receiving your first exposure to the academia, being less dependent on the prospect of having the necessary knowledge spoon-fed to pass a certain test while finding interesting points of entrance into a text or research field yourself. But luckily, you are not expected to do all of this on your own: besides helpful resources like tutorials or writing seminars for freshmen, you can personally approach your professors, whose ideas should challenge and broaden your perspective. As a nervous first-year student who in the past had rarely felt the urge to approach her teachers outside the classroom context, I was worked up by the question of how to do it properly in college. The answer is certainly neither mystifying nor impossible.
The first thing to try in order to ease yourself into holding a full-fledged conversation with your professor is go to office hours. I understand the worry of sounding dumb for asking the obvious questions, or even more inanely as what I had, the fear of having nothing much to say. But if there is anything that is unclear to you, you should definitely drum up the courage and knock on your professor’s office door. From my experience, as long as your concerns are tangent upon the assignments or discussed material, they are all welcome. I like to jot down some key points to address with the professor to make sure I never go blank at their response. Chances are you are not the only person who is confused by a segment of the paper prompt and that through asking one simple question, you may be clearing channels to self-assess your future questions more clearly and fluidly. One of my professor even gave extra office hours for a looming deadline and expressed his disappointment when only a few of us took up his offer.
In addition, professors can be your mentors although mentorship is a relatively tricky sort of relationship to establish. Some professors may not have the time and so seem uninterested in reciprocating your enthusiasm in subjects beyond the obliged blotches the course covers. Some professors may not be the people you see yourself working with rather under their instruction. But frequenting office hours, asking for reading recommendations and their viewpoints on intriguing issues—genuinely showing your curiosity and discipline—is a good starting point.
When asked for advice to extend one’s interaction with a professor into future learning opportunities, TP writer Aida Guhlin has kindly shared with me her experience: “My English minor required one more course and I wanted to do a directed studies with a professor and so I went to her even though it had been a while and she remembered me and was willing. Part of extending the relationship past that semester is being a memorable student. Speak up in class, ask questions, work hard on your assignments, and talk to them. Then they’ll be willing to work with you because you’ve displayed a strong work ethic and interest in their work.”
Lately I have been fascinated by the power of conversations—from catch-ups with your peers to imaginary conversations with people you fancy talking to but no longer can. I have adopted a new and quite peculiar way to somewhat deform my anxiety to go to office hours, and it lies in me not considering them as strictly office hours. Somehow office hours have been loaded with an upright and almost intimidating connotation, a mark which many things centered around academia were to born to bear: I am supposed to address a serious concern which the in-class discussions have failed to resolve, and my professor will help me find an answer which makes me a better student or perform better academically. While none of such an interpretation is wrong, I believe there is more to be grateful for and excited about. There are things that fall through the cracks when you comprehend something, maybe because you have not possessed the right sensibility yet. It is wonderful how much you can learn about the world that runs beyond your perception of time and space simply by holding a conversation with one person, at one moment, in a tiny four-corner office. Personally, I am always happy to embrace such a sophic fortune.