Want to know a crafty way to get great grades, take a load of stress off, and have fun while doing it?
(Here's a hint: it's going to be awesome and easy)
Imagine you are your professor.
Each day you wake up early, grab some coffee from the local cafe, and go to work.
Which in this case means standing in front of 100+ people who are eagerly copying each word you say.
Who are you? You're the Wise One, the Rockstar, the Qualified.
Your job is to instruct the people in your class and confer your expertise.
You hold office hours, create coursework, grade papers, participate in academic meetings, give lectures/readings/presentations outside of class, conduct research, work on that book you're under pressure to publish in the next month...you get the idea.
The point is, your professors are people too. People with A LOT of work to do. Keep this in mind as we go through the simple method for improving grades, reducing stress, and enjoying your time in school.
So your professor is this extremely busy, totally genius person. And you -- you're incredibly busy, totally genius (or getting there) as well. You attend the same school, see each other 2-3 times a week. You're interested in similar subjects.
So why aren't you friends yet?
The most subtle (and startlingly effective)way to get better grades, stop worrying, and start having fun is to make friends with your professor.
Are you thinking that's easier said than done?
Don't worry, I'll take you through the process step-by-step! I've even got a free download for your that's a collection of email scripts you can use to get to know your professors.
If you befriend your professor you will:
Stand out from the hundreds of other students they see each day.
Benefit from them knowing your personal story (really comes in handy when you start slinging an excuse)
Know you can talk to them about issues/concerns (less worry)
Receive better grades (because how much harder is it to give a poor mark to someone that's no longer a faceless name, but a friend?)
Request extensions more easily
Be able to ask them for a letter of recommendation for graduate school, an internship, or a job.
Receive bonuses you couldn't have imagined (for example, my friend/professor got me a scholarship to a writing/ecological conference I'd never heard of, because he was on the panel and knew I'd enjoy it -- extra bonus: he introduced me to the amazing author Barry Lopez, whose work would become the inspiration for my first novel)
If you want to go into academia, this is your foot-in-the-door draw for reader or TA positions, and possible careers later down the line.
You'll certainly develop a 'no-sweat' attitude toward your class once you make friends with your professor, because not only do they know about you, you also know more about them.
You'll know if they accept late papers without much care, or if you really need to work to get assignments in on time because that's their trigger point (it rarely is).
Here are two things I've learned from my work with first-year college students.
Many students don't realize how important it is to form a relationship with their professors.
The top-performing students go to office hours, send emails, and stay in contact with their professors.
But starting the relationship with your professors can be daunting. You may be asking yourself questions like,
What would I say?
Why would someone so important/awesome/famous want to be friends with me?
First off, you're pretty awesome.
How do I know?
Because there's something that you do or know about that makes you unique. You might have to search around to find it- you may know what it is already.
I had founded an art gallery in my first year at UC Berkeley, so that set me apart and was something I could connect with my professors about.
Before that, it was my sheer love of reading and learning which got me major kudos in Community College since not as many students are as motivated or set on an academic plan as I was.
This thing can be big or small. It can be your passion about the particular class.
If the class is "just a requirement," find something else that connects you to the professor.
Research their work, see if they've done something you're interested in. Think about your volunteer work or your job -- can you relate those to your class?
Maybe the class is giving you practical applications you're using out in the world.
Your professor would love to know how what they do (and what they spend SO much time on) has impacted you. Flattering, but not ass-kissing. Be genuine.
Your golden ticket is confidence in yourself. You're going to show them you are the best student, which is judged not by something as arbitrary as grades, but in your ability to be both an awesome person and to want to better your school experience. This is the first ground for building your relationship.
Your teacher is more excited about your passion than by how smart you are.
And that is why they would want to be friends with you. Because you're going above what other students are doing simply by making the effort to connect, and by showing you care about your education and their particular field of study
so we've talked about why you want to develop a relationship with your professor and why you are the best person for the job. But how do you get started? What do you end up talking about?
How to build a deeper relationship with your professor than that of student/teacher.
There are a ton of ways to connect and an infinite number of topics to discuss. I'll list my favorite methods here. If you have any experiences or ideas you'd like to share, please offer them in the comment box!
#1 Sit in the front row
If you're remotely interested in getting higher grades, you better be sitting in the front row. You'll hear better, pay attention better, and you won't be annoyed by the dozens of idiots who have facebook open on their laptops instead of notes. And best of all, the teacher's right there in front of you. No better way to match a name to a face than if he or she is seeing it each class.
