No, not that kind of relationship you bunch of perverts. A (professional) student/professor relationship entails a multitude of things; a relationship with your professor grants you access to a faculty member who you can go to with questions and concerns about a particular class. Whether it’s an upcoming quiz or a particularly hard homework problem, a professor can guide you through the areas in which you are struggling, thus allowing your educational journey to continue unobstructed.
In addition to simple class help, an experienced professor can introduce you to leading members of their (and most likely your) field of study. This can open up opportunities ranging from research positions to internships to business connections that will greatly improve your career options immediately coming out of school.
Why establish these relationships?
Now that we’ve touched on the basics of student/professor relationships, let’s delve deeper into why these relationships are so important to your college success.
As was mentioned before, having a relationship with your professor allows you to ask questions about things that were unclear to you during a particular lecture or in out-of-class material. I don’t care who you are, what your standardized test scores are, or how many ‘gifted’ classes you took back in 5th grade, you won’t understand everything, and you will have questions. You will need to go to your professor at some point to clarify a piece of information or to gain deeper insight into a subject. By having a close relationship with your professor, you void yourself of any potential problems that could arise from not completely understanding the course material, i.e. not knowing a quarter of the material on a Calculus 3 final that was worth 40% of your grade (totally hypothetical situation…).
Pro Tip: In addition to clearing the air on any fuzzy lecture details, students with a good student/professor relationship tend to hear things like: “This may end up on the next exam…” when they ask their professors questions on certain topics (*wink* *wink*).
The Power of the Network
Why else are these student/professor relationships important to make? The answer is: networking. Professors tend to know a lot of people. They’ve been kissin’ the proverbial behind since the day they got out of grad school to get to the highly desirable position of college educator. As a result, they’ve made quite a few connections, whether business or academia related, along the way.
This is very good for you. Your professor has already done three-quarters of the work! The hardest part is finding that ‘in’ into your field. With the search already out of the way, the only thing you the student have to do is convince your professor to introduce you to some of these people. How do you do this, you ask? Well, even if you didn’t ask, I’m still gonna tell you. You’re going to do this through, you guessed it, your student/professor relationship!
Let’s say you’re an up and coming engineering student and you’re trying to find a way to step into your field while still in school. You don’t know any engineers in your family and you don’t have any friends with viable business connections. However, you do talk to your physics professor after class three times a week because you’re having a little trouble learning the ins and outs of thermodynamics. You mention your trouble finding a way into the field during one of your chats and your professor tells you that he has a friend from grad school that went on to work for a large airplane manufacturer. He says he’ll see if he can arrange a meeting between the two of you so you can discuss how get ahead in the engineering world. This is why these relationships are important. Not only can these bonds benefit you during college in the form of course help, but can help you later on, after college, when you’re on your way to leaving the metaphorical nest and advancing further into your future field of work.
How to Build a Relationship with a Professor
So we have the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, but what about the ‘how’? How do you go about creating these clearly very crucial student/teacher relationships? It’s actually much simpler than most people think it is. The almighty key to establishing connections with these masters of education is 1) open your mouth, 2) string together some words, and 3) as long as they aren’t offensive or incomprehensible then your relationship with that professor will improve.
All hyperbole aside, it really is that simple. Professors are human beings as well. They like social interaction with other human beings (most of the time), so chat ‘em up! Stay after class or go to office hours and ask questions. A one-sided conversation can, as those of us who have talked to our pets know, get a little boring. By asking questions and giving opinions and insights on the answers that follow, you transform this auditory interaction from a lecture to a conversation. It doesn’t even matter if what you’re saying is correct, as long as professors see that you are making an effort to try and understand what they are telling you, they will most certainly start to like you. Many times the content of the conversation isn’t nearly as important as the simple fact that a conversation is even taking place.
To end, I’ll leave you with a little advice. Professors can be intimidating. They seem to know everything, never make mistakes, and have power over your all-important grade point average. Don’t forget, that even though they may seem unapproachable, they are teachers and they like to teach. No professor worth his salt hates passing on information to students or helping them succeed in their field. They want to help you learn, they want to answer your questions, and they want you to do well in school. Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors, you’ll be glad you did when you’re acing all of your exams, rolling in fat stacks of research stipends and spending the summer at Boeing, helping to create a more fuel efficient and aerodynamic turbine for their next line of commercial aircraft.