Want to learn a simple trick that will wow your professors, even before they meet you?
Meet my littlest friend, the email signature.
Your golden ticket to making a stunning first impression, without actually having to meet face to face (yet).
I want to share the simplest trick you can do to stand out among your classmates and get noticed by your professors as a student who's something more than a student -- a doer, a go-getter, a professional.
One of the core ideas Intro to Honors offers its students is to start a side-hustle in college based on your major.
That can mean starting a geology blog where you investigate properties of local soil and rock (uh, can you tell I’m not a geology major?) or an interview-based website where you interview pioneers in your particular field.
The thought behind your side hustle is to generate street cred, of a sort.
To show that you’re deeply interested in pursuing a goal, and are, in fact, pursuing a form of it outside of college.
Starting a blog in college can help you earn respect among your professors and peers; it can improve your knowledge of a subject; and it can (luckily) become popular and turn into a great form of work experience.
If you’re new here, my own side-hustle was opening an art gallery across the street from UC Berkeley while I was an undergrad.
While running my business (which turned into three different galleries in two cities) I nailed straight-A’s.
So this blog was born to show students how to pursue their passion and career while earning great grades.
This post will show you how to craft the perfect email signature based on your experience, interest, and major, and how to leverage your side hustle to impress your professors and reduce your stress.
Before I started an art gallery in college, my email signature didn't exist. Often I'd end my missive with a too-cool-for-school
or a simple, direct
See you in class,
But that's kind of boring. (Ok, it's totally mind-numbingly boring, so boring, no one really bothers to read it).
With that signature I didn't differentiate myself at all from other students. Just a name at the end of a slightly spastic email, as all of my emails tend to be.
I was missing a golden opportunity to define who I was, what I was doing, and how dedicated I was to my future, just by signing off my emails without much care and attention.
Why it's important to set yourself apart
Professors see an endless sea of students pass through the doors of their classrooms. But if you stand out, you can get a lot out of your often brief relationship with your professor. Such as....(drum roll)....
Recommendations for grad school or for your dream job
If you're thinking about grad school or entering a career after college, your professor's recommendations are really going to count for something. Starting to build relationships with your professors as soon as you can lets you have +/- 4 years to cultivate that relationship and allows your professors to get to know you and your work, leading to more wholehearted and more complete recommendations.
Because my professors knew me and the work I was doing outside of school with the Alphonse Berber art galleries, they thought of me when asked for student nominations for awards or talks. I was asked by the wife of a professor I'd sat with in office hour twice if I'd speak on a panel of notable alumni for the English undergrads about career opportunities -- while I was still an undergrad myself!
How did I proliferate the knowledge that I was a great candidate for such an honor?
My email signature.
Imagine if I'd had to blurt out my achievements every time I met a new professor...
"Hey Professor Barglar, I'm Jess...I'm a student and I also do x, y, z, and uh, yeah, I'm awesome."
I was missing out on a great opportunity to let my emails do the talking, without seeming like I was boasting.
your signature gives you Power over your introduction
Once I wised up to the fact that I could let this little addition to every email I sent do a lot to promote the idea that I was a stand-out student, I got a lot of traction from it.
In the next section of this post I'm going to show you how to find the perfect signature for you no matter your major, but let me just briefly say that the first step to all this is to stop using your school email address.
You know, the one that just makes you look like every other email@example.com
It's so easy and cheap to set up an email address at firstname.lastname@example.org and that right there sets you apart in a BIG way. You have your own website. You must be doing things.
Here's what my signature looked like as it evolved with more and more projects I added to my plate:
Because I emailed my professors regularly, I knew they would see my email signature. So I didn’t have to go through any awkward introductions about my gallery business.
I could simply mention that I was swamped with a particular project, thus needing to turn a paper in late, or I could invite them to a special swanky event.
Want to see real the real emails I sent to my professors? In all their crazy, spazy glory? I've created done-for-you email scripts you can use to send to your profs -- that actually work -- because I've used the very same over and over for awesome results!
How I leveraged my business to get better grades and more leniency with project due dates
If you’re a die-hard procrastinator like me, you’d better have a cadre full of good reasons for turning a paper in late. But you don’t have to let it mean you get bad grades and make a poor impression on your professors.
