11 Ways To Get A Professor On Your Side Without Sucking Up

No one likes a teacher’s pet; but that doesn’t mean you have to go unnoticed. Networking and building relationships is key in University. If you are planning on attending graduate studies or would like a reference from them someday; you need to start networking in your 2nd or 3rd year of University. I waited too long to network, and it almost cost me my spot in grad school. While many of these points may seem like no brainers; you have no idea how often people neglect to abide by this holy grail of success. 

1. Be on time.

You might think professors don’t notice; but they do. Maybe they’ll miss your face once or twice rushing into lecture 10 minutes late, but sooner or later you’ll be tagged as the jumbled, tardy student with poor time management. This goes for handing in assignments as well. Professors have heard literally every excuse in the book, so don’t think you’re original. Get it together. How else do you expect a prof to put their reputation on the line when recommending you?

2. Sit near the front.

They need to know your exist before they can know your name. Sitting near the front ensures your pretty little visage is engrained into their memory. Also note that when you expose yourself to being noticed, you have to act and look professional. There’s no sense in sitting in the front if you’re going to fool around in class. No Facebook, no texting, no chatting to your friend sitting beside you. Make a good impression and come ready to learn.

3. Don’t just answer questions; ask questions.

You don’t have to be that student who shoots their hand up Hermione style for every question. But once in a while, raise your hand and deliver a beautifully articulated response. Want to wow your professor? Ask them a question. Not, “I don’t really understand this” or “can you go back a slide”, but ask a thought-provoking question – one in which the answer has not already be discussed or addressed in class.

4. Mention your name in passing

Often times people are too polite to ask you your name when they feel like they should know it. Sure they might know you over email, but you need to make the match FOR them; face to name. A great way to do this is making it known within the first few classes. Last year, I needed to make a good impression with a prof, after all she was the chair of admissions into the grad school I was applying to. When I put my hand up to answer a question, I stated my name for her, and she knew who I was within the first week.

5. “Off-time” is a façade; you’re always “on”.

What do I mean by this? Well, you know when everyone is chatting before class and the prof is waiting for everyone to settle in? This is so not the time to tell your friend “real quick” about how drunk you got last Friday and how you regret sleeping with Tom, Dick and Harry. You might think professors don’t eavesdrop while they are waiting for students to shut the hell up; but they do. You never know when someone can be listening; make sure you don’t act like a fool.

6. Go to their office hours. 

I once wanted the chair of graduate studies to know me by face and name and someone suggested I go to their office hours. I spent the next week studying their research interests and reading their publications. Why? Because you never know what they might ask. If you want to get close to a professor; there is no better time than during their office hours. Want to review your exam? Have a question about the last lecture? Need some guidance? Go ask them. It shows initiative and a genuine interest in the course.

7. Smile at them in passing.

We all know that scene from Mean Girls; it’s weird seeing professors outside of the classroom. But guess what? You don’t get to hide and pretend you didn’t see them (unless maybe you’re wearing a fuzzy onesie). They are people too; smile at them for christ sakes. Being kind to people really goes a long way, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

8. Never bad mouth another professor.

There is one professor I got to know really well. We spent her office hours chatting about Game of Thrones and discussing types of wine (albeit she wasn’t your typical professor.) HOWEVER, even at my most comfortable, and even when she asked how I felt about Professor X, I kept it professional. Even though everyone in the department knew he was an asshole, I didn’t say anything that would taint my character. At the end of the day, they are still your professor, and if you don’t have something nice to say, shut your mouth. Keep your integrity in tact.

9. Do well in their class.

While I understand there are different types of learning styles and people may struggle with various challenges; try your very best to do well in their class. Professors aren’t naive; they can tell if you are actually trying and that counts for something. Professors will be hesitant to write you a reference if you didn’t do well in their class; their name is on the line too. This is the time where you show your skills. You want them to believe you are bright and capable of handling graduate school or a new job experience.

10. Show your appreciation.

You don’t want to exploit a network or just use it for personal gain. If they need help with something; help them. Did their PowerPoint fizzle out during class? Do they need someone to dim the lights? Do they need help carrying paperwork up to their office? That’s your queue. Relationships of any kind are always a two-way street. If your professor does give you a reference; know that they are also giving you their time and effort that they aren’t getting paid for. Be grateful and write them a thank you letter.

11. Don’t be upset if they say no.

Don’t get angry if after all of this they still don’t agree to write you a reference. I once did everything right for a professor and she still said no. There are a lot of factors at play and it might not have anything to do with you. Don’t feel like just because you put the work in, that you are entitled to a pay off. This is not the mindset that you want to have. In fact, this may happen multiple times. You should have a wide range of professors you feel comfortable asking; don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

I wish I knew some of these tips in my first and second year, but university is all about learning and doing it on your own. These pieces of advice can really help you in your future and they don’t cost any money or take any time. Be self-aware, determined, and gracious, and you’ll be just fine!

Featured image via screengrab of Legally Blonde


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