#2 Go to Office Hours
Within the first or second week of classes, if you can but it is never too late to show up. You can either just show up, or preface your appearance with an email. A quick introductory email is great; you can lay out what you want to talk about, so the panic of not being able to find a topic is alleviated. A few (2-4) meetings in office hour is probably enough to get you from being more than just a student to "Hi, [your name here], nice to see you." I'll direct you more in writing that initial email later, the one that adds to your persona of rockstar student, so stick around till the end of the post.
#3 Don't be shy about emailing
This is a great way to stay in contact and keep yourself in the professor's mind when you're not in class or going to office hours. Don't be annoying by writing empty emails just for the sake of emailing. Your emails should have a clear purpose, and be short and to the point (bonus if they're humorous/enlightening too).
Some ideas for emails:
Passing along an interesting (and 100% relevant) article/event/film/book/etc. Give a 2-line synopsis, show how it relates to class (link it to the theme of your lecture), and mention that you think they'd love it.
An invitation to an event you're involved in. I invited many of my professors that were interested in art to check out the best openings at our gallery. If you're a poet and you're performing, invite your poetry professor the reading. If you're hosting an event for an ecological non-profit, invite your ecology professor, etc.
To clarify a question you really can't answer yourself.
And the most controversial email of them all:
Excusing yourself from class or asking for an extension. Wait. Whaaaatt??!!
You're telling me can get better grades, AND become closer to your professor, if I email about being absent or not turning a paper in on time?!
That's 100% what I'm saying, but you've got to make it work for you. Chances are you'll become sick or have to miss one or two classes. Using this as an opportunity to email your prof and show them who you are/what you have going on is actually a boon.
Missing class or a paper is rarely a big deal, and no, this kind of thing doesn't show you're a bad student if done in the right way. I don't think I took a single class at Berkeley, both graduate and undergraduate, in which I didn't send in some kind of 'excuse' email. Keep them short, not overloaded with excuses, and make a point to be funny, either about the situation or about your own faults.
Talk to your professor like a human being, like a friend, and that's what they'll become to you.
Sure, add a certain amount of deference, but the goal is to present yourself as who you are (in my case, a totally scatterbrained, but very eager student.)
Sending somewhere between 3 and 5 emails a semester will help cement you as a real person in the mind of your professor.
Now, I promised to walk you through that initial email, so here you go. Also, you can download my done-for-you email scripts to use on your professors again and again!
How to email your professor for the first time so that they think of you as a formidable force out in the world.
You're not just a student. You're a person with other interests, hobbies, and vocations. So how do you convey who you are and what you do to your professors without bragging about it?
The simplest and most subtle way to do this is the email signature. Beneath your name rests the blank space that can turn you from 'nobody' to 'somebody.'
(See? I was doing A LOT of big stuff during my undergrad....and this lets my professor know I'm not full of sh*t.)
You can include your volunteer work, your job place and position, a link to an article you've written, your personal website (as long as it's clear what you do there), etc. If you've got nothing to put up, you better get out there and do something.
This whole post explains how to make your email signature shine.
Your first email is easy.
You're going to be emailing about setting up a slot for you in office hour. So the point is already embedded in your email.
What you surround that point with is up to you. Humor is GREAT, everyone loves to read a snappy email.
Keep it simple and direct.
You can chat about a book you've already read on the reading list, your experience (or lack of in the field of study), what called you to their course, or you can simply say you wanted to introduce yourself and let the prof take it from there.
The best news is, your professor's met with thousands of students over the past several years.
They know how to guide you in office hour, so if you're stuck for something to say, state the most basic truth possible:
Like, "Hi, I'm Jess. I just wanted to introduce myself before the course started so I don't fade into the background as one of many faces."
People tend to think that they have to carry a conversation all by themselves.
That's mainly because when you're thinking of what to say before hand, you're only talking to yourself inside your head. In reality, you only have to say very little, sometimes nothing at all, and let the other person take control.
Your professors are seasoned professionals. There will be no awkward silences. They will fill them, they will ask questions, they will guide you.
So that's it. Your email can take on the same principles. It's basically the script for your introduction when you do arrive in office hour.
You don't have to say anything different, you can literally reiterate your email (because they're not going to have it open in front of them; it's not going to weird).
Bring a present. Gifts are a great way to get recognized. Something small, something that makes sense. Like a book that relates to the theme of the class (that you LOVE), or a movie that you think the professor would really be into. All you have to say is, in an email, "hey, I have this X that I think you'd really like! Can I come drop it by during office hours?"
Getting to know your professor is the best way to boost your grades without making extra work for yourself.
I want to hear about your experience talking to your professors! If you have any great stories, please share them in the comments.