If you have a damn good reason, like you’re struggling to make a paper as good as you know it could be — or you have an impressive project going on outside of school, asking for an extension can be seen as a way to let a professor know what you’re up to or how passionate you are about a subject.
Friends, here’s a revolutionary and under-used golden rule at Intro to Honors:
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need in college. Killing yourself over a due date and turning in a hastily made, shoddy paper isn’t going to get you stellar grades - nor does it help your stress levels.
One of the most important things I learned in college (and this applies to life in general) is that everything seems significantly more significant to you.
Every little worry you have, everything that’s looming over your head and causing you to feel that bolt of fear in your stomach when you realize all the crap you have to get in such a small amount of time — that’s all your personal burden to bear.
So when you feel like your head is going to explode but you just have to finish this paper or your professor will flunk you, catch yourself and ask, “what do I have to loose by trying?”
Try and find the best reason for asking for an extension and run wild with it.
I’ve been turned down zero times for an extension.
Probably because 1) most professor’s don’t care all that much if papers are turned in right on time (some really do, though…watch out for those ones and learn your audience!) and 2) I was honest (perhaps with not a little embellishment) about what was going on in my life that was preventing me from turning whatever it was in on time.
Use your intro to gain business/project partners and supporters
Arguably the most benefit you can gain from college (aside from the principle storehouse of rare and valuable skills) is a boost in your collegiate career (or career career).
Before I went to grad school to become a writer I had translated the French surrealist poet Francis Ponge…and it was really good. So I showed it to my professor in whose class I’d started the project, and asked him what he thought I should do with it.
“I have a friend with a magazine…Linda Spalding, Michael Ondaatje’s wife. She's the editor for Brick. I’m having dinner with her next week.”
“I’ll pass it along.”
Soon after, my first submission to a journal was accepted for publication.
P.S. It helps if your professor is Pulitzer Prize winning poet Robert Hass.
How was I so close to such an incredible person who was willing to help me out in such a big way?
We’d developed a relationship over the four years I was at UC Berkeley…and he knew I was more capable than the average bear cub because he’d visited the gallery on several occasions.
I volunteered to be the class technical assistant when he needed help with Berkeley's online platform.
I hosted two University poetry events at his request when the normal University venue wasn’t available.
One of his friends, a supremely talented artist, was in one of the gallery shows.
The list grew as time went on.
And it all started with one email. One office hour visit.
Do you see the shape of building a relationship? You can leap frog off of one small event to another. And the rewards are…well…huge.
How to find the perfect signature for you
So let’s get into the meat of this venture.
You get how valuable it is to set yourself apart, and you can see how the email signature opens that gateway for you, yeah?
So how do you craft the right email signature?
Choose your side hustle
Your side hustle can be many things (anything, really). Think of it as a side job you can do to gain more expertise in the area you want to study.
A blog is perhaps the easiest side hustle. (If you can think of something easier, let me know in the comments section at the end of this post!)
If you know you want to pursue theater, consider starting a review blog for the shows you catch.
If you study molecular biology, post breakdowns of tough homework problems as a way to help others succeed -- and for you to learn the material better.
If you're a history major who loves to travel, you can contrast your experience visiting a place with the past history of it.
Whatever you choose, your side hustle is that extra piece of the college puzzle that shows you're dedicated, serious, and motivated to learn beyond the confines of the classroom.
For examples, get my done-for-you email scripts that you can modify and use to send to your professors again and again.
Pro-tip: Make it easy for yourself. The reason I like the interview blog as a side hustle is that it puts you in touch with top performers in your field and all you really need to do is write out a set of thoughtful questions. The internet can help with that. And if someone’s agreed to do an interview with you, it’s much easier to approach them with a query about helping on a new project.
The necessary elements of your email signature
1) your own .com .co .me (whatevveerr) email address
2) Your name
3) Your website link
4) Your current post title/most popular topic/project name
5) phone number (optional)
It's easy to set up an automatic signature in gmail, where you can funnel your .com email address and your school address, so everything dumps into the same inbox.
For more info on that check out these references:
Special thanks to Elizabeth for requesting this topic! If there's a topic you'd like to know more about, just shoot me an email - I'll try and answer it in a blog post or email back.
If you want a great post that walks you through making friends with your professors, click here!