How to communicate with your professors to get what you want
You’re a month in the semester now and more than likely, you’ve received your first grade and it’s not what you thought it would be. It’s also been some time since you’ve been a student and some things may have changed when it comes to student-professor communication and you want to get it right. After all, you plan to be in NP school for the next one to three years and understand the benefits that are derived from your experience with faculty members.
Throughout my time at Hopkins, engaging with professors has improved my academic performance and helped me develop a professional network I have leveraged for internship and job opportunities.
Improving Your Academic Performance
Connecting with my professors during office hours greatly improved my academic performance. As a freshman, I struggled academically. Instead of enrolling in academic support services or attending office hours, I was stubborn and figured I could independently improve my performance. While I marginally improved my grades through hard work that year, I only began to excel once I changed my ways as a sophomore and became a regular attendee of office hours. Professors answered my questions, and I checked my understanding of various concepts. As a result, my grades rose significantly.
Likewise, as a nurse practitioner student, it is important to connect with your professors to maintain or elevate your academic performance. With classes now in full swing, you have likely taken your first exam or submitted your first paper. Your professor has graded your submission and sent you feedback. You must review that feedback to produce similar or better results in the future, and you may decide to connect with the professor. However, approaching professors for assistance can be difficult, as they are incredibly busy. In addition to lecturing and grading class materials, nursing professors are responsible for facilitating clinical training, conducting research, and participating on committees. How, then, can you successfully connect with professors?
A tried-and-true way of receiving help is to do what I did—attend office hours. Block off time in your schedule to attend. If you cannot attend because of conflicts with other classes or obligations, send an email requesting a separate time to meet. Remember, professors are busy, so as soon as you realize you need extra assistance, promptly send an email. Stay on top of the email thread, and if you haven’t heard from your professor in twenty-four hours, send another email. You must be diligent and advocate for yourself to receive the help you want.
Before arriving at office hours or the scheduled appointment, prepare specific questions you have about the lecture material or assigned readings. Do not walk in with vague, broad questions or not having engaged with the material beforehand. Your goal is to better understand a specific concept or topic, not receive an additional lecture from the professor. Further, many of your peers will likely attend office hours as well and have their own questions. Thus, you cannot hoard the professor’s time. Ask a few questions essential to your understanding and then allow others to ask their questions. You can wait until others are finished asking questions to inquire further if time permits.
Developing Your Professional Network
Having strong relationships with professors is essential when applying for jobs or other opportunities. For instance, when applying to a selective summer internship this past year, I had my research mentor and major advisor, both of whom are professors, write my letters of recommendation. Because of the relationships we had forged over several years, they could genuinely attest to my personal, academic, and research qualifications. I was ultimately accepted to the program. Had I not built relationships with these professors, they may have submitted general, lukewarm recommendation letters, which could have reduced my chances of being accepted.
As a nurse practitioner student, your professors can write your letters of recommendation for future employers, residencies, and internship opportunities. Therefore, establishing a good rapport with them is critical. There are a few ways to create these relationships.
One way is to identify a professor who is working on a project that intrigues you. You could ask if the professor has room on the team for you to assist. Over time, the professor would realize your abilities and form a personal connection with you. Another way is to work incredibly hard in a class you enjoy. The professor will recognize your academic prowess and work ethic and be able to comment about your abilities. Finally, you could ask a professor who you admire or respect to be your mentor. You could meet frequently with this person, elaborate about your aspirations, and receive advice. Ultimately, you would create a close relationship with this professor. Any or a combination of these approaches could better your connections with professors, which is important if they are connecting you with employers or writing your recommendation letters.
The Ball Is in Your Court
Engaging with professors can improve your academic performance and produce relationships that you can leverage when applying to future opportunities. With the academic year recently commencing, the time is now to meet with professors and forge new relationships. Although they can be busy, professors are here to help. Commit to interacting with them and allow professors to help guide and assist you in your journey.
About the Author: Kale Hyder is a senior studying neuroscience at Johns Hopkins. Connect with Kale on Twitter @kalehyder or via email @firstname.lastname@example.